(1817 - 03-21-1898)
Born in Craven County, NC, he was the son of a successful
cabinetmaker and fur trader. After attending local schools, he received an appointment to
West Point, from which he graduated, third in his class, as a 2nd Lieutenant, Corps of
Engineers, July 1, 1842. Rains served as Assistant Engineer in the construction of Ft.
Warren, Boston Harbor, MA, 1842-1843, after which he was transferred to the 4th Artillery,
July 7, 1843.
Following duty in garrison at Ft. Monroe, VA,
1743-1844, he was at the Military Academy as Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy
and Geology, October 22, 1844-May 19, 1846. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, 4th
Artillery, March 3, 1847.
In the War with Mexico, he was engaged in charge
of the Quartermaster's Depot at Point Isabel, TX, 1846; Siege of Vera Cruz, March 9-29,
1847; Battle of Cerro Gordo, April 17-18, 1847; Battle of Contreras, August 19-20, 1847;
and Battle of Churubusco, August 20, 1847. He was breveted to Captain, August 20, 1847,
for gallant and meritorious conduct in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco.
Rains was next engaged in the Battle of Molino
del Rey, September 8, 1847; Storming of Chapultepec, September 13, 1847; and the Assault
and Capture of the City of Mexico, September 13-14, 1847. He received a brevet to Major,
September 13, 1847, for gallant conduct at Chapultepec.
He served as Aide-de-Camp to Brigadier-General
Pillow, February 20, 1847-July 20, 1848; was at West Point, NY, arranging model for
Valencia Silver Mine, 1848; in garrison at New Orleans Barracks, LA, 1848-1849; on
Recruiting Service, 1849; in the Florida Hostilities against the Seminole Indians,
1849-1850; in garrison at Ft. Lafayette, NY, 1850-1851; at Ft. Columbus, NY, 1851-1852; on
Recruiting Service, 1852; in garrison at Ft. Mackinac, MI, 1852-1854; Ft. Independence,
MA, 1854; and Recruiting Depot at Ft. Columbus, NY, 1854-1856. He was promoted to Captain,
4th Artillery, February 14, 1856.
Rains resigned on October 31, 1856 to pursue a
career as part-owner and president of the Washington and Highland Iron Works, at Newburg,
NY, 1856-1861. An investor like his brother, future Confederate General Gabriel Rains, he
perfected advances in steam engines and boilers and held several patents.
He entered Confederate service in 1861,
commissioned July 10, 1861 as a Major, and assigned the task of building and operating a
gunpowder mill. Although he had considerable experience as a manufacturer, Rains had no
experience manufacturing gunpowder. Further, the Confederacy had no facilities for
large-scale production and held only a small reserve of powder. Equipped with only a
pamphlet on how to make gunpowder, he built a factory from the ground up at Augusta, GA.
Rains pioneered new methods of gunpowder manufacture and was able to produce large
quantities of powder of a purity never before seen. The Augusta powder mills supplied the
Confederacy with 2.75 million pounds of high quality gunpowder during the Rebellion. On
April 7, 1862, this "very clever, highly educated and agreeable officer" was
placed in command of all munitions productions in Augusta.
He served as Colonel of a regiment of local
defense troops, composed largely of his own factory workers, who defended Augusta during
Sherman's 1864 March to the Sea. Rains was placed in command of the ordnance depots and
arsenals still functioning in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina on March 14, 1865. On
April 28, 1865 he ceased production, three weeks after Robert E. Lee's surrender.
Rains was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, May 22,
1862 and Colonel, July 12, 1863. There is disagreement as to whether he achieved the rank
of General. Ezra Warner writes:
"CV and Cullum list Rains as a general. CV
has him appointed from Georgia in 1865, presumably for leading local defenses and
reservist forces in Georgia. However, Rains' highest rank appears to have been colonel. He
appears in the OR as a colonel as late as March 29, 1865."
Appleton states Rains was commissioned a
Brigadier-General before 1863. The official records of the Aztec Club, perhaps the most
authoritative as they reflect what Rains himself wrote, list him as Major- General. It is
not known when he achieved this rank.
After the Civil War, Rains was Professor of
Chemistry and Pharmacy at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. In 1882 he published
"History of the Confederate States Powder Works",
which was read before the Confederate survivors' association meeting at Augusta that year.
He also published numerous essays and scientific papers through the years, and held three
patents for improvements in steam portable engines.
Rains retired to New York City in 1894.
He died at Newburgh in 1898 and is buried in St. George's Cemetery.
For a comprehensive biography on George Washington Rains, see "Never For Want Of Powder; The Confederate Power Works in Augusta, Georgia" published in 2007 by The University of South Carolina Press.