Bilhartz marker

Historical Sites

 

Bilhartz, Hall & Company Gun Works Factory

Pittsylvania County’s first Civil War Trails marker is located located in the Chatham Welcome Center on Main Street and is denoted by blue and white signage. It designates the Bilhartz, Hall & Company Gun Works Factory which made rifles for the Confederacy from 1862 until 1864.

The marker explains that the South lacked sufficient modern weaponry for its troops so the Confederate government purchased arms from countries overseas in a “cotton for cannons” trade, offering tobacco and cotton for weapons. But even though thousands of revolvers and muskets were filtered through the blockade, it was determined that the best remedy would be to manufacture weapons locally. Bilhartz, Hall & Company became one of many arsenals and private industries which produced arms.

The company was established in 1862 by Candidius Bilhartz, George Hall and Coleman D. Bennett. Bilhartz was a prewar harness maker, machinist and distiller. He was the mechanical genius. Hall managed the firm and C.D. Bennett financed the operation. At the height of production, in late 1863, the company employed 38 workers.

The site of the factory was at the southeast corner of the Masonic Lodge property on Main Street in Chatham a few hundred feet from the marker. Boy Scout Mitchell Borley of Chatham completed an Eagle Scout project to locate a granite marker at the site of the gun works factory. The marker is behind Virginia Bank and Trust and can be seen from the kiosk.

The factory produced two carbine types—one a muzzle loader and the other a rising breech, although neither gained favor with Confederate troops. Between 500 and 600 carbines or rifles were manufactured. In addition, the factory produced thousands of wooden gun stocks that were installed on guns produced in other factories across the Confederacy. At least nine of the guns are known to exist today.

Interesting job titles of Bilhartz Hall workers included those who finished gun stocks who were called “stockers.” Those who burned coal into coke for the foundry were listed as “coal burners.” Men who placed the rifling inside the gun barrels were classed as “rifling hands.” There was a classification of “polisher” that was apparently assigned to those who put the final touches inside and out on the carbines. Other designations included “vice hand, band holder, borer and helper.”

The Civil War Trails network combines 300 Civil War sites in Virginia that takes visitors to all kinds of places. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the Civil War Trails map as the number one successful effort in preservation of significant historic sites in the U.S. Inclusion in the Civil War Trails program means that Chatham and Pittsylvania County will be located on the agency’s maps which are designed to at-tract and promote tourism. “Trailblazer” signs along the highways will direct visitors to designated sites.

Obtaining the marker was initiated by the Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce which secured the aid of the Historical Society in gathering information needed to request designation. Financial supporters of the project were Pittsylvania Historical Society, Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, Chatham First, Chatham Lions Club and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.