The Gatling Gun

The Gatling Gun


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In 1862 Richard Jordan Gatling, took out a patent for a mechanical gun that he developed. The United States Army purchased these guns in 1865 and over the next few years most major armies in Europe purchased the gun.

In 1870 Gatling opened a new factory in Hartford, Connecticut to produce his gun. He continued to improve the Gatling Gun and by 1882 it could fire up to 1,200 rounds per minute. However, sales of the gun declined after Hiram Maxim began producing his automatic Maxim Machine Gun.


Gatling Gun

The Gatling gun was an invention of a North Carolina native, Richard J. Gatling. Born in 1818 in Hertford County to a farming family, Gatling always had a knack for inventing new technologies. At twenty years of age, Richard started his career as an inventor when he built a screw propelling wheel in 1838. However, the wheel had already been patented, yet this did not stop the young inventor. Gatling soon moved to St. Louis, Missouri and continued producing agricultural instruments.

Once Gatling moved to Missouri, he worked on rice-seed planter that he eventually fashioned as a wheat-drill. The inventor created several other inventions at this time including a hemp brake, a steam plow, and a cotton cultivator. Even though Gatling had success with these inventions, his best invention would be the world&rsquos first rapid fire gun.

In 1862, Richard Gatling had finally patented the first machine gun, known as the Gatling gun. He had developed the idea at the start of the Civil War and he spent a decade on improving the original model. Richard had modified his rice-seed planter into a cartridge-feeding apparatus, and he built his Gatling gun around this mechanism. A Cincinnati company constructed the original Gatling gun models that &ldquohad a single barrel fed by a rotary chamber and fired 190 bullets per minute&rdquo (Powell, p. 494).

Despite the new technology of the Gatling gun, the Union Army decided against the rapid firing gun. General Benjamin Butler bought 13 guns and employed them at Bermuda Hundred in 1863. However, the gun proved ineffective and the Gatling gun was not used for the rest of the Civil War. Richard Gatling continued improving his gun even though the original model had been turned down during the War Between the States.

Gatling&rsquos new model became successful because the original paper cartridges were exchanged with more reliable brass cartridges. The United States Army bought 100 guns in 1866, and Gatling sold his gun patent to Colt&rsquos Armory based in Hartford, Connecticut in 1870. After more modifications, the machine gun could fire over 1,200 rounds and the gun was used in both the Franco-Prussian War and in Indian skirmishes in the American West. However, new technologies in the ensuing decades were preferred over the Gatling gun.

Richard Gatling remained in the inventing field although his Gatling gun proved ineffective compared to newer Nordenfeldt and Maxim machine guns. The Hertford native invented several inventions for agriculture and he was president of the American Association of Inventors and Manufacturers from 1891 to 1897. Gatling died when he was 85 years of age in 1903 but not before he invented one last invention, the motor-driven plow, in 1900.

Sources

&ldquoGatling Gun.&rdquo William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).

&ldquoRichard J. Gatling.&rdquo North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. (accessed January 21, 2011).


The History of the Ever-Fearsome Gatling Gun

Key point: This weapon was made during the Civil War and lives on today in many iterations. This is the story of the original inventor.

Richard Gatling was born in Hertford County, NC, on December 12, 1818. His father was a prosperous farmer and inventor, and the son was destined to inherit the “invention bug.”

After three of his sisters died at a young age from disease, Richard Gatling decided to study medicine, and graduated from the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati in 1850. He moved to Indianapolis the same year, and in 1854 married the daughter of a prominent local physician. There is no evidence that Richard Gatling ever practiced medicine after leaving medical school, but he was always referred to as “doctor.”

Gatling was a born inventor. Between 1857 and 1860 he patented a steam plow, a rotary plow, a seed planter, a lath-making machine, a hemp rake, and a rubber washer for tightening gears. One day in 1861, with the Civil War only a few months old, Dr. Gatling’s inventive fervor suffered a shock that would turn his mind from machines of peace to machines of war. From his Indianapolis office window, Gatling watched in horror as wounded and maimed soldiers were unloaded from a train—casualties from the southern killing fields.

The doctor was aware that the conflict was being waged in Napoleonic fashion. Men faced each other in solid ranks—aimed, fired, reloaded—and, on command, charged headlong into the blazing guns of the enemy. For several nights Richard Gatling could not sleep. A single idea occupied his thoughts. What if a few soldiers could duplicate the firepower of a hundred men? Troops would no longer be able to stand still and shoot at each other. And the running charge would be impossible, because the attacking force would be mowed down like tall grass.

Gatling reasoned that if he were able to invent a machine that could plant seeds swiftly, accurately, and in precise rows, he should be able to devise a mechanical gun that would spray bullets like water from a garden hose.

Invention of the Gatling Gun

Within a few weeks, the doctor had completed the drawings for his innovative weapon, the “Gatling gun,” and took the sketches to a machinist to manufacture.

The first Gatling gun consisted of a cluster of six rifle barrels, without stocks, arranged around a center rod. Each barrel had its own bolt, and the entire cluster could be made to revolve by turning a crank. The bolts were covered by a brass case at the breech. Cartridges were fed into a hopper, and as the cluster revolved, each barrel was fired at its lowest point, and then reloaded when the revolution was completed.

The gun was mounted upon a wheeled carriage. Two men were required to operate the weapon—one to sight the target and turn the crank, the other to load the ammunition.

