(Col. George W. Rains)
When the Civil War broke out, the South was unprepared for war. Unbeknownst to most, was the glaring lack of saltpeter or sulphur mines anywhere in the Confederacy. Potassium nitrate (commonly called saltpeter or niter) mixed with sulphur and charcoal was the primary method used to produce explosives before the war and the South was deficient in two of these critical areas. With the North employing embargo and blockade, the Southern Armies were facing a critical shortage of gunpowder and with a tightening naval blockade, supplies were becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. At one point, Jefferson Davis, was even quoted as saying the army only had enough powder for one month of light fighting. Under the authorization of President Davis, Rains scoured the South looking for new sources of niter. Utilizing his chemistry background, Rains discovered soil found in the limestone caverns in Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia could suffice and to make up the shortfall in production, he even employed systems of trenches to collect human waste latrines in larger cities.
Raines converted factories in Nashville and Richmond into small powder works, but his greatest achievement was in constructing from scratch the Augusta Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia. At its peak, the factory produced 7,000 pounds of powder in a day for a wartime total of 2,750,000. Rains revolutionized the gunpowder industry and instituted safety reforms that dramatically reduced injury at his factory.
(Sibley Mill, Augusta, Georgia, after the war. The chimney was part of the original Confederate Powder Works and survives today.)
The Augusta plant was the only official government structure constructed by the Confederacy and it continued to produce gunpowder until the very end of the war. Following the war, Federal officials deemed confiscated Confederate powder to be of the finest quality.
George Rains stayed in Augusta and served as professor of chemistry and pharmacy at the Medical College of Georgia until 1884 and eventually moved to New York State to start a new business in 1894 before dying there in 1898.