From the Richmond Enquirer, 1/6/1863
THE CONFEDERATE STATES LABORATORY. - We spent a few hours
on Saturday in an exceedingly interesting tour of the various departments of the
Confederate States Laboratory. The establishment was sounded by Captain W. N.
Smith, of Washington, about the 1st of February, 1861, who still
holds the position of General Superintendent. Upon his arrival here, there were
neither buildings, tools, materials, nor operatives at his disposal. He employed
a small number of operatives at a time, worked with, and instructed them
practically till they could be entrusted with the duties that were expected of
them; superintended the getting up of all laboratory tools, and thoroughly
organized and conducted the department without any assistance whatever. As the
necessity arose, the number of operatives were increased, and they now amount to
six hundred. As this necessity developed itself, it was found unavoidable to
obtain suitable buildings, and Thomas' Tobacco Factories were taken until better
accommodations can be provided; and, about the same time, Brown's Island, then a
"pretty little wilderness" of bamboca and brush-wood, was cleared and
improved, with appropriate buildings for the manufacture of chemicals and the
arrangement of light ammunition, fuses, &c.
The Laboratory is divided into six departments extending
through the several large factories alluded to, and the buildings on the Island.
Department No. 1 is for the manufacture of percussion caps, friction primers,
fuses, signal lights and rockets, and war rockets; No. 2 is the Chemical
Department; No. 3 is for the manufacture of small arm cartridges - all of which
departments are situated on the Island. No. 4 is for fixing and packing
artillery ammunition; No. 5 is for sea coast defence ammunition, and No. 6 is
for pistol and breech loading ammunition. A handsome bridge connects the Island
with the departments on the city side.
It is interesting to watch the facility and expedition with
which the operatives, male and female, perform their various labors. Men only
are employed in the heavy ammunition department, where shell and canister are
packed, grape put up, cannon cartridges made and boxed up for transportation. In
the department occupied by females, cartridges, fuses, caps, primers and rockets
are turned out with astonishing rapidity. To give some idea of the expedition
with which work is done, it may not be an unfair criterion to say that the
average number of cartridges made per day, by little girls from nine to twelve
years of age, is 1200 each.
Every department is well and carefully heated. - Those on
the island are rendered comfortable by registers from furnaces distinct from the
buildings. Very few accidents have occurred at the Laboratory since its
establishment - much fewer, indeed, than might reasonably have been expected
where so many raw hands have been necessarily employed. The establishment has
been of inestimable service, we may say the salvation of the Confederacy. It is
the general ordnance manufactury of the South.
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