A working model was completed within six months, and a public demonstration was held across Graveyard Pond in Indianapolis. The abrupt, rapid noise of gunfire could be heard for five miles and, at 200 rounds per minute, the bullets cut a 10-inch tree in half in less than 30 seconds.

Dr. Gatling patented his gun on November 4, 1862, but he had a difficult time selling it to the Army. General James Wolfe Ripley, chief of ordnance, was not impressed with the weapon and remarked: “You can kill a man just as dead with a cap-n’-ball smooth-bore.”

Gatling was unperturbed, however, and took his diagrams to a manufacturing company in Cincinnati. Twelve of the Gatling guns were built, and a few of them were sold to General Benjamin Butler for $1,000 each. Butler later used the Gatlings to hold a bridgehead against Confederate cavalry at the James River.

In early trials of the Gatling gun, it was regarded by the military as a supplement to artillery. The tests that were conducted compared the range and accuracy of the machine gun with the range and accuracy of grapeshot fired by artillery pieces.

Richard Gatling continued to modify and improve the weapon, and in 1865 patented a model that was capable of firing 350 rounds per minute. A demonstration was held at Fortress Monroe. This time the ordnance department was impressed and ordered a hundred guns. The Gatling gun was officially adopted by the U.S. Army on August 24, 1866. It was first manufactured by Cooper Arms in Philadelphia, and later by the Colt Arms Company of Hartford, Conn.

Europe and Abroad

Dr. Gatling traveled throughout Europe selling his weapon, and new models were continually being designed. A short-barrel variety was purchased by the British and mounted on camels. This so-called “camel gun” was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy.

As settlers moved west after the Civil War, Army garrisons in forts along the frontier housed Gatling guns. Gatlings were also attached to cavalry expeditions. A Gatling detachment under Lieutenant James W. Pope accompanied General Nelson A. Miles’s campaign into west Texas. On August 30, as an advance party of Army scouts entered a trail that led between two high bluffs, about three hundred Indians charged down the cliffs. At the sound of gunfire, Pope quickly brought up his Gatling guns. The rapid, withering fire scattered the attacking warriors, and they fled in confusion.

During the same year, a battalion of 8th Cavalry, commanded by Major William R. Price, was ordered out to suppress an uprising by several Indian tribes, including Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa. Price was able to successfully fight off several surprise attacks by hostile bands with two Gatling guns.

But in the most famous battle of the Indian Wars, the Gatling was strangely absent. On June 22, 1876, Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry rode out from their Powder River camp and headed for the Little Big Horn River. Custer had been offered three Gatling guns but refused them. He felt that the Gatlings—mounted on horse-drawn carriages—would slow his cavalry troop down in rough country. Custer also believed that the use of such a devastating weapon would cause him to “lose face” with the Indians. Whether or not the Gatlings could have saved Custer and his 200 men is questionable. Some accounts report the column of Indians that retreated after the battle as being three miles long and a half-mile wide.

During the next few years, the Gatling gun participated in a number of battles, including those with the Nez Perce. The warriors under Chief Joseph fought 13 engagements against the U.S. Army, many of which were standoffs. Finally, on September 30, 1877, in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana, General Nelson Miles, with 600 men and a Gatling gun, attacked Chief Joseph’s camp. After four days of bitter fighting, Chief Joseph could hold out no longer. As he surrendered his rifle to Miles, the valiant Indian leader said, “My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

The Gatling Gun In Africa

During the latter part of the 19th century, Gatling guns became more and more popular, and were used in the many wars that flared during the 1880s and 1890s. The 1879 war between England and the African Zulu tribes was the first major land action in which the Gatling gun proved to be a deciding factor. A small British army, commanded by Lord Chelmsford, defeated a much larger Zulu force under King Cetywayo. In one encounter, a single Gatling mowed down more than 400 tribesmen in only a few minutes.

After his victorious campaign, Lord Chelmsford wrote: “They [Gatling guns] should be considered essentially as infantry weapons. They can be used effectively, not only in defense, but also in covering the last stage of an infantry attack upon a position—where the soldiers must cease firing and charge with the bayonet.”

By the time Dr. Gatling died in 1903, the automatic machine gun had arrived on the scene. It was powered by the discharging gases of its fired cartridges, and was simpler and more economical to use than the manually operated guns. In 1911, the U.S. Army declared the Gatling gun obsolete.

But Richard Gatling’s legacy did not die with him. In September 1956, the General Electric Company unveiled its 6-barrel aerial cannon called the Vulcan. For several years, General Electric had made a detailed study of every rapid-fire gun, and its engineers had found that Dr. Gatling’s original patents offered the most promise for the development of firepower necessary for fast jet fighter aircraft. The Vulcan was also put to use on attack helicopters and gunships.


Here Is the Story Behind the Terrifying Gatling Gun

The Gatling Gun was a deadly innovation that would influence many other guns, including the vulcan cannon mounted on early jet fighers during the Cold War.

Key point: These weapons killed many and helped create other guns including the Maxim and modern day gatling guns on aircraft. Here is how Mr. Richard Gatling made his weapon.

Richard Gatling was born in Hertford County, NC, on December 12, 1818. His father was a prosperous farmer and inventor, and the son was destined to inherit the “invention bug.”

After three of his sisters died at a young age from disease, Richard Gatling decided to study medicine, and graduated from the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati in 1850. He moved to Indianapolis the same year, and in 1854 married the daughter of a prominent local physician. There is no evidence that Richard Gatling ever practiced medicine after leaving medical school, but he was always referred to as “doctor.”

