Landmines as Anti-Cavalry Devices during the Civil War?

I’ve been doing a little research on Brigadier-General Gabriel J. Rains, a pyro-technician of sorts during the Civil War. Gabriel and his brother George Rains became known as the “bomb brothers.” Together they developed torpedoes and subterra shells (landmines).

From a Civil War Times article on the brothers:

The South’s first torpedoes were simple, powder-filled tin cans with trigger attachments. These offered little promise. But then Gabriel developed what came to be known as the “Rains Patent,” a mine that could be used both on land and in water. These early torpedoes were made of sheet iron, and each had a fuse protected by a thin brass cap covered with a beeswax solution. If pressure were exerted on that cap, the torpedo would explode. Rains used these bombs with significant success both in the water and on the land. In the spring of 1862, while Gabriel was still leading a brigade, he turned his “Rains Patent” into the “sub-terra explosive shell,” known today as a landmine. In May, during the Peninsula Campaign, the Union Army of the Potomac was pressuring Confederate forces retreating from Yorktown in the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital. Rains’ brigade was part of the Rebel rearguard. Some of Rains’ men found loaded 8- and 10-inch Columbiad artillery shells equipped with sensitive fuse primers in a broken-down ammunition wagon near Richmond. Rains planted these shells inches beneath the sand of Richmond’s beaches “simply as a desperate effort to distance our men from pursuing Union cavalry,” he explained. Suddenly a series of shells exploded beneath the hooves of Federal horses. Pandemonium erupted as many whole Union companies bolted in panic. They were the victims of the first land mines ever used in battle. Rains had originally buried four of them and was so impressed by the contusion they caused that he buried more. Their use around Richmond grew proportionately. Rains estimated that the approaches to Richmond were laced with more than 1,300 land mines by 1864, most of them operated by trip cords that could be pulled by hidden Confederates.

Landmines were universally hated and not just by Federal troops (and commanders). At Ft. Blakely, Alabama, (April 9, 1865) on the night of Lee’s surrender the last significant battle of the Civil War took place. There hundreds (maybe thousands) of these mines had over the course of months been planted outside the Confederate works. The days leading up to the assault witnessed numerous explosions and by the time the Federals attacked, they wanted revenge. During the assault even more landmines went off.

Years before (1863) in response to Federal cavalry raids, Rains purposed that teams of landmine crews be formed in order to “put down and take up subterra shells when a raid of the enemy is out, expected, or retired.”

The logic was simple in his mind: “A raid of cavalry must confine themselves to roads, and the details above mentioned can plant in each road subterra shells, perfectly harmless to citizens, until the enemy approach, when the shell can be primed in a moment for their reception. I am confident that if the enemy are once or twice blown up by these means, raids ever thereafter will be prevented.” (Series 1, 28, Part II, p. 371)

What I can’t discover is if Rains’ plan was attempted? Does anyone know? I do know Confederate President Davis supported the proposal.

Landmines were already proven to be fairly effective and fit the South’s defensive strategy at the time. For example, at Fort McAllister, Georgia, according to Sherman, “[landmines] killed more of our men than the heavy gun of the fort.” However, no matter how effective the landmines were (especially psychologically) the underwater torpedo “may have been the South’s most effective defensive weapon.” (CWT)

Gabriel RainsBIO: Gabriel J. Rains, the son of Gabriel M. Rains, graduated from West Point in 1827, assigned to the infantry, and served in garrison and against hostile Indians till the Mexican war. He was promoted to captain on 25 December, 1837, and brevetted major, 28 April, 1840, for gallantry in the action with the Seminoles near Fort King, Florida, where he routed a superior force, and was twice severely wounded.

He entered the Confederate army in 1861, commissioned colonel, and was at once given the task of building and equipping a powder-mill. This he did under great difficulties, and created at Augusta, Georgia, the Confederate powder-works, which were, at the close of the war, among the best in the world. He was promoted brigadier-general before 1865.

Rains saw action at Shiloh and Perrysville, and after the battle of Seven Pines, where he was wounded, he was highly commended by General Daniel H. Hill for a rapid and successful flank movement that turned the tide of battle in favor of the Confederates. He was then placed in charge of the conscript and torpedo bureaus at Richmond, organized the system of torpedoes that protected the harbors of Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and other places, and invented a sub-terra shell, which was successfully used.

Since 1867 he has been professor of chemistry and pharmacy in the medical department of the University of Georgia, and he was dean of the faculty till 1884. General Rains has obtained three patents for improvements in steam portable en-tines. He has published a treatise on “Steam Portable Engines” (Newburg, New York, 1860) ; “Rudimentary Course of Analytical and Applied Chemistry” (Augusta, Georgia, 1872) ; “Chemical Qualitative Analysis” (New York, 1879); a pamphlet “History of the Confederate Powder-Works,” which he read before the Confederate survivors’ association (Augusta, 1882), and numerous essays.

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13 Responses to Landmines as Anti-Cavalry Devices during the Civil War?

  1. The MSG div commander at Wilson’s Creek was actually James Spencer Rains, and indifferent officer to put it kindly. I don’t know if he’s related to the other three Rains’ of CW repute– James Gabriel, James Edward, and George Washington–although he and J.E. were both native Tennesseans.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Drew I’ll correct that.

  3. Mike Scimeca says:

    I found one of the general’s sub-terra shells in Northern Newport News, VA, from the peninsula campaign of 1862. It is a 24 pounder. The fuse had long since disintegrated, but the loading plug is still fully intact. The retreating confederates left these mines in the woods around their earthworks as the federals occupied them enroute to the Battle of Williamsburg.

  4. Drew Armstrong says:

    Does anyone have a photo of one of these? I have a photo of what we believe may be one found in Palatka, Florida near the St. Johns River, an area active during the Civil War. I would be glad to post the photo for replies if someone could suggest where I may do that. Thank you!

  5. Steve Shaffer says:

    Please forward the photo of what you believe to be a Raines landmine.

    Thank you very much

    Steve Shaffer
    New Bern, NC

  6. be0ez says:

    As far as the background and info, its pretty precise except for the tiny excerptions that the others commenters mentioned. I like it. Heck, it makes me want to expand on the subject.

  7. Drew Armstrong says:

    How can I post a picture of the Civil War mine we found in Palatka, FL on this blog? Also, if anyone would like for me to send them pictures of this I will be glad to do so if you provide your email. Thank you! Drew Armstrong

  8. Chris says:

    Drew tried to email you but it was returned, please email those to me to post:

  9. Drew Armstrong says:


    I just emailed you three photos of the “unknown object” and two other emails with reports, newspaper article, etc. about the find. Please let me have your comments on this and help me to solve the “mystery” Thank you! Drew Armstrong

  10. Steve Shaffer says:

    I still would very much like to see these photos. Are you willing to forward these to me ?

    Thank you very much.

    Steve Shaffer, New Bern, NC(home town of the Raines brothers)

  11. Major Paul Jackson says:

    It was George Washington Rains, General Gabriel Rains brother that built and ran the Augusta Powder works, not General Rains.

  12. Steve Shaffer says:

    I never received any material(s) pertaining to land mines, etc, reportedly manufactured by the Raines brothers.

    I am very interested in the Raines Bros. since I reside in New Bern, and am researching the Battle of Newbern, 14 March 1862.

    Thank you any primary source materials …..

  13. Jody Williams says:

    I have a picture of something that resembles an old landmine. It was found outside of Dublin, GA. How can I post a picture of it to get help identifying it?

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