Bellona Foundry

I’ve mentioned Bellona Foundry in connection to several cannon types, and frequently in regard to the 42-pdr seacoast guns.  How about a visit to the foundry where the guns were made?

26 Feb 11 091
Ruins at Bellona Foundry

I think the same building above appears in a Historic American Building Survey (HABS) photo from 1937.

Foundry Ruins in 1937

Confusion existed both in the historical record and with some modern interpretations with regard to Bellona Foundry and the co-located Bellona Arsenal.  Even the state marker for the arsenal mixes the two sites. The name “Bellona” refers to the Roman goddess of war.

In the 1810s, Major John Clark established a foundry on the banks of the James just upriver from Richmond, Virginia in Chesterfield County. Some sources indicate 1810 as the date, others cite 1816.  Regardless by 1821, the foundry had orders from the U.S. Navy for 32- and 42-pdr cannons under the “Gradual Increase” program after the War of 1812.  Bellona Foundry became a major weapons supplier particularly focused on heavy cannons.  The foundry produced 24-, 32-, and 42-pdr guns, along with 8- and 10-inch columbiads, for Army orders.

The arsenal, also attributed to John Clark, is sometimes referred to as Richmond Arsenal.  The federal government used the facility to store cannons and munitions for a time.  The HABS recorded several buildings at the old arsenal site.

Bellona Arsenal Building

Along with an inscription on a stone from the ruins.  Of the names listed on the stone, note that of “George Bomford, Colonel of Ordnance.”

Bellona Arsenal - Inscription on Stone

Some time in the mid-1830s, the Army ceased operations at the Arsenal, and apparently returned it to John Clark.  For a few years a member of the famous Randolph family (the state marker says Thomas Mann Randolph, who died in 1822) owned the foundry for use as a silkworm farm.

Army and Navy orders for Bellona Foundry dropped off after 1840.  The 1840 mix-up with patterns for 42-pdrs might be a symptom of an underlying problem at the facility.  Around the same time, Dr. Junius L. Archer purchased the foundry, and presumably the old arsenal grounds.

Still, the foundry received only a few token Navy contracts.  Bellona lagged behind competitors such as West Point Foundry, Fort Pitt Foundry, and the Boston companies with regard to iron processing and casting techniques.  With the advances in metallurgy in the 1840s and 50s, military contracts called for specific metal composition and smelting practices.  Further, the Army at least desired hollow, water-cooled castings.  Bellona (and for that matter Tredegar further down river) were not ready for those practices.

In the late-1850s this changed, with quantity orders from both Navy and Army.  As noted earlier, many of those orders were not complete, or at least the weapons were not delivered, at the outbreak of war.    Bellona, much like Tredegar, then became a major supplier for the Confederacy.  And as with pre-war efforts, Bellona focused on heavy artillery – columbiads, naval guns, and siege guns.

But problems plagued the Bellona Foundry.  A fire damaged the works in April 1863, necessitating allocation of equipment from Tredegar.  Then in February 1864, Federal raiders passed nearby.  In a panic, workers tossed several unfinished guns into the James River.  One of those, with the casting flask was recovered during the Civil War centennial years.

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Gun Flask and Unfinished Cannon

The gun was likely intended to be a 3-inch rifle.  So the physical evidence indicates Bellona produced at least some field guns during the war.

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Site of Bellona Foundry Today

The gun and flask stand today as reminders of the Bellona Foundry, along an aptly named Old Gun Road in a residential area of Chesterfield County, Virginia.


Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Daniel, Larry J., and Riley W. Gunter.  Confederate Cannon Foundries.  Union City, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1977

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.


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