Gatling was a born inventor. Between 1857 and 1860 he patented a steam plow, a rotary plow, a seed planter, a lath-making machine, a hemp rake, and a rubber washer for tightening gears. One day in 1861, with the Civil War only a few months old, Dr. Gatling’s inventive fervor suffered a shock that would turn his mind from machines of peace to machines of war. From his Indianapolis office window, Gatling watched in horror as wounded and maimed soldiers were unloaded from a train—casualties from the southern killing fields.

The doctor was aware that the conflict was being waged in Napoleonic fashion. Men faced each other in solid ranks—aimed, fired, reloaded—and, on command, charged headlong into the blazing guns of the enemy. For several nights Richard Gatling could not sleep. A single idea occupied his thoughts. What if a few soldiers could duplicate the firepower of a hundred men? Troops would no longer be able to stand still and shoot at each other. And the running charge would be impossible, because the attacking force would be mowed down like tall grass.

Gatling reasoned that if he were able to invent a machine that could plant seeds swiftly, accurately, and in precise rows, he should be able to devise a mechanical gun that would spray bullets like water from a garden hose.

Invention of the Gatling Gun

Within a few weeks, the doctor had completed the drawings for his innovative weapon, the “Gatling gun,” and took the sketches to a machinist to manufacture.

The first Gatling gun consisted of a cluster of six rifle barrels, without stocks, arranged around a center rod. Each barrel had its own bolt, and the entire cluster could be made to revolve by turning a crank. The bolts were covered by a brass case at the breech. Cartridges were fed into a hopper, and as the cluster revolved, each barrel was fired at its lowest point, and then reloaded when the revolution was completed.

The gun was mounted upon a wheeled carriage. Two men were required to operate the weapon—one to sight the target and turn the crank, the other to load the ammunition.

A working model was completed within six months, and a public demonstration was held across Graveyard Pond in Indianapolis. The abrupt, rapid noise of gunfire could be heard for five miles and, at 200 rounds per minute, the bullets cut a 10-inch tree in half in less than 30 seconds.

Dr. Gatling patented his gun on November 4, 1862, but he had a difficult time selling it to the Army. General James Wolfe Ripley, chief of ordnance, was not impressed with the weapon and remarked: “You can kill a man just as dead with a cap-n’-ball smooth-bore.”

Gatling was unperturbed, however, and took his diagrams to a manufacturing company in Cincinnati. Twelve of the Gatling guns were built, and a few of them were sold to General Benjamin Butler for $1,000 each. Butler later used the Gatlings to hold a bridgehead against Confederate cavalry at the James River.

In early trials of the Gatling gun, it was regarded by the military as a supplement to artillery. The tests that were conducted compared the range and accuracy of the machine gun with the range and accuracy of grapeshot fired by artillery pieces.

Richard Gatling continued to modify and improve the weapon, and in 1865 patented a model that was capable of firing 350 rounds per minute. A demonstration was held at Fortress Monroe. This time the ordnance department was impressed and ordered a hundred guns. The Gatling gun was officially adopted by the U.S. Army on August 24, 1866. It was first manufactured by Cooper Arms in Philadelphia, and later by the Colt Arms Company of Hartford, Conn.

Europe and Abroad

Dr. Gatling traveled throughout Europe selling his weapon, and new models were continually being designed. A short-barrel variety was purchased by the British and mounted on camels. This so-called “camel gun” was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy.

As settlers moved west after the Civil War, Army garrisons in forts along the frontier housed Gatling guns. Gatlings were also attached to cavalry expeditions. A Gatling detachment under Lieutenant James W. Pope accompanied General Nelson A. Miles’s campaign into west Texas. On August 30, as an advance party of Army scouts entered a trail that led between two high bluffs, about three hundred Indians charged down the cliffs. At the sound of gunfire, Pope quickly brought up his Gatling guns. The rapid, withering fire scattered the attacking warriors, and they fled in confusion.

During the same year, a battalion of 8th Cavalry, commanded by Major William R. Price, was ordered out to suppress an uprising by several Indian tribes, including Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa. Price was able to successfully fight off several surprise attacks by hostile bands with two Gatling guns.

But in the most famous battle of the Indian Wars, the Gatling was strangely absent. On June 22, 1876, Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry rode out from their Powder River camp and headed for the Little Big Horn River. Custer had been offered three Gatling guns but refused them. He felt that the Gatlings—mounted on horse-drawn carriages—would slow his cavalry troop down in rough country. Custer also believed that the use of such a devastating weapon would cause him to “lose face” with the Indians. Whether or not the Gatlings could have saved Custer and his 200 men is questionable. Some accounts report the column of Indians that retreated after the battle as being three miles long and a half-mile wide.

During the next few years, the Gatling gun participated in a number of battles, including those with the Nez Perce. The warriors under Chief Joseph fought 13 engagements against the U.S. Army, many of which were standoffs. Finally, on September 30, 1877, in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana, General Nelson Miles, with 600 men and a Gatling gun, attacked Chief Joseph’s camp. After four days of bitter fighting, Chief Joseph could hold out no longer. As he surrendered his rifle to Miles, the valiant Indian leader said, “My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

The Gatling Gun In Africa

During the latter part of the 19th century, Gatling guns became more and more popular, and were used in the many wars that flared during the 1880s and 1890s. The 1879 war between England and the African Zulu tribes was the first major land action in which the Gatling gun proved to be a deciding factor. A small British army, commanded by Lord Chelmsford, defeated a much larger Zulu force under King Cetywayo. In one encounter, a single Gatling mowed down more than 400 tribesmen in only a few minutes.

