"Though their hands were small and not hardened in battle, their service to the Confederacy looms large."
On Friday March 13th, 1863, eighteen-year-old Mary Ryan was at work at the Confederate States Laboratory on Brown’s Island. The small ammunition factory had several hundred employees, most of whom were young women between the ages of twelve and twenty. The work, which often required small hands, was vitally important to the Confederate war effort, which suffered often from shortages in the supply of ammunition.
The C.S. Laboratory was divided into six departments, and Mary Ryan worked in the last one. Seated at the end of a table with a handful of other employees, she was filling friction primers–the devices used to ignite gunpowder inside a cannon. This was dangerous work. In fact, the superintendent Captain Wesley N. Smith had reminded her of that during his routine inspection of the facility just fifteen minutes prior. Shortly after 11:00 AM, Mary noticed that the primer had gotten stuck and so she struck the table three times to dislodge the primer. Upon the third strike, the primer ignited and an explosion sent her flying upwards. The first explosion ignited other materials in the room, causing a second, much-larger explosion that destroyed the building completely.The Confederate munitions factory on Brown's Island exploded with a fury that killed more than 40 of its female workers, most of whom were immigrants with little resources, and were laid to rest in unmarked graves throughout the city.
In 2014, the Captain Sally Tompkins Chapter #2, Virginia Society, Order of the Confederate Rose (OCR) raised the needed funds to mark 14 of the graves in Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Richmond. A ceremony was held in March of 2014 to dedicate the markers.
Almost immediately after that project was completed, the Captain Sally Tompkins Chapter began to raise money to mark 14 more graves, this time at Hollywood Cemetery, and earlier this year, fundraising for the nearly $8,000 needed was completed.
The stones have been fabricated and will be set this week and a dedication ceremony will be held this Saturday, October 28th at 11:00 a.m. at the Gettysburg gazebo in Hollywood Cemetery.
Hosted by the Captain Sally Tompkins Chapter #2, OCR, the ceremony will include a Confederate color guard and rifle salute, keynote remarks by Ms. Teresa Roane, and historical information. Please plan to attend and help us honor these young victims of Lincoln’s illegal war on the South.
Across the country, our monuments and memorials are under daily attack by those who would wish to see our history and heritage, and the memory of the Confederate soldier, wiped completely from the face of the earth. While continuing to fight these defensive battles is our primary focus, the placement of new flags, monuments, and memorials is also a top priority. These 14 new memorials, placed when so many are under threat of removal, is a testimony to the hard work and dedication to the men and women of the Captain Sally Tompkins OCR and we offer our sincere thanks and admiration.