A Civil War Biography

Gabriel James Rains

Rains was born 4 June 1803 in Craven City, North Carolina. He graduated 13th in the West Point class of 1827 and remained in the army at various posts fighting Indians and in the Mexican War before resigning on 31 July 1861 to fight for the Confederacy. At the time of his resignation Rains was a lieutenant colonel with the 5th US Infantry.

He was made a brigadier general in the Confederate army on 23 September 1861 and assigned to command a brigade in Daniel Harvey Hill's division.

Rains had experimented with booby traps while fighting Indians in 1840 with little success. By 1862, however, he had developed a reliable anti-personnel mine. Artillery shells were prepared so they would explode when a trip wire was pulled or the device was stepped upon. Such devices were first used in the vicinity of Williamsburg during the Peninsular campaign. On 4 May 1862, while scouting along the road towards Yorktown, a horse rider detonated one of these devices becoming the first casualty of a pressure operated land mine. At Seven Pines Rains was censured by Hill for poor performance. Rains would not command in the field again.

He became superintendent of the volunteer and conscript bureau and then was assigned to the torpedo bureau. He organized the system of torpedoes that protected the harbors of Charleston, Savannah, and Mobile. Following the war Rains resided for a time in Augusta, Georgia then moved to Aiken, South Carolina where he died on 6 August 1881. His brother George Washington Rains, born in 1817, also attended West Point, graduating 3rd in the class of 1842. The younger Rains' contribution to the Confederate war effort was in establishing the Augusta Arsenal which provided nearly three million pounds of gunpowder during the conflict.

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