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Heart of the Southern War Machine: The Augusta Powder Works was an unparalleled accomplishment of mi

Time:2017-04-19 06:57Shoes websites Click:

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By Theodore P. Savas

A bearded Confederate colonel walked slowly to a tall flag pole and looked up at the oversized garrison banner snapping in the brisk afternoon breeze. It was late April 1865. President Jefferson Davis was escaping south, and the corpse of Abraham Lincoln was heading by rail to its final resting place in Illinois. With a heavy heart, the officer slowly hauled down his beloved flag. That act and a final order extinguished furnaces and brought the machinery that had run the Augusta Powder Works for more than three years to a disquieting halt. Colonel George Rains stood alone in the silence, gazing down the banks of the empty Augusta Canal that had sent his precious gunpowder to the armies of the Confederacy.

“To enter a great war without a supply of this essential material was appalling”

When Southern batteries opened on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the young Confederacy’s entire supply of the gunpowder was barely enough for one month of active operations. The North was well-equipped to produce and supply its armies with gunpowder, but the Confederacy boasted only four small private mills (two each in South Carolina and Tennessee) that could barely keep up with local needs. “To enter a great war without a supply of this essential material,” Colonel Rains would one day write, “was appalling.”

Jefferson Davis and his chief of ordnance, Major Josiah Gorgas, unlike so many others, anticipated a prolonged and arduous conflict. But where could the Confederacy get its gunpowder? There was no effective or reliable means to procure it from abroad. The only viable solution was to construct a facility of sufficient magnitude to satisfy the needs of a nation at war.

Acting with celerity and sound judgment, Davis made the most important and impactful executive decision of his entire presidency: He selected Rains, then a major, for the thankless task of overseeing the Confederacy’s construction of a massive gunpowder production facility. A firm understanding of Rains’ education and work background is critical to appreciate what he would soon accomplish.

George Washington Rains was born in the New Bern, N.C., in 1817, a brother of future Confederate General and torpedo expert Gabriel Rains. He obtained an appointment from Alabama in 1838 to West Point, where he graduated first in scientific studies and third overall in the talented Class of 1842.

With a fresh commission as second lieutenant in the Engineer Corps, Rains garnered practical engineering experience constructing Fort Warren in Boston harbor. The monotony of such tasks bored the adventurous officer, who finagled the equivalent of a demotion by transferring to the 4th Artillery in 1843. After a year at Fort Monroe, Rains accepted a position as assistant professor at West Point, where he taught chemistry, geology, and mineralogy.

Rains resigned his position when the Mexican War began and rejoined his artillery regiment. He initially oversaw the Quartermaster’s Depot at Port Isabel, Texas, but spent most of the war serving as aide de camp to General Gideon Pillow. The North Carolina native was brevetted twice for bravery under fire, and was the first American to enter enemy-held Veracruz, where he negotiated the exchange of prisoners.

After the war Rains served at Fort Hamilton in New York, where he met and married Francis Ramsdell, the daughter of a wealthy Northern industrialist. Six months later he resigned from the Army to become president and partner (with his father-in-law) of the Washington Iron Works in Newburgh, N.Y. There, he obtained patents relating to steam engines and boilers, managed a large number of employees, and acquired practical manufacturing and inventive experience. Rains’ resumé by the time of the Civil War included combat, staff, quartermaster, and diplomatic experience, together with private sector manufacturing and management knowledge.

Soon after the fall of Fort Sumter, Rains left New York for Richmond, where he was commissioned major of artillery in early July 1861. Once again he found himself in uniform, only this time it was Confederate gray.

Davis placed a nearly impossible task on Rains’ shoulders: Search the Confederacy for a central location upon which to construct a powder mill, “of sufficient magnitude to supply the armies in the field and the artillery of the forts and coastal defenses.” With that carte blanche, Rains left Richmond on July 10, 1861, for what he described as a “rapid rail tour” of the new Confederacy. “I almost lived on the railroad cars,” Rains later wrote, “devising plans, examining the country for a location, hunting up materials…and employing more or less every available machine shop and foundry from Virginia to Louisiana.” He quickly focused on northeastern Georgia, for just 10 days later he settled upon Augusta as the home for his proposed complex.

Heart of the Southern War Machine: The Augusta Powder Works was an unparalleled accomplishment of mi

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