Nitroglycerin (NG), also known as nitroglycerine, trinitroglycerin, trinitroglycerine, 1,2,3-trinitroxypropane and glyceryl trinitrate, is a heavy, colorless, oily, explosive liquid produced by nitrating glycerol. Since the 1860s, nitroglycerin has been used as an active ingredient in the manufacture of explosives, mostly dynamite, and as such it is employed in the construction, demolition, and mining industries. Similarly, since the 1880s, it has been used by the military as an active ingredient, and a gelatinizer for nitrocellulose, in some solid propellants, such as Cordite and Ballistite.

Nitroglycerin is also used medically as a vasodilator to treat heart conditions, such as angina and chronic heart failure. It is one of the oldest and most useful drugs for treating heart disease by shortening or even preventing attacks of angina pectoris. Nitroglycerin comes in forms of tablets, sprays or patches.

Nitroglycerin in The Guns of the SouthEdit

When Andries Rhoodie met with General Robert E. Lee and told him he was a time-traveller from 150 years in the future, he observed Lee suffering from chest pains. He indicated that doctors in the future may have a medicine that could help the general.[1] The next time Rhoodie met with Lee, he gave him a bottle with small white tablets and told him to dissolve one or two under his tongue if his heart pained him. Lee read out the name nitroglycerin on the label and declared it "sounds most forbiddingly medical".[2] Never the less, Lee found that it was effective.[3]

Given this, Lee was surprised by Colonel George Rains when the latter indicated that nitroglycerin, along with nitrocellulose, constituted the powder in the ammunition for the AK-47. Lee at first wondered if it were a clumsy way to kill him, but the pills were an effective medicine and since they had not exploded for over a year he had been carrying them, they must be safe enough.[4]

After the Rivington Men rebelled, now President Lee's supply was cut off so he was forced to ration his use. However, his aide Charles Marshall had attended the meeting with Colonel Rains and recalled that he had access to nitroglycerin. Enlisting the help of Lee's daughter Mary, who provided an empty bottle which indicated the dosage on the label, the two were able to gain a supply for the President.[5]

Thanks to nitroglycerin, Lee had a good chance to live beyond 1870 - the year when, as Lee knew from the written material captured from the Rivington Men, he would have died had history remained on its original course.


  1. The Guns of the South, pg. 86.
  2. Ibid., pg. 101
  3. Ibid., pg. 105
  4. Ibid., pgs. 333-335
  5. Ibid., pg. 499

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