Confederate Cartridge Packages
Original Author: Unknown; photographed by Alan Thompson
Created: ca. 1861–1865
Medium: Cartridge boxes
Publisher: Museum of the Confederacy

Confederate Cartridge Packages

Five lead bullets are visible inside a Civil War–era cartridge package produced at the Confederate States Laboratory, an ordnance factory in Richmond, Virginia. A cartridge package consisted of a wooden block with holes drilled to hold five finished paper cartridges. Each cartridge consisted of a lead bullet and the proper amount of gunpowder wrapped in paper. The primer was separate from the cartridge and came in the form of small brass percussion caps. The extra hole in the cartridge package held the percussion caps. After being filled with ammunition, the wooden block was covered in a paper wrapper labeled with the armory name, date, and contents, and then shipped to the troops. The finished cartridges for this package were designed for use in pistols. A soldier would carry these cartridge packages in a big leather box that he wore on his right hip.

Early on in the Civil War, the Confederate States Laboratory was moved to Brown's Island in the James River, a short distance away from the Tredegar ironworks, as a safety precaution. A January 1863 newspaper article in the Richmond Whig described the work performed by the 600 workers, many of whom were women and children. "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." The article went on to boast of how few accidents had occurred in the laboratory, which was referred to as the "general ordnance manufactury of the South," as well as the "salvation of the Confederacy." A few months later, on March 13, 1863, an explosion at the ordnance laboratory killed more than sixty young women and children.