After his victorious campaign, Lord Chelmsford wrote: “They [Gatling guns] should be considered essentially as infantry weapons. They can be used effectively, not only in defense, but also in covering the last stage of an infantry attack upon a position—where the soldiers must cease firing and charge with the bayonet.”

By the time Dr. Gatling died in 1903, the automatic machine gun had arrived on the scene. It was powered by the discharging gases of its fired cartridges, and was simpler and more economical to use than the manually operated guns. In 1911, the U.S. Army declared the Gatling gun obsolete.

But Richard Gatling’s legacy did not die with him. In September 1956, the General Electric Company unveiled its 6-barrel aerial cannon called the Vulcan. For several years, General Electric had made a detailed study of every rapid-fire gun, and its engineers had found that Dr. Gatling’s original patents offered the most promise for the development of firepower necessary for fast jet fighter aircraft. The Vulcan was also put to use on attack helicopters and gunships.


9 Oldest Guns in the World

The first firearms were created in China after the Chinese invented black powder in the 9 th century. The earliest depiction of a gun dates back to the 12 th century and the oldest existing firearm is from around 1288. Before firing mechanisms were created, early firearms needed to be manually ignited by holding a burning wick to a touch hole. Once the first firearms were introduced, gun technology advanced quite rapidly as various empires waged war. Since guns are widely collected, their history and early examples have been well-documented. This list contains some of the oldest and best examples of various early guns.

9. Gatling Gun

Year Created: 1862
Country of Origin: United States of America
Gunsmith: Dr. Richard J. Gatling

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Gatling gun is considered to be the best example of early rapid fire weapons – it is the forerunner of the modern machine gun. The gun was designed in 1861 by Richard Gatling and patented the following year. The Gatling gun was first used in war during the American Civil War. Twelve guns were purchased by Untion commanders and used during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia.

After the American Civil War, the Gatling gun was used in international conflicts such as the Boshin War and the Anglo-Zulu War. It was also used by American forces during the Spanish-American War at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Today, there are several automatic rotary machine guns that were influenced by the design of the Gatling gun.

8. Colt Revolver

Year Created: 1836
Country of Origin: United States of America
Gunsmith: Samuel Colt

photo source: The Met Museum

Although manually revolving guns had existed for a centuries, Samuel Colt‘s gun were the first truly successful revolvers. Colt received the first patent for his revolving mechanism in Britain in 1835 and a year later, he obtained the U.S. patent. In 1836, Colt founded the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company in Paterson, New Jersey. Colt continued to manufacture guns at this company until 1842 after a string of patchy success.

Initially, Colt was unable to secure a government contract for his guns until 1846 when the Mexican-American War was underway. Colt worked with Captain Samuel H. Walker to improve his revolver and General Zachary Taylor ordered 1,000 Colt revolvers. Colt’s guns continued to grow in popularity and today, the Colt Manufacturing Company is one of the most widely recognized gun manufacturers in the world.

7. Musket Modèle 1777

Year Created: 1777
Country of Origin: France
Gunsmith: Charleville armoury and others

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The musket Modèle 1777 was one of the most widely used weapons in continental Europe. It was initially created in 1777 for the French Army. Trained French infantrymen were expected to be able to fire three volleys a minute with this musket. Between 1777 – 1826, about 7 million Modèle 1777 muskets were produced – this number was not topped until World War I.

In the early 1800s, after the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted the muskets to be slightly reworked. The corrected model, “Modèle 1777 corrigé, featured some minor modifications on the lock, bayonet, and stock. Other small improvements of the musket occurred in 1816 and 1822.

6. Puckle Gun

Year Created: 1718
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Gunsmith: James Puckle

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Puckle Gun was one of the first weapons to be called a “machine gun”, but its mechanisms do not resemble modern machine guns. The gun was patented by James Puckle in 1718. It was a tripod-mounted, single-barrel flintlock weapon with a manually operated revolving cylinder. Puckle thought that it could be used on ships as an anti-boarding gun.

The Puckle gun never picked up many investors and Puckle was unable to sell the guns to the British armed forces. Two original examples of the Puckle gun are on display at the Boughton House and Beaulieu Palace. These guns were purchased by John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu, Master-General of the Ordnance in 1722.

5. King Louis XIII’s Flintlock Gun

Year Created: c.1620
Country of Origin: Lisieux, France
Gunsmith: Pierre Le Bourgeois and Marin Le Bourgeois

photo source: The Met Museum

One of the greatest advancements in gun technology was the invention of the flintlock mechanism. The first true flintlocks were created in France in the early 17 th century. Flintlocks were commonly used over the next two centuries until the invention of the percussion lock.

An early example of a French flintlock gun (pictured above), is the one owned by King Louis XIII. It was created in the workshop directed by Pierre Le Bourgeois’ brother, Marin. He is typically attributed as the inventor of the flintlock mechanism. The gun is decorated with Louis XIII’s crowned monogram and the scroll-shaped end of the gun is a unique design. Today, King Louis XIII’s flintlock gun is on display at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 375.

