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.