An Ill-Fated Day in Jackson, MS...And A Brooch (A testament to the women in the war effort)

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#1
The headlines of The Weekly Mississippian that greeted it's Jackson, MS readers on November 6, 1862 was shocking:
"A DARK DAY IN JACKSON"
"...mangled bodies of men, women, and girls who had been employed in making cartridges were scattered in every direction!"


Women, girls and children made up the majority of the factory workers at the ill-fated arsenal in Jackson, MS on the day of the explosion on November 5, 1862.
Women not only took care of family, homes, and business affairs in the absence of their men, but also helped in the war effort by making rifle cartridges on the second floor of a two-story brick school house on the College Green at the edge of town. The bottom floor housed artillery shells, powder and small arms.
Army stores sprang up around the arsenal and like many similar city arsenals across the north and the south, it became a bustling community effort to support their men on the war front.

It was extremely dangerous work. But it was employment for those fortunate enough to be hired on and trained to make the rifle cartridges.
It required manually loading powder and ball in the cartridge and sealing it with wax.
A young local boy who was working as a laborer at the arsenal made a frightening observation on the day of the explosion. The loose powder scattered on the work table was sticking to the bottom of the copper plates used to melt the wax. This exposure to the flames was causing "flashing". The boy reported this to the foreman but his complaint was ignored. He complained a second time and his employment was threatened. He chose to quit and walked off the job. That act of rebellion made him the ONLY survivor that day.
At 3:30pm, a loud explosion was heard, shattering windows in the city. The explosion was heard twenty miles away in the neighboring county.

The Weekly Mississippian reported eye witness testimony to the aftermath of the explosion. The mangled burned bodies were scattered about. One report was especially heart-wrenching:
"The body of a poor girl was hanging by one foot to the limb of a tree, she was evidently dead, but her clothes were still burning. Other bodies were blown to the distance of fifty to one hundred fifty yards, and presented a mutilated and shocking appearance."

Although the site of the arsenal and explosion are within a few hundred yards of our new state-of-the-art history museums, there is no historic marker or interpretation of what happened here. It's a telling story. Women doing what women do in times of hardship. They support, they work, they make contributions, many times without fanfare or recognition for their efforts, and they sacrifice.

I made my "discovery" of the arsenal and it's secrets quite by accident.
In 2001, while driving home from work, I noticed bulldozers and excavators doing construction clearing work in a field. I stopped and talked to them to find out more about what work was being done there since I am in the economic development business and my curiosity was getting the best of me.
From the time I got out of my car to the time I reached the supervisor's trailer, to my amazement, I had picked up a civil war era percussion cap and a small cannonball exposed on the ground. The earth moving equipment had pushed out the site of the arsenal and I found several minie ball bullets and a very interesting woman's brooch. It was oval shaped with the center piece consisting of a glass prism encasing six gold stars.

I went to the Archives and began researching the area and discovered what had happened there. I was shocked! And then it hit me all at once. The civil war artifacts were all connecting me to the events of that horrible day of the tragedy at the arsenal. It was sad, but exhilarating at the same time. And what about the connection between the woman's brooch and the women workers at the arsenal? Had I inadvertently found a piece of jewelry that was blown off the body of one of the workers that fateful day?

November 5, 1862, should not be a date forgotten by time or history. A large number of our Jackson ladies went to do a job and lost their lives that day. It was horrific. Lesser events have occurred on an American battlefield and are marked by eternal markers and monuments. These ladies should receive no less.
For now, the best I can do is to use this forum to tell their story.

There is one reminder to our Southern women that stands in front of the state's capitol building in Jackson that is dedicated to the collective efforts of the Mothers, Daughters, Wives and Sisters. I've attached photographs with this story along with a picture of the brooch.
Any help you can give me in the identification of the brooch as to confirm its age or any other information is appreciated.

I additionally want to include the names of the women that were able to be identified as victims of the explosion here as a memorial to them:

Laura Hickey - Laborer
Lucy Gray - Laborer
Nancy Gray - Laborer
Leona Head - Laborer
Sarah Jones - Laborer
Adela Heard - Laborer
Caroline Muller - Laborer
Emily Grey - Laborer
Martha Patterson - Laborer
Sarah Jones - Laborer
Cammie March - Laborer
Mary Powers - Laborer
Letitia Shannon - Laborer
Mary Burns - Laborer
Mary Henderson - Laborer
Nelly Powell - Laborer
Emma Moody - Laborer

mothers.JPG


1.JPG


2.JPG


3.JPG


front of brooch.JPG


back of brooch.JPG
 

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Joined
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#4
Wow. Fascinating story @Tom Hughes Thanks so much for sharing it here.

