Thanks to Ann McElfresh Bolt for the original transcript of these articles
and to Ray McElfresh for sharing them.

Daily National Intelligence
Washington, D.C.
June 18, 1864

Terrible Calamity at the Washington Arsenal

The community were shocked yesterday by the one of those calamities that appall the mind by their suddenness and terrible consequences.

At ten minutes past twelve o'clock, the quarter of the city adjacent to the United States Arsenal, near the foot of Four-and-a-half street, was startled by an explosion, followed by a column of smoke rising from the Arsenal grounds. Persons hurrying to the scene found that the long building or shed, called the laboratory, where the shells are charged, was blown up, and was on fire. The alarm was given and the Hibernia steam engine and other machines were quickly rallied and set to work to quench the flames, which were roasting the bodies of the unfortunate at the time of the disaster. At twenty minutes past one the fire was extinguished, and some bodies and fragments of bodies were taken out of the ruins.

The scene was horrible beyond description. Under the metal roof of the building were seething bodies and limbs, mangled, scorched, and charred beyond the possibility of identification. Most of those who escaped-- about two hundred and fifty persons, mainly females, were employed in that building-- had fled shrieking away. Some fainted, and were with difficulty, restored, and some had after the first shock, returned to shriek over the fate of their companions; while an agonized crowd of relatives rushed to the spot to learn tidings of their daughters or sisters who were known to have been in the fated building.

Up to three o'clock eighteen or nineteen bodies had been taken from the ruins. They were so charred as to defy identification. The number could not be definitely ascertained, as the reader may know, when told that a half dozen of the bodies were put in a box about five feet square. Three women were taken out alive and placed in the hospital. Their names are Sally McElfresh, Anne Bates, and Rebecca Hull. Miss Bates is seriously burned that her recovery is doubtful. Sarah Gunnell escaped from the building, and, being terribly frightened, ran towards her home, which is on Four-and-a-half street, between Fifth and Sixth, but swooned away and died instantly; it is supposed from fright.

The following are still missing and are doubtless among the dead: Eliza Lacey, Miss Dunn, Lizzie Brahler, Bettie Braunagan, Elizabeth Adams, Julia McEwen, Maggie Yonson. The three last named are given up by their friends as dead. Many who are not among the dead are missing, for they were frightened and fled in all directions. One took refuge in a cellar and remained there for an hour before she recovered from the effects of her extreme terror.

The square in front of the Arsenal gate presents a most distressing spectacle. Be there, sisters, husbands, and fathers are there waiting for sisters, wives, and daughters. The anxiety and sorrow exhibited is beyond all description.

The building destroyed was about one hundred feet long on the south endof the yard with wooden walls and roof. It is used for charging artillery shells. Yesterday the hands were at work preparing signal rockets and the explosion is accounted for by the ignition of red stars used in these stages. A quantity of these stars were being stored in pans outside the building. A spark was seen to fall from a chimney of the cartridge laboratory by a son of the superintendent of the Arsenal, and it is supposed that the stars were set on fire. The theory is that the stars became heated by the sun beyond the maximum point and were set on fire. The flames from these stars dashed into the building and caused the explosion.

The injured parties were attended to by Dr. Porter, who was assisted by Dr. Charles Allen, of the city, who happened to be in the neighborhood.

The foregoing particulars of this terrible calamity were derived from the Republican of last evening. At a later hour we learned that the charred remains of seventeen of the victims had been recovered. With one exception they were all women and only two of the bodies could be identified.
The verdict of the Coroner's inquest, we learn, severely denounces Superintendent Brown, whom it charges with having been guilty of the most culpable carelessness and negligence, in having inflammable substances places so near a building filled with human beings and citing an accountable most reckless disregard of life. It is the most frightful accident we have ever had in Washington.


June 19, 1864
Excerpts from the Washington Chronicle

Yesterday morning a meeting of the working men of the Washington Arsenal was held at which several appropriate resolutions were adopted:

§ to select a site at the congressional cemetery
§ to procure hearses, appoint pall-bearers, and conduct the funeral procession
§ to visit the families of the desceased and inform them of the actions taken by several departments concerning the calamity, and to make arrangements for their attendance at the funeral
§ to have an appropriate monument erected to the memory of those who lost their lives
§ the funeral will leave the Arsenal promptly at 3 o'clock, proceeding up Four-and-a-half street to Pennsylvania Avenue, then on to Congressional Cemetery where the last sad services will take place
§ it is expected that all the workmen at the Arsenal will be in attendance
§ on this great occasion sectarian views and feelings will be unknown, the religious services conducted by Catholic and Protestant clergyman
§ the coffins are handsomely finished and elegantly mounted with silver plates, handles, etc.
§ committees have succeeded in procuring nine hearses and the same number of ambulances for the conveyance of the bodies
§ at the Congressional Cemetery a most eligible site has been obtained with expected reference to a new and noble monument
§ this will be one of the most imposing and extensive funeral processions ever beheld in the national metropolis

We learned with great pleasure that Miss Ashdown escaped without injury.

Miss Clements, of Georgetown, who was in the fatal room, describes the scene as that occasioned by a sudden flash of lightening. She leaped from her seat, but fell down, injuring the left side of her face. Miss Mallihan, of Seventh Street, also effected her escape by leaping from a window. Miss Gunnell is improving. We now understand that Miss Willie Webster was not at work on the dreadful day.

This Sabbath will be one of universal sadness throughout the District of Columbia.


June 20, 1864

We learned that four of the sufferers who were rescued alive from the burning ruins of laboratory at the Arsenal on Friday last have since died, increasing the total number of deaths by that calamity to twenty-one, whose names are thus reported:

Susan Harris, a young girl, member of Wesley Chapel; Eliza Lacey, Bettie Braunagan, whose husband is a soldier in Gen. Grant's army: Miss Collins, Miss Yonson, Eliza Adams, Miss McElfresh, who was removed to her mother's residence and died during Friday night; Anne Bache, died in hospital Friday night; Ellen Rouch, Joanna Conner, Kate Moran, Miss Dunn, Julia McEwen, Miss Murphy, Miss Lloyd, Rebecca Hull, Emma Baird, Mary Burroughs, Miss Tippett, Miss Brahler, and Ada or Willa Webster, which of the two is not certain, but one of the sisters is dead appears beyond doubt.


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