"...The fire continued to consume the buildings and the girls
who couldn't escape. Inside the rooms, thousands of rounds of
ammunition exploded, sending bullets and lead fragments everywhere.
Pieces of the girls' and women's bodies flew into the air, landing in
the yard and in the trees nearby. Girls ran from the rooms, their
bodies aflame and their faces burned black. Men tried to extinguish
the fire on their dresses by covering them with coats, shirts, or
whatever they could find."
Tanya Anderson wanted to write a book about women during the
Civil War. Only a lot of the low hanging fruit--nurses, soldiers,
spies for example--had already been picked. Then she found a group of
women and girls barely mentioned in books involved in very hazardous
work essential to the war effort. Though books proved to be dead
ends, the Internet yielded abundant information. Her research
resulted in Gunpowder Girls: The True Stories Of Three Civil War
"Each girl and woman became someone I wanted to know--as much as
I could, more than 150 years later. Basic information on a flat sheet
of paper gave me more than I expected. Details became circumstances,
and circumstances bred empathy. The urge to tell their stories kept
me awake at night. The need to make sure these victims would not be
forgotten became the energy that created the book you're now holding."
Times were tough during the Civil War times. There was a lot of
hunger and deprivation. Husbands and fathers were off fighting.
Sometimes they came back crippled or didn't return at all. Armies on
both sides, ill clad and fed, raided farms and homes for whatever they
could get their hands on. Adults and children took whatever jobs they
could get just to survive.
Both armies needed a lot of ammunition which had to be
painstakingly made by hand. Women and girls had smaller hands that
were more adept at this delicate work. (Girls were preferred to boys
who were found to play pranks and roughhouse and sneak smokes a tad
too much to be in places full of highly explosive materials.)
In these pre OSHA tImes the places in which these women and
girls, many who hadn't reached puberty, labored 12 hour days for low
pay were catastrophes waiting to happen. Gunpowder lay on floors and
filled wood barrels. Componants that should not be in close proximity
were. All it took was something as mundane as a horse shoe striking a
spark on a cobblestone to cause whole buildings to explode. Gunpowder
Girls tells of three such tragedies.
Gunpowder Girls is a must read for Civil War buffs and women's
studies scholars and students. My only caveat: it is probably too
graphic for more sensitive young readers.
On a personal note, my latest Bangor Daily News op ed was on how we
can make a difference in our communities. I have never before
received so much positive feedback on one of my pieces. It is being
forwarded and reprinted on the Internet and will be in the Peace and
A great big shout out goes out to all who are taking my words to heart.
Sent from my iPod