Confederate Monument Dedication
By: Daniel Valles
There was a great crowd in attendance for the dedication of the Confederate Monument, sponsored by: Shelby Iron Works Chapter #2653, United Daughters of the Confederacy; Capt. William Houston Shelby Camp #1537, Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Tommy Trimble, on behalf of the Historic Shelby Association, accepted the presentation of the monument by Mrs. Betty Zeitz on behalf of the UDC and the SCV.
Dan Valles, Museum Curator for the Historic Shelby Association, presented the following historical notes about the Iron Company’s role during the War Between the States:
The Shelby Iron Company, started by Horace Ware in the mid-1840s, would unwittingly end up playing a vital role for the Confederacy, and its community, during the War of Northern Aggression.
What started out as a very small ironworks operation serving only the local counties, eventually became the largest charcoal fired furnace works in not only Alabama, but also the entire South – producing a high-quality iron from ore mined right on site.
During the War, the Confederate government claimed the entire ironwork’s output for war use, being the main supplier for the armory at Selma. The iron went toward production of guns, cannon balls, horseshoes, and other vital war materials.
The rolling mill was used to create the 2” thick iron armor plating of the ironclad vessels CSS Tennessee and CSS Mobile – and records indicate that even perhaps others were involved as well.
During the latter part of the war, despite being denied Confederate government authorization and access to materials, Iron Works officials went ahead and built their own much-needed railroad spur to Columbiana.
Besides its role in supplying vital war materials, the Shelby Ironworks concurrently played a vital role in the Community as well.
While slave labor was regrettably employed at the Iron Works, the leadership took pioneering steps from the culture of its time, and displayed noted generosity toward the slaves, providing clothes, medical care, building a church, paying them overtime, and other measures – sometimes to their criticism. So well did they treat their fellow man that many former slaves returned to the Iron Works after the war, looking for work – because they knew they would be treated well. This is a great testimony to the caliber of men who lived and worked here during this tumultuous time – when culture, peers, and circumstances would have lesser men doing otherwise.
Also, during the latter part of the War, there were many food and resource shortages ravaging the South, due to war, railroad destructions, and disruptions of commerce. The Iron Works, which had better access and opportunity because of their defense industry role, was able to procure supplies much better than the average individual or company. Because of this, they opened up their Company Store to community use, enabling many families to have access to food supplies and materials that were very difficult to obtain during this hard time.
Eventually, late in war, the Shelby furnaces were broken up and made inoperable by Union raiders. Although it was rebuilt and returned to operation for several more decades, we remember today the vital role the Shelby Iron Works played not just in the war arena, but in the hearts and lives of its community – a history that has become its legacy.
May we likewise learn the lessons and stories of history, so that we, likewise, can make great history.
Copyright © 2013 Historic Shelby Association