4. Georg von Reichwein’s Revolver

Year Created: 1597
Country of Origin: Nuremburg, Germany
Gunsmith: Hans Stopler

photo source: thornews.files.wordpress.com

The gun owned by Georg von Reichwein, a German officer during the mid-17 th century, is the oldest existing revolver in the world. Stamp marks on the gun provide definitive evidence that the revolver was created by Hans Stopler, a German weapons blacksmith, in 1597. The gun was made for someone of high status and is decorated with brass, bone, and Mother of Pearl. Unlike modern revolvers, this gun had to be manually rotated.

Georg von Reichwein was the last owner of the gun, and bought it when he was appointed to major and commander of the forces at Bergenhus fortress of Norway in 1636. The revolver currently resides in the storage rooms of the Maihaugen Folk Museum in Lillehammer, Norway. It was briefly put on display in 2014 for the 200 th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution.

3. Tanegashima

Year Created: c.1543
Country of Origin: Japan
Gunsmith: Yaita – first commissioned by Lord Tanegashima Tokitaka

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Tanegashima were matchlock guns from Japan that were used by the samurai and their foot soldiers. Matchlock guns were first introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in 1543.

Portuguese adventurers were forced to land on Tanegashima island during a storm. The lord of the island, Tanegashima Tokitaka, purchased two matchlock muskets from the Portuguese and asked a swordsmith to copy the guns’ mechanisms. However, the smith ran into problems, which were not solved until the following year when a Portuguese gunsmith was brought to Japan. Over the next decade, over 300,000 Tanegashima guns were produced, which changed the nature of Japanese warfare.

2. Emperor Charles V’s Wheellock Pistol

Year Created: c. 1540 – 1545
Country of Origin: Munich, Germany
Gunsmith: Peter Peck

photo source: The Met Museum

As gun technology progressed, different firing mechanisms were created. Although matchlock guns are older than wheellocks, very few examples survive. However, many wheellocks, which were first created in the early 1500s still exist. Wheellock guns were the first self-igniting firearms, which meant that they could be fired efficiently with one hand.

The double-barreled wheellock pistol made for King Charles V (pictured above) is one of the earliest surviving pistols, dating back to around 1540 – 1545. It was created by Peter Peck of Germany, who also made fine watches. This gun features two locks combined into one firing mechanism, which meant that each barrel could be ignited separately. It is decorated with Charles V’s personal emblems: the double-headed eagle and the pillars of Hercules with the Latin motto PLVS VLTRA (which means “More Beyond”).

1. Heilongjiang Hand Cannon

Year Created: c.1288
Country of Origin: Banlachengzi, Heilongjian province, China
Gunsmith: Unknown

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Heilongjiang hand cannon is believed to be the oldest existing gun in the world. While the hand cannon is not exactly a gun, it was one of the first firearms ever created and is the precursor to modern guns. This particular hand cannon was found during a 1970 excavation at the village of Banlachengzi, China.

Researchers think that the hand cannon was used in battles sometime between 1287 – 1288. In an account from the time period called History of Yuan, a commander named Li Ting led a group of soldiers who were equipped with hand cannons, as part of an anti-rebellion campaign for the Yuan dynasty. Today, the hand cannon is on display at the Heilongjiang Provincial Museum in Harbin, China.


Dr. Gatling’s Wonder Weapon

Revolutionary: Mounted on a standard, two-wheeled field artillery carriage like the post–Civil War model shown here, Richard Gatling’s “Revolving Battery-Gun” was capable of firing 150 rounds per minute via multiple barrels rotating around a central horizontal axis.

(Universal History Archive/UIG/Bridgeman Images)

Jerry Morelock
MARCH 2019

The Gatling gun, precursor to the fearsome modern machine guns that have wrought gruesome havoc on global battlefields since World War I, was invented by Richard Gatling in 1861. The introduction of a rapid-firing marvel like the Gatling early in the war should have given Union officials plenty of time to acquire and deploy it in combat. But, despite the lethal potential of what Gatling called his “Revolving Battery-Gun,” it is possible only a handful were ever used during the conflict. To his credit, Gatling energetically promoted his revolutionary weapon, even appealing directly to President Abraham Lincoln, but he was largely ignored. Union armies would continue to fight without this groundbreaking device—what may well have become the Civil War’s deadliest weapon.

R ichard Jordan Gatling was born September 12, 1818, in Hertford County in northeastern North Carolina, near the Virginia line. Although he received a medical degree in 1850, Gatling never practiced medicine. Instead, he worked at a variety of jobs, including schoolteacher, county clerk’s assistant, dry goods store merchant and self-employed businessman. Yet Gatling’s consuming, lifelong passion was inventing, and he proved to be prodigious. From his first known invention at age 21 (a steamboat screw propeller) until his death on February 26, 1903, at age 84, Gatling churned out dozens of ingenious inventions for improving daily life in the home and on the farm. These ranged from more efficient toilets to rapid planting devices (notably a rice-sowing machine and a wheat drill) to steam-powered farm implements.

A Passion for Invention: Although educated in medicine, Richard Jordan Gatling remained devoted to inventing throughout his long life. (Universal History Archive/UIG/Bridgeman Images)

In 1854, at age 36, he moved to St. Louis, and by 1861 was living in Indianapolis. The war’s outbreak turned the inventor’s attention from farm fields to battlefields. In a postwar letter, Gatling revealed:

It occurred to me if I could invent a machine—a gun—which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a great extent, supersede the necessity of large armies.

