The American Cannon King: Joseph R. Anderson

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Confederate Generals Officers

Joseph Reid AndersonBefore there was a German Cannon King, Alfred Krupp, there was an American Cannon King, Joseph R. Anderson. At the onset of the Civil War, Anderson had been the sole owner of the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia for 13 years.

His Early Career


Joseph Anderson was a Virginia native, born in Botetourt County in 1813. He was the son of Colonel William Anderson who fought in the American Revolution and also the War of 1812. The younger Anderson was a West Pointer, graduating 4th in a the class of 1836. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and by the middle of 1837 he was transferred to the Corps of Engineers. His primary duty with the Corps of Engineers was in the construction of Fort Pulaski to guard the Port of Savannah, Georgia.

After his marriage to Sarah Eliza Archer, daughter of the post surgeon at Fort Monroe, he resigned his commission and joined Virginia State Engineer Claudius Crozet, who had earlier been a professor of engineering at West Point. He was involved in a number of engineering project and rose to the position of Assistant State Engineer.

Tredegar Iron Works

In 1841, he joined the company that he would associated with until his death, the Tredegar Iron Works of Richmond, as its chief manager. By 1848 he was the owner and by 1860 was considered the leading industrialist in the South. His foundry on the James River was one of the largest in the United States, producing steam locomotives, boilers, cables, naval hardware, and cannon.

By the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, half of the 900 workers were slaves, including many in skilled positions. The Tredegar Iron Works became a leading iron producer in the country by 1860. Between 1850 and 1860, the company produced about 70 steam locomotives. Tredegar also produced the steam propulsion plants for the USS Roanoke (1855) and the USS Colorado (1856).

The Civil War Years

At the start of the war, Anderson was commissioned a major in the artillery and by September of 1861 he was promoted to brigadier general. He was initially assigned to command all Confederate forces around the key port city of Wilmington, North Carolina. In April 1862 he was moved to Fredericksburg opposite the forces of Union General Irvin McDowell.

Anderson was then assigned to command the 3rd Brigade of General A.P. Hill’s “Light Division” during the Peninsula Campaign and into the Seven Days Battles where he saw action at MechanicsvilleGaines’ Mill, and was wounded at Frayser’s Farm on June 30, 1862. On July 19, 1862, General Anderson resigned his commission and joined the Confederate Ordinance Department.

He served in that department until the night of April 2-3, 1865 when Richmond fell. Anderson reportedly paid over fifty armed guards to protect the Tredegar facility from Confederate arsonists who were determined not to allow anything to fall into Union hands. As a result, the Tredegar Iron Works is one of few Civil War era buildings in the warehouse district that survived the burning of Richmond.

It has been said that Anderson’s manufacturing facility produced about one-half of the cannons that the Confederacy made during the war. However,  Tredegar experienced a lack of skilled laborers as the war progressed. Scarce supplies of metal also hurt the company’s manufacturing abilities during the war and as the conflict progressed it was noticed that Tredegar’s products were beginning to lose quality as well as quantity.

Postwar Years

Joseph Anderson regained control of the Tredegar Iron Works from Federal authorities in 1867. He would remain involved in the business until his death in 1892. His son, Archer Anderson, became involved in the business, and became president of the Tredegar Iron Works after his father’s death. Another son Joseph Reid Anderson, went to the Virginia Military Institute after the Civil War and later taught there.

After his wife Sara died in 1881, Anderson remarried. His second wife was Mary Evans Pegram, making him a brother-in-law to Confederate General John Pegram and Colonel William Ransom Johnson Pegram, both of whom had been killed during the war.

Joseph Reid Anderson died while on a vacation at the Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire. It was widely reported that 30,000 citizens came to his funeral when he was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.



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