Josiah Gorgas

After the wars end General Josiah Gorgas, Chief of Ordinance for the Confederate States of America found himself wondering what to do with his life. Disheartened by the southern loss he made the decision to enter the iron business. After trips to Tannehill and Shelby ironworks on October 15, 1865 he made his way to Brierfield.  After touring the Bibb County facilities Gorgas wrote in his diary ” I am greatly pleased with this property and will try to organize a company to buy it.”

The company Gorgas founded was the Canebrake Company. He along with Francis Strother Lyon from Demopolis, Dr. Bryan Whitfield, Daniel Prout, Edwin Glover, John Collins, James Browder, Frank Griffin and William Ross formed the company that would be the beginning of the post-war Brierfield. In October, 1866 the Canebrake Company bought the Bibb County Iron Company from the Freedman’s Bureau for $45,000 and thus the Brierfield Coal and Iron Company was born.

Josiah Gorgas Ca 1876

Gorgas hired the scientist and former University of Alabama professor James Mallet to work at the ironworks. Mallet had made a name for himself for his work at the Macon Arsenal and Gorgas felt that he was the man to  move the new company forward. On November 3, 1866 the first post-war cast of four and one-half tons was poured and the new enterprise was underway however fortune would not prove to be lasting. On July 18, 1867 the furnace blew-out and the rolling mill was soon shut down. In July, 1869 Josiah Gorgas left Brierfield for the University of the South in Suwannee, Georgia. Later he would return to Alabama as the President of the University of Alabama, the position that he is largely remembered for today.

In August 1869 the ironworks was leased to Thomas Alvis, an experienced iron maker from Virginia. During this time the company made a fair profit making cotton ties. In the national panic of 1873 Alvis, along with his partner Thomas Furguson, a banker from Selma, went bankrupt. The ironworks, rolling mill and nailery sat idle from 1873 until May of 1881 when the Canebrake Company with C. C. Huckabee acting as agent, sold the Brierfield Coal and Iron Company to Alexander Sheppard and William and Kearsley Carter. In mid 1882 the new owners sold the furnace to Thomas Peter and then in 1883  the rolling mill was sold to Peter bu Huckabee who had retained it through some rather “creative” actions as agent in the sale of the Ironworks in 1881. Thomas Peters intent was to make nails however, the invention of the wire nail doomed the manufacture of cut nails and Peter found that the ironworks provided marginal income. On Christmas Eve in 1894 the furnace at Brierfield Coal and Iron Company blew out. By this time the “modern” era of iron making was beginning in the Jefferson County area and the technology at Brierfield, although cutting edge during the Civil War, was outdated. This Christmas Eve accident thus ended forever the production of iron at Brierfield.