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Historic Tredegar To Highlight Brown's Island Tragedy

RICHMOND, Va., Feb. 8, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On March 9, the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar and the Richmond National Battlefield Park will present Tragedy at Brown's Island.

The event will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will explore the tragic home front story of the Friday the 13 th explosion that took place at the C.S. Laboratory on Brown's Island. There, young women and girls produced the material of war.

According to American Civil War Center President Christy Coleman, March 13, 1863 was a day like no other.

"Eighteen-year-old Mary Ryan had the task of filling friction primers-explosive devices used to ignite gunpowder in cannon. It was delicate and dangerous work best suited for small, nimble hands," Coleman said. "Shortly before noon that day, Mary was seen repeatedly rapping the board containing the primers against her bench seat. The primer exploded sending Mary straight into the air. With gunpowder residue in the air, this ignition triggered a massive explosion that quickly swept through and demolished the building."

About 20 young women died instantly. Another 20 died within hours from burns and other injuries. In the midst of war, this was the worst domestic tragedy Richmond had faced, Coleman said.

"This tragedy illustrates that the casualties of war are not limited to the battlefield," said Elizabeth Paradis Stern, chief of interpretation at Richmond National Battlefield Park.

Tours to Brown's Island will discuss the explosion along with the impact it had on Tredegar Iron Works, which produced more than half of all cannons and munitions used by the Confederacy. 

Costumed interpreters will also demonstrate how munitions cartridges were made and younger visitors can try jobs their counterparts undertook centuries ago. Those hoping to see the war material in action can do so during the cannon firing demonstration.

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