From the Richmond Dispatch, 3/14/1863, p. 2, c. 3
Gunpowder Explosion and Loss of Life. – Between 11 and 12 o’clock yesterday, a dull and heavy explosion was heard in the direction of the Confederate Laboratory Works, on 7th street. On proceeding to the spot as several thousand persons did from fear of some appalling accident, the disaster was found to have occurred on Brown’s Island, on which is located a large number of long and short low wooden houses used for the preparation and manufacture of ammunition for small arms. – The island is occupied in the day time by between three and four hundred operatives, nearly all girls or women. The explosion was found to have occurred in the room used for breaking up condemned cartridges. About fifty feet of the building was was destroyed. The exact manner in which the explosion occurred is not known. Owing to the small quantity of powder in the room, the house, which was about twenty feet wide, was not blown to pieces, but, from the accumulation of gas from the exploding powder, the walls were forced outward, and the roof fell in, crushing under its weight the sixty or seventy inmates who were at work therein. The door connecting the pistol cartridge room with the room destroyed was blown away. Directly the explosion was heard a scene of the direst confusion ensued on the island. Some of the girls, in their fright, ran from the adjacent buildings and plunged into the river. The screams of these under the debris of the fallen house summoned speedy assistance. To add to the horror of the scene the wreck caught fire, but luckily the flames were soon subdued. Twenty-eight girls were rescued but badly injured; while life was already extinct with six. Probably ten of the wounded may die. Among those seriously hurt we regret to say, was Rev. John Woodcock, who had charge of a portion of the works on the island. His life was despaired of, and it was rumored last night that he had died. The following badly burned, were taken to General Hospital No. 2, on 7th street viz: George Chappell, Mila Burnett, Mary Jenningham, Julia Brannon, Sarah Haney, Peter Perkins and Alonzo Owens, boys. The other wounded were conveyed away by their friends. Owing to the preparations made for such emergencies, the persons in charge of the work were enabled to supply the wounded speedily with oil, cotton, and flour, to assuage their misery. We purposely omit any description of the scene likely to add additional food for horrid imaginings. The reality in this case was bad enough. The shrieks of the wounded and plaintive moans of the dying, together with the agonized looks of those who had relatives on the island, rendered it a scene not likely to be forgotten.
Up to nine o’clock last night three of those carried to General Hospital No. 2 had died.
Yesterday afternoon a benevolent gentleman started a subscription list for the relief of the sufferers by this dreadful accident. The list realized $126 in a few hours. It is to be hoped that to-day a handsome sum may be realized. The girls killed and wounded were in nearly every case the supporters of mothers, and sometimes of whole families, by their work, and great suffering will be caused by the cessation of this revenue to families who even with it could barely live. Any sum with which the charitable may wish to relieve some of the suffering caused by this calamity may be left with Mr. W. W. Snead, on 10th, between Main and Cary streets, by whom it will be properly applied. Since writing the above a gentleman noted for his benevolence has left $50 at this office for the purpose mentioned. It will be handed to Mr. Snead. Let the example be followed.
It will be seen that the Mayor has called on the Young Men’s Christian Association to solicit contributions for the sufferers.