By the end of 1861, he had designed his “Revolving Battery-Gun” prototype.

W hen Gatling received U.S. government Patent No. 36,836 for his gun on November 4, 1862, it was not the Civil War’s first rapid-firing weapon. The most notable of the Gatling’s competitors was inventor Wilson Agar’s Union Repeating Gun—nicknamed the “Coffee Mill Gun” because its top-mounted hopper-loader and hand-crank firing mechanism resembled that kitchen utensil. After Agar (sometimes spelled “Ager”) demonstrated his single-barreled, two-wheeled carriage-mounted weapon to Lincoln in 1861, the president advised its purchase—several dozen Coffee Mill Guns (capable of firing 120 rounds per minute) were obtained, a few of those eventually used in combat. Rapid firing, however, tended to overheat the gun’s single barrel, and its hopper and breech often jammed.

In fact, the Civil War Gatling had several common features with Agar’s gun: Both had similarly style top-mounted hopper-loaders (what Gatling called “reservoirs”) for feeding loose rounds of ammunition into the weapon each was mounted on a two-wheel gun carriage and firing was by a hand-crank. But Gatling’s innovation was to use six ordinary rifle-musket barrels, each with its own breech, revolving around a central horizontal axis. A brief interval between firing rounds through each barrel prevented overheating, allowing a remarkable rate of fire of 150 rounds per minute.

Like the hopper-loader, carriage, and hand-crank it shared with Agar’s gun, the Civil War Gatling fired the same ammunition—standard .58-caliber rifle-musket paper-wrapped cartridges containing bullet and black powder charge. Each cartridge was placed inside its own specially constructed “cartridge chamber”—a steel tube, open on one end (to load the cartridge), and closed on the other end with a rifle-musket nipple for a standard percussion cap. After firing, each empty cartridge chamber fell to the ground by gravity when the fired barrel rotated to the bottommost position. Empty cartridge chambers were collected and subsequently reloaded with new paper cartridges and percussion caps—a laborious, time-consuming process.

Gatling’s innovation allowed for a 150-round-per-minute rate of fire that could be sustained indefinitely

Although patented in November 1862, the Gatling already had been successfully demonstrated, notably on July 14, 1862. On that day, T.A. Morris, A. Ballweg, and D.G. Rose tested the gun at Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton’s direction. Their enthusiastic report: “The discharge can be made with all desirable accuracy as rapidly as 150 times a minute, and may be continued for hours without danger, as we think, from over-heating.” Unfortunately for Gatling, Morton declined to buy the weapon, a pattern of refusals to be repeated throughout the war.

Gatling’s innovative firearm faced a firmly entrenched roadblock: Brig. Gen. James Wolfe Ripley, Union Army chief of ordnance. Ripley (born in 1794) considered repeating weapons unnecessarily expensive inventions that encouraged ammunition waste, thereby overburdening the Army supply system. Ripley stubbornly resisted all rapid-fire weapons (in addition to Gatling and Agar guns, blocking or delaying Sharps, Spencer, and Henry rifles), claiming single-shot, muzzle-loading, rifle-muskets “good enough.” Gatling called Ripley “an old fogey” who “believed flintlock muskets were on the whole the best weapons for warfare.” In an 1863 meeting, Gatling recalled, Ripley “received [Gatling’s agent] coldly,” told him “he had no faith in the [Gatling] gun” and that “he would have nothing to do with him.” Gatling persevered, going straight to the top.

Since Lincoln had championed repeating weapons—notably, the Spencer repeater and Agar’s Coffee Mill Gun—Gatling appealed directly to the president. In a February 18, 1864, letter to Lincoln, Gatling pleaded his case (with a swipe at his competition):

[My gun] is regarded by all who have seen it operate, as the most effective implement of warfare invented during the war….[I]t is just the thing needed to aid in crushing the present rebellion [emphasis in original]….I assure you my invention is no “coffee mill gun”—but is entirely a different arm, and is entirely free from the accidents and objections raised against that arm.

Lincoln ignored him—most likely for politics than for doubts about the gun’s capabilities. Gatling’s Southern roots raised doubts about his loyalty, and his name was linked with Northern Copperhead politician Clement L. Vallandigham—a “whispering campaign” probably promulgated by competitors alleging Gatling held membership in a Southern-sympathizing secret society, the Order of American Knights. Always pragmatic and facing reelection, Lincoln feared Gatling being in league with Copperheads.


Already the creator of innovative home and farm implements, Gatling turned his prodigious creative talents to warfare in 1861. (PF-USNA/Alamy Stock Photo)

A direct appeal by Gatling produced no U.S. government contract during the war. Still, it remains widely claimed that at least some Gatlings saw combat use. Publications mentioning Gatling guns typically insist they “were first used in combat in the Civil War.” The mostly anecdotal evidence offered to substantiate this, however, is suspiciously thin and undated—hardly conclusive proof.

It is asserted that Union Army of the James commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler personally bought 12 Gatlings (for $1,000 each, though Gatling’s agent embezzled the money) and that he briefly used a few to fire on enemy forces “near Richmond” during the siege of Petersburg. Butler allegedly mounted up to eight on Union James River gunboats. Even then, no claim has been made that those gunboat Gatlings were fired in anger during combat.

