Explosives by Gabriel Rains during the Civil War

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series The Technology of War
  • Explosives by Gabriel Rains during the Civil War

The American Civil War generated many new technologies and inventions. Gabriel Rains was one such innovator.

A drawing done by Rains in the early 1860s illustrating Civil War torpedo technology. Image from the American Civil War Museum.

On June 17, 1864, Brigadier General Gabriel Rains was appointed chief of the newly created Torpedo Bureau of the Confederate army.

Born in New Bern in 1803, Rains graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1827. He began experimenting with mines, then called “torpedoes.” in 1839, during the Seminole War. At the outbreak of the Civil War he resigned his commission and offered his services to the Confederacy.

His younger brother, George Washington Rains, was also a brigadier general in the Georgia Militia, and the two were known as “the Bomb Brothers” for their creation and use of land mines, torpedoes, booby traps, and other explosives.

Rains was wounded during the Battle of Seven Pines, and was singled out by Maj. Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill for a successful flanking maneuver that turned the tide of battle in favor of the Confederates. Rains was then placed in command of the conscription and torpedo bureaus at Richmond.

Rains continued to develop his “infernal machines” for use on land and in waterways throughout the war. Many officers in both the Union and Confederate armies thought torpedoes constituted an improper form of warfare, but Rains defended his use of explosive devices as a means to discourage a night attack by an enemy, to defend a weak point of a line and to check enemy pursuit.

While in service in Richmond, Rains began to formulate plans for the torpedo defense of Confederate ports. Impressed with the plans, President Jefferson Davis directed him to put his plans into operation. Rains was first sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and then to Charleston, South Carolina and Mobile, Alabama.

Rains’s torpedoes were a great success, providing an effective deterrent to Union naval attack and sinking about 58 Union vessels in all.

Image from the Library of Congress

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