Where in Jackson was the arsenal located? A map or address?
Wow. Fascinating story @Tom Hughes Thanks so much for sharing it here.

Where in Jackson was the arsenal located? A map or address?
It's in downtown Jackson, MS on the corner of College Street and North Jefferson Street.
Thanks for reading my story and commenting.
 
Joined
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#5
*shudder* what a terrible fate for those poor women. The broach is interesting. It does look like the proper pin application. Do you know if the site managers did any archaelogy?
They said that they had a state archaeologist survey it and did some test pits but didn't find anything significant. Since that time I have reported my findings.
 
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#6
They said that they had a state archaeologist survey it and did some test pits but didn't find anything significant. Since that time I have reported my findings.
One more thing I just remembered. A local prominent businessman in Jackson remembers a cannon tube being found back in the 1960's when a pipe was being laid on the property. He doesn't remember what happened to it though. He also told me that after a hard rain, he would occasionally find washed up minie balls when he was a kid. It really surprised me that the state doesn't take much interest. I've been told things like "we don't have the money to survey everything"..."too expensive to do markers"....etc., etc.
 
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#8
Below is a very detailed account of the tragedy as written by H. Grady Howell, Jr.

http://battleofraymond.org/howell.htm

During the Civil War, the public schools of Jackson were situated on the northern outskirts of the city on a site known as "College Green." This area was bounded on the North by High Street, South by Mississippi Street, East by Jefferson Street and West by North Street. Two brick two-story structures were erected in this area before the war. The northernmost building was for boys and the one on the southern end of this "Green" was for girls. According to one historian: "In 1862 the boys school building was converted into an arsenal and occupied by about eighty men, women and children, manufacturing cartridges for the Confederacy."

Map of Jackson, Ms. circa 1822 showing the College Green location in relation to the Old Capital Building.

Jackson, Ms. Map (1822).jpg
 
Last edited:

alan polk

2nd Lieutenant
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#9
Great article! I know that @JPK Huson 1863 is knowledgeable about 19th century attire. Hopefully she will see this post and give some insight into the brooch. I’m no expert but it really has that 19th century look to it. It is awful to think it might have come from one of those poor women, but I’m glad you shared it with us and shared it with the archives.

The brooch is a tragic but yet important artifact that helps remind us of the sacrifices and suffering of folks during that period. Most importantly, and as you highlighted in your post, it brings attention to womens’ role in that war - roles that are often overlooked.

I hope you can get decent information about the item.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#10
I hadn't heard of this disaster, thanks for posting! Reading of the same explosions at arsenals elsewhere is horrendous- we've done threads on them and boy are they tough reading.

I don't know, going with button? I realize that back seems it could only be a pin but it looks more ' button '. We have quite a few era buttons someone kept saving until our generation- that concave thing with small, center decoration is awfully typical. Again, no expert but I'd have no problem dating it to the war.

How crazy, thinking it could be a relic from that awful day. Sobering, isn't it? Considering the massive shambles left behind, it doesn't seem a stretch it once was worn by someone who had no idea it would be her last day here. Chills.

Harper's image of workers at the Watertown, Mass., arsenal. Guessing it'd be similar to this one before the tragedy.

arsenal workers.jpg
 

Polloco

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#13
Thank you for passing on this information. I've heard of the "other" arsenal explosion but had not been aware of one in Jackson. We need more monuments to the Women of the South. When you think about it better than half the Confederacy was made up of women and children.Maybe the "Enlightened Ones" would leave these monuments alone.
 

Mrs. V

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#16
Corner of College Street and North Jefferson Street in downtown Jackson, MS
Maybe time for some amateur archaeology..or perhaps the local high school/community college? I know that Time Team did a community dig in Britian. It was very successful. And the finds could then be catalogued and given to the schools.
 
