From the Richmond Dispatch, 5/16/1863, p. 1, c. 5
Destructive Conflagration – Burning of the Crenshaw Woollen Mill and a Portion of the Tredegar Works. – About 2 o’clock yesterday morning a fire broke out in the Crenshaw Woollen Mill, of this city, resulting in one of the most destructive and disastrous conflagrations which the city has ever been called upon to suffer. The fire originated, and was first discovered, in the picking room of the Crenshaw Woollen Mill, situated on the canal, and although it had made but little headway when discovered, such was the combustible nature of the material in the room that the flames spread with a rapidity that soon enveloped the whole building, and prevented anything from being rescued from the destructive element. The splendid machinery of the factory – the loss of which at the present time is irreparable – is involved in the ruin, besides a heavy stock of material used in the manufacture of cloths. This material includes over 30,000 pounds of wool, in the various stages of preparation for manufacturing purposes. In addition to this there were in the building and destroyed, with everything else, some forty pieces of finished goods, double width, amounting in all to about 1,000 yards, and some 3,000 to 4,000 yards of the same goods woven, but not completed.
The mill was the most extensive and valuable of its character in the Confederacy, and its loss will be seriously felt. Since the commencement of the war it has been supplying large amounts of the most serviceable cloths for our soldiers, besides a finer article of goods for citizens’ wear and officers’ uniforms. At the time of its destruction it was making about 2,000 yards of double-width goods per week, with a capacity to manufacture annually goods sufficient to cloths from 40,000 to 50,000 men. By this disaster about 150 operatives are thrown out of employment. The insurance on the building, machinery, stock, &c, amounted to something over $170,000. It is impossible at present to form anything approximating an accurate estimate of the loss sustained.
From the woolen mill the fire rapidly spread to the valuable shops of the Tredegar works, and before the flames could be arrested the machine shops, boring mills, pattern shops, blacksmith and carpenter shops of that extensive and valuable establishment were destroyed. The extent of damage done to the machinery in these shops could not be ascertained yesterday, as much of the machinery was of an indestructible character, and may possibly not have received any serious injury. The rolling mills and casting departments of the establishment were not injured, and it was the opinion of the superintendent of the works that in a few weeks operations might be resumed in the boring department. There was a large number of heavy guns on hand, ready for service, which, we are glad to state, received little or no injury. The loss in the pattern shops, it is presumed, will be rather heavy, owing to the difficulty in replacing patterns. A large number of hands were yesterday at work clearing away the rubbish, and rescuing the machinery from the ruins. The loss to the proprietors of the works will be very heavy, and the delay in manufacturing guns will, to some extent, be felt by the Government; but, as stated, it is not thought that this delay will be protracted beyond a few weeks. The works were partially insured in the following offices, viz: Mutual Assurance Society, Richmond Fire Association, Virginia Fire and Marine Insurance Company, Old Dominion Insurance Company, Merchant’s Insurance Company, and Alabama Insurance Company of Montgomery.
Yesterday morning, when the news spread through the city that these establishments had been burned, the conjecture was general that it was the result of incendiarism, but our inquiries satisfy us that the origin of the fire was entirely accidental.