After the war, Gatling would boast: “Ben Butler took the guns he had with him to the Battle of Petersburg and fired them himself upon the rebels. They created great consternation and slaughter.” Obviously, Gatling was not a disinterested party. He, of course, had a financial stake in promoting his weapon as vigorously as possible. Tellingly, Civil War firearms historian William B. Edwards points out that Butler, a notoriously self-promoting individual who seldom missed a chance to brag of his accomplishments, “neglects to mention this colorful use of an important novel weapon of war.” The failure by Butler to mention Gatlings “is conspicuous” by its absence, Edwards concludes.

No verifiable proof exists that gatlings were ever used in combat during the war

Edwards also explains revealingly that in February 1864 Butler officially obtained 10 Agar Coffee Mill Guns from the Washington Arsenal (Ripley, by then, no longer around to block their issue) and concludes that the confirmed possession of those Agar guns “must be assumed [the] ‘Gatlings’” that Butler placed on the James River gunboats.

Further muddying the water regarding the possibility of Gatling gun Civil War combat use is the fact that few soldiers in the Union Army had ever laid eyes on either Agar or Gatling guns. This unfamiliarity with the weapons led to, as Edwards points out, the “contemporary [i.e., Civil War] confusion…that made soldiers and commanders interchange [Agar’s] Union Repeater and the Gatling Battery Gun” when referring to the rapid-fire weapons. Even if soldiers at the one alleged Petersburg/Richmond combat use had seen a rapid-fire weapon being fired against Confederate troops, they likely would not have known if it was a Gatling or one of the Agar guns Butler certainly had.

Lethal Potential: After the Civil War, these magazine-fed, self-contained metallic cartridges allowed the Gatling to realize its full killing potential. (Chronicle/Alamy Stock Photo )

Although Admiral David Dixon Porter purchased a small number of Gatlings (likely only one) to mount on Navy river gunboats in the West, there is no record of any combat use. Another claim, that Gatlings were used to suppress the July 13-16, 1863, New York City Draft Riots, seems based on Gatling having sent three of the guns to newspaper publisher Horace Greeley (presumably to display as a publicity stunt) and that during the riots the guns were “ensconced in the windows of [Greeley’s] New York Tribune,” their mere presence having “turned away a serious threat of attack by the mobs” on one occasion, Gatling would later claim.

The bottom line is that no verifiable proof exists that Gatlings made it into combat during the war beyond the unsupported claims of Gatling himself and some postwar books written by his friends and publicists. Indeed, even Gatling’s grandson admitted in 1957: “No one seems to know any anecdotes on the Civil War use of the gun.”

Yet the tantalizing “what if?” vision of Union armies armed with dozens of Gatlings sweeping the battlefields clean of Confederate troops and, thereby, shortening the war, fades upon closely and critically examining the weapon’s mechanical and tactical limitations. The Civil War–era Gatling differed significantly in several key aspects from Richard Gatling’s much-improved postwar models, whose substantially greater reliability and efficiency provided armies around the world with a significant source of firepower for nearly half a century.


Europe and Abroad

Dr. Gatling traveled throughout Europe selling his weapon, and new models were continually being designed. A short-barrel variety was purchased by the British and mounted on camels. This so-called “camel gun” was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy.

As settlers moved west after the Civil War, Army garrisons in forts along the frontier housed Gatling guns. Gatlings were also attached to cavalry expeditions. A Gatling detachment under Lieutenant James W. Pope accompanied General Nelson A. Miles’s campaign into west Texas. On August 30, as an advance party of Army scouts entered a trail that led between two high bluffs, about three hundred Indians charged down the cliffs. At the sound of gunfire, Pope quickly brought up his Gatling guns. The rapid, withering fire scattered the attacking warriors, and they fled in confusion.

During the same year, a battalion of 8th Cavalry, commanded by Major William R. Price, was ordered out to suppress an uprising by several Indian tribes, including Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa. Price was able to successfully fight off several surprise attacks by hostile bands with two Gatling guns.

But in the most famous battle of the Indian Wars, the Gatling was strangely absent. On June 22, 1876, Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry rode out from their Powder River camp and headed for the Little Big Horn River. Custer had been offered three Gatling guns but refused them. He felt that the Gatlings—mounted on horse-drawn carriages—would slow his cavalry troop down in rough country. Custer also believed that the use of such a devastating weapon would cause him to “lose face” with the Indians. Whether or not the Gatlings could have saved Custer and his 200 men is questionable. Some accounts report the column of Indians that retreated after the battle as being three miles long and a half-mile wide.

During the next few years, the Gatling gun participated in a number of battles, including those with the Nez Perce. The warriors under Chief Joseph fought 13 engagements against the U.S. Army, many of which were standoffs. Finally, on September 30, 1877, in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana, General Nelson Miles, with 600 men and a Gatling gun, attacked Chief Joseph’s camp. After four days of bitter fighting, Chief Joseph could hold out no longer. As he surrendered his rifle to Miles, the valiant Indian leader said, “My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”


Fire Away: The History of the Gatling Gun

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Fire Away: The History of the Gatling Gun

Jim, one of our dedicated volunteers, started his new year by spiffing up the Gatling Gun on display at the Museum of World Treasures.

The Gatling gun is one of the best-known early rapid-fire hand cranked weapons that was first used in 1864. It was named for its inventor Richard Jordan Gatling, a physician. Although Gatling graduated from the Ohio Medical College to be a doctor, he never once practiced medicine. Instead, he was much more interested in a career as an inventor.

