Richmond Enquirer, 8/6/1862

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From the Richmond Enquirer, 8/6/1862, p. 1, c. 7

FATAL ACCIDENT AT THE C. S. LABORATORY. – On yesterday forenoon, about fifteen minutes to eleven, an accident, unaccountable in its detail, occurred at the Confederate States Laboratory, on Brown’s Island, a short distance below Belle Isle, in James river, and opposite the Confederate States (formerly the State) Armory, resulting in the death and mutilation of the body of the Assistant Laborator, William Pratt, formerly of Washington, D. C., and son of the late Director of the Laboratory at Washington. The facts of the case are only to be inferred from the conclusions. Mr. Pratt was Assistant to Professor Schwab, the Chief of the Fulminating Powder Department on the Island, and was in the building alone when the accident occurred. Prof. Schwab was just on his way, over the river, to the island, when the explosion occurred. The Laboratory building, which, for prudential reasons, was a frame structure, erected in an isolated position on the island, was blown into fragments. A man on the outside, whose name is Michael Goheen, was hurt seriously on the head, not, however, fatally. Professor Schwab immediately hastened to the scene, and discovered amidst the ruins the body of Mr. Pratt, the head dreadfully mutilated, both arms blown off, portions of each leg carried away, and the bowels torn out.

The explosion was heard all over the city, and many were under the impression, at the time, that it resulted solely from an experiment at the Armory. The sound was sharp and quick, but the echo, reverberating amidst the hills with which Richmond is surrounded, produced the impression that a shell, experimental or not, had been thrown by some means somewhere in the immediate vicinity.

The remains of Mr. Pratt were collected and decently coffined for interment. As no circumstances are known as to the cause of the explosion, it is only proper to premise that spontaneous combustion was the origin.

Mr. Pratt was always careful and particular in everything and every motion in the Laboratory.


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