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#19
For those who would like to pay their respects, the victims were buried amongst our "Unknown" and "Known" Confederate dead at Greenwood Cemetery near the Capital in downtown Jackson. That was the City Cemetery during the Civil War. According to accounts in H. Grady Howell, Jr.`s excellent and very detailed account of the tragedy:

"The girl' s school survived the blast and stood for a number of years after the war. The devastation of war, however, wiped away many records of this, the most tragic and blackest day in Jackson, Mississippi; and despite The Mississippian's prediction that "Jackson will long remember and mourn the sad occurrence," it was forgotten by succeeding generations to the point that not even the location of the mass burial sites within the confines of Greenwood Cemetery (the Old City Cemetery of Civil War times) is noted and can be found!"

KNOWN TO BE KILLED.
Thomas Halley, laborer
John Corcoran, "
John Blake, "
P. Somers, "
J. Tiemay, "
Charles Little, "
William McCook,"
A. W. Moore, superintending laboratory.
Louis Divine, cartridge-maker
John Wall, "
Ed. Wall, "
John McNeil, "
F. Olin, "
W. Stowers, "
Geo. Stowers, "
A. J. Patterson, "
John Tafley, "
Laura Hickey, "
Lucy Gray, "
Nancy Gray, "
Leona Head, "
Sarah E. Jones, "
Adela Hurd, "
Caroline Muller, "
Emily Grey, "
Sarah James, "
Cammie March, "
Mary Powers, "
Letitia Shannon, "
Mary Burns, "
Thomas Wallace, laborer.
John Heaply, cartridge-maker.
Chas. Herr, "
W. Brey, "
M. Stafford, "
J. Harrigan, "
Mary Henderson, "
Nelly Powell, "
Emma Moody, "
Martha Patterson, "
W. T. Millett, "
E. Monahan, "
H. Donald, "
F. Muller, "
A. S. Langley, "
L. Boston, "
James Cames, laborer, slightly injured in the side."

http://battleofraymond.org/howell.htm

Not sure if any of these victims had individual graves, I believe they were all buried in a mass grave there, as indicated in the H. Grady Howell Jr. article. Perhaps it would be easier to get a memorial or plakard at the Greenwood Cemetery, where their remains were buried. Maybe talk with someone of the UDC, OCR or SCV Chapters in Mississippi for the region of Jackson.
 
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Joined
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Messages
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#20
For those who would like to pay your respects, the victims were buried over at Greenwood Cemetery, with our "Unknown" and "Known" Confederate dead at Greenwood Cemetery near the Capital in downtown Jackson. That was the City Cemetery during the Civil War. According to accounts in H. Grady Howell, Jr.`s excellent and very detailed account of the tragedy:

"The girl' s school survived the blast and stood for a number of years after the war. The devastation of war, however, wiped away many records of this, the most tragic and blackest day in Jackson, Mississippi; and despite The Mississippian's prediction that "Jackson will long remember and mourn the sad occurrence," it was forgotten by succeeding generations to the point that not even the location of the mass burial sites within the confines of Greenwood Cemetery (the Old City Cemetery of Civil War times) is noted and can be found!"

KNOWN TO BE KILLED.
Thomas Halley, laborer
John Corcoran, "
John Blake, "
P. Somers, "
J. Tiemay, "
Charles Little, "
William McCook,"
A. W. Moore, superintending laboratory.
Louis Divine, cartridge-maker
John Wall, "
Ed. Wall, "
John McNeil, "
F. Olin, "
W. Stowers, "
Geo. Stowers, "
A. J. Patterson, "
John Tafley, "
Laura Hickey, "
Lucy Gray, "
Nancy Gray, "
Leona Head, "
Sarah E. Jones, "
Adela Hurd, "
Caroline Muller, "
Emily Grey, "
Sarah James, "
Cammie March, "
Mary Powers, "
Letitia Shannon, "
Mary Burns, "
Thomas Wallace, laborer.
John Heaply, cartridge-maker.
Chas. Herr, "
W. Brey, "
M. Stafford, "
J. Harrigan, "
Mary Henderson, "
Nelly Powell, "
Emma Moody, "
Martha Patterson, "
W. T. Millett, "
E. Monahan, "
H. Donald, "
F. Muller, "
A. S. Langley, "
L. Boston, "
James Cames, laborer, slightly injured in the side."

http://battleofraymond.org/howell.htm

Not sure if any of these victims had individual graves, I believe they were all buried in a mass grave there, as indicated in the H. Grady Howell Jr. article. Perhaps it would be easier to get a memorial or plakard at the Greenwood Cemetery, where their remains were buried. Maybe take with someone of the UDC, OCR or SCV Chapters in Mississippi for the region of Jackson.
Excellent idea!
 



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