George Washington Rains memorandum on Augusta WorksCreation: 1864
George Washington Rains (1817-1898) was a United States Army and Confederate Army officer and proprietor in the Washington Iron Works. This war-date memorandum by Rains gives a full look at the successful Confederate crash program to develop reliable sources of munitions under wartime conditions and gives clues to the skills of the person who managed it.
- Creation: 1864
1 item(s) (30 leaves, folder in box)
George Washington Rains (1817-1898) was a United States Army and Confederate Army officer and proprietor in the Washington Iron Works. He was born in 1817 in Craven County, North Carolina, and graduated third in his class from West Point in 1842. From 1844 to 1846 he was assistant professor of chemistry, mineralogy and geology at West Point, after which he served as an engineer and artillery officer in the Mexican and Seminole Wars. He resigned from the Army in 1856 and became one of the proprietors of the Washington Iron Works at Newburgh, New York. He followed his native North Carolina into secession in 1861. After his service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, he was a member and later dean of the faculty of the University of Georgia (1867-1884). He died at Newburgh, New York, on March 21, 1898.
At the start of the Civil War, the Confederacy had only two powder mills, a very small one in South Carolina and the slightly larger Sycamore Powder Mills near Nashville, Tennessee, plus whatever powder had been captured with federal arsenals. On July 10, 1861, President Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) commissioned George Washington Rains (1817-1898) a major in the regular Confederate Army under Gen. Josiah Gorgas (1818-1883), Chief of Ordnance, and gave him full authority to manage gunpowder production. Rains ordered the enlargement of the Sycamore Mills and the construction of a second works at Manchester, Tennessee, but decided to build a central powder works at Augusta, a site with ample water power well within Confederate lines and enjoying good transportation by rail and water.
Work on the Augusta Works began on September 13, 1861, and it went into production on April 10, 1862. Rains has the assistance of a young civil engineer and architect C. Shaler Smith (1836-1886) and William Pendleton (1809-1883), a machinist. He also had a pamphlet describing the noted British gunpowder factory at Waltham Abbey. Rains himself developed a number of innovations to compensate for the shortage of labor or lack of the best materials, including steaming the mixed ingredients into a slush prior to wheeling in the roll mills, which greatly reduced the time required to produce the wheel-cake.
In contrast to other aspects of the war's command economy, the Augusta Works represented a major Confederate success story, being capable of turning out a high quality product at a cost of about $1.08 per pound, as against $3.00 per pound for the best foreign powder delivered by blockade runners. When in full operation, it was allegedly the second largest gunpowder works in the world and the counterpart of the du Ponts' Brandywine Works in the North. While the Tennessee mills were lost early in the war with the capture of Nashville, the first Confederate state capital to fall, Augusta was the only major Southern city not occupied by the Union forces. The Augusta Works remained in operation until April 18, 1865, having produced 2.75 million pounds of powder, with 70,000 pounds still on hand. This powder was later used at the artillery school at Fort Monroe. The machinery of the works was sold in 1873, being bought by the du Ponts and then given to the Sycamore Mills in exchange for a large block of its capital stock. The Sibley Cotton Factory was later built on part of the site.
Scope and Contents
This war-date memorandum by George Washington Rains (1817-1898) gives a full look at the successful Confederate crash program to develop reliable sources of munitions under wartime conditions and gives clues to the skills of the person who managed it.
The memorandum may have been written as part of an official report to his superior Josiah Gorgas (1818-1883). It provides a detailed account not only of his design and construction of the Augusta Powder Works, with a walk through the processes used there, but also of his efforts to supply every corner of the Confederacy with arms and ammunition. It also describes Rains's efforts with the other Confederate powder mills and his creation of supply chains for saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal from across the South. For example, Rains substituted cottonwood for the willow normally used to make gunpowder charcoal. The Augusta operation turned out not only gunpowder, but rifle cartridges, torpedoes (naval mines), signal rockets, and even land mines and hand grenades that were designed by his brother, General Gabriel Rains (1803-1881). At other buildings at Augusta, cannons were cast, and artillery harnesses and caissons were made so that Rains could produce completely equipped artillery batteries, needing only men and horses.
Unfortunately, the account ends at page 30, in mid-sentence, with the remaining pages being excised at some point. As Rains mentions the fall of Atlanta, the volume seems to have been written no earlier than the winter of 1864, but not after the fall of Petersburg.
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