Gatling had a passion for making things easier. His fascination for invention led to several patented products for improving bicycles, toilets, steam-cleaning of raw wool, pneumatic power, along with any other fields. He created a screw propeller, a wheat drill (a device used for planting), and various early-versions of tractors including a steam tractor and motor-driven plow.

During the Civil War, he noticed that a majority of the soldiers fighting were lost to disease rather than gunshots. He wrote:

&ldquoIt occurred to me that if I could invent a machine &mdash a gun &mdash which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, than it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease would be greatly diminished&rdquo

(Paul Wahl and Don Toppel, The Gatling Gun Arco Publishing, 1971).

In this same publication, Gatling mentions creating the machine in order to show how futile war is &mdashironic, isn&rsquot it?

Regardless of the reasons for its invention, the Gatling Gun was considered to be the first successful machine gun of its time (although it would not be considered a machine gun by today&rsquos standards). Its multiple barrels keep the machine from overheating, and its &ldquogravity-feed&rdquo reloading system allowed unskilled users to actually shoot a relatively high rate of fire at 250 rounds per minute.

Oddly enough, Gatling guns are perhaps most famous for not being used in the Battle of Little Bighorn, which was also known as &ldquoCuster&rsquos Last Stand.&rdquo

That&rsquos right, folks &mdash General George Armstrong Custer was supposed to take three Gatling guns with him to fight at this 1876 battle. Instead, he chose to arm himself with a single-fire gun and was killed in battle along with 200 of his men. Today, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument stands near Crow Agency, Montana, and honors those who fought on both sides during the Great Sioux War of 1876.

In 1911, after 45 years of service, all models of Gatling Guns were declared obsolete by the U.S. military.

An actual Gatling Gun is on display at the Museum of World Treasures &mdash wheels, barrels, and all! And thanks to one of our stellar volunteers, it&rsquos freshly cleaned, shimmered, and shined.

Thank you, Jim, for all that you do!

Interested in viewing the Gatling Gun in person? The Museum of World Treasures is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Mondays through Saturdays (and 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm on Sundays).

Want to volunteer to help preserve artifacts packed with stories of the past? Find out how you can help!


The Gatling Gun: The first modern machine gun was invented in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS -- A lot of discussion after the Las Vegas tragedy focused on the weapons the suspect used, but the history of the automatic weapon has roots in Indianapolis.

The Gatling gun, the first modern, reliable machine gun, was invented in Indianapolis in 1862. It was invented by Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling. Gatling was in Indianapolis in the 1860s completing a railroad contract, he told the Terre Haute Daily News in 1892.

Working at for a railroad company, he would often see soldiers leave or return from the Civil War. He started talking with the survivors, only to find out they died not in combat, but of disease.

"It then occurred to me that the methods of war were antiquated and that wars lasted too long," he said.

The gun as Gatling invented was able to fire 1,200 shots per minute accurately as the user cranked the handle.

Gatling invented the gun not because he wanted more deaths in war, he claims, but because he wanted fewer. He believed the gun would speed up war, saving the lives of the soldiers sick in camps and hospitals.

"I said to myself we are doing nearly all kinds of work by machinery now, why should not be be killed by machinery, too?" he said. "This, I thought, would shorten wars and save many lives. So I went to work on this idea at once, and after a while I had designed a gun which in principle is the same as that of the perfected gun of today, that will fire accurately 1,200 shots in a minute.”

Gatling's invention was different than modern machine guns (and even guns that came a couple decades later) because it required a hand crank to fire.

He first tried to sell six guns to the Civil War's Union War Department in Cincinnati, but his shop was set on fire, rendering the guns useless. He said the fire may have been caused by a Confederate sympathizer (something Gatling himself has been rumored to be), or perhaps somebody who believed the guns were too dangerous to be produced.

He eventually sold 13 guns for $1,000 each, he said.

Gatling's invention ended up being used in the Civil War sparingly, but it was used more after the war, and paved the way for more modern automatic weapons, such as the M61 Vulcan minigun, which was attached to helicopters during the Vietnam War. The M61 Vulcan fires about five times faster than Gatling's invention did.

Gatling died in 1903 in New York. He is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

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Hailstorm of Death: The Gatling Gun

One of the USAF’s flying gun emplacements, an ancient AC-47 armed with two or three 7.62x51mm Miniguns, circled slowly over the hills of El Salvador pouring a hailstorm of deadly steel into guerilla positions below. I watched, thinking about the spirit of Dr. Richard J. Gatling, sitting in gun maker heaven, perhaps wondering about the irony of it all.

One of the finest rapid-fire, airborne small arms systems in use today, the Vietnam-era Vulcan is directly evolved from Gatling’s own machine gun, the first practical and successful one in history, which was formally rejected by the Union War Department in 1863, 1864, and 1865, before going on to win battles, wars and international fame for the next 40 years. And, then, American innovators stepped it up a few techno-notches.

After witnessing a demonstration of a Gatling gun, journalist Wayne Fuenman wrote, “this weapon is a hailstorm of death. Its story weaves through unauthorized use in our Civil War, awards for combat use in foreign wars, a strange silence in this nation, and finally comes to a clattering, death-rattling combat conclusion on the smoke-choked slopes of San Juan Hill in July of 1898.”

Patented and first tested in 1862, the Gatling machine gun was the brainwork of Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling. It consists of a group of rifled barrels, ranging from six to ