Ted Savas shares some of his research and historic documentation!
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place for me as I continue working daily on my book tentatively titled: The Other Side of the Civil War: George Washington Rains, the Augusta Powder Works, and the Failures of the Union High Command. I am about 75% finished writing. I thought some of you would find this interesting.
The critical Battle for Fort Donelson unfolded 159 years ago. I have been carefully piecing together where George Washington Rains was each day of the war.
Rains (who operated much of the time out of Nashville early in the war) raced out of Tennessee to Augusta, GA, on February 18 and immediately wrote an intriguing letter to General Robert E. Lee, who was then commanding along the south Atlantic seaboard. Its purpose was to discuss how best to defend the Savannah River and Augusta.
He included details about what he had learned observing Union gunboats “I found on the Western waters.”
The only time these enemy riverine craft crept close enough for him to have examined them personally during actual combat was the middle of January (when the USS
Lexington and Conestoga lobbed shells toward Fort Henry from a long distance), and on February 14, during Flag Officer Foote’s battle on the Tennessee River against Fort Donelson.
Rains never explicitly stated precisely when or where he saw them, but he was close enough to draw and describe extraordinary details about ironclad gunboats, including the thickness of their iron, the effect of varying weights of shells fired against them, and the elevations required for those shells to be effective.
His letter (which was essentially a field report) included, among many other things, a comparison of the effectiveness of Confederate artillery. “Fort Henry,” wrote Rains, “. . . was on a level with the water, hence its 24 pdr guns made little impression,” while “Fort Donelson was on higher ground, and thus its shot were much more effective; indeed, three of the six iron clad gunboats were badly crippled.”
Since the USS Lexington and Conestoga were “timberclads,” and did not receive return fire from Fort Henry, Rains could only have witnessed the historic fight at Donelson on February 14.
He also informed Lee that these gunboats could be penetrated by rifled 24-pounders fired from an elevated position because the tops of the boats were but thinly covered, in contrast to the two-inch iron plates composing the sides.
He also relayed accurate information that would have been impossible for him to have learned through other sources by the time he wrote his letter unless he had witnessed some or all of what he described.
Why was this so important?
The fall of Donelson led to quick loss of Nashville and the only saltpeter and vibrant powder mill. Augusta was along the Savannah River. Rains finally realized the true power of the Union ironclad gunboats. If Savannah fell, they could steam up the river and destroy the large new powder works he had spent many months designing and building, and the one soon to be the only significant source for the entire Confederacy.
Rains had openly scoffed at the Union warships darting about the sea islands of Georgia. After what he witnessed and the fall of Donelson, they gave him nightmares.