George Washington Rains
George Washington Rains, the son
of Gabriel Manigault and Hester (Ambrose) Rains, was born in Craven County,
North Carolina, in 1817. His father, a successful cabinetmaker and furniture
trader, moved to Alabama soon afterward. Rains attended local schools in North
Carolina and the United States Military Academy, graduating in 1842 third in a
class of fifty-six. After graduation he stayed at West Point to teach
engineering, chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. During the Mexican War Rains
served as aide-de-camp to Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, commander of the
U.S. Army, and won brevet promotions to Captain and major. In 1856 he was
promoted to captain, but resigned from the army in that year to become part
owner and president of the large Washington and Highland Iron Works in Newburgh,
New York. An inventor like his older brother (future Confederate General Gabriel
Rains), Rains received several patents for advances in steam engines and
On July 10, 1861, President Davis assigned Rains the task of building and operating a central gunpowder mill, which would supply the new nation's armies. At this time the Confederacy had only a small reserve of prewar powder and no facilities for large-scale production. Although he had considerable experience as a manufacturer, Rains had no experience manufacturing gunpowder. Equipped only with a pamphlet on how to make gunpowder, Rains built a factory in Augusta, Georgia, and performed miracles. He pioneered new methods of powder manufacture, producing large quantities of powder of a purity previously unknown. He also initiated the wholesale collection of niter (the base element of gunpowder) from caves and cesspools, and authored a book on the making of saltpeter. The Augusta powder mills supplied the armies with 2.75 million pounds of high quality gunpowder during the war, enough for all their needs. Arguably, Rains did more than any other man to keep the Confederate war machine running. On April 7, 1862, this "very clever, highly educated, and agreeable officer" was placed in charge of all munitions productions in Augusta. His factories turned out cannon, ammunition, grenades, and a host of ordnance stores. His successes were rewarded with promotions to major (July 10, 1861), lieutenant colonel (May 22, 1862) and colonel (July 12, 1863). Rains's only active service was as colonel of a regiment of local defense troops, made up in large part of his factory workers and invalids, which defended Augusta during Sherman's 1864 March to the Sea. On Match 14, 1865, he was put in charge of the ordnance depots and arsenals that still functioned in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. On April 28, 1865, three weeks after Lee's sunender, Rains finally ceased production.
Rains remained in Augusta after the war and embarked on a career in education. From 1867 to 1884 he was a professor of chemistry at the University of Georgia, eventually becoming dean of the faculty. In 1882 he published his History of the Confederate States Powder Works. In 1894 Colonel Rains returned to New York and engaged in business there. He died in Newburgh on March 21, 1898, and is buried in St. George's Cemetery.
CV and Cullum list Rains as a general. CV has him appointed general from Georgia in 1865, presumably for leading local defense and reservist forces in Georgia. However, Rains's highest rank appears to have been colonel. He appears in the OR as a colonel as late as March 29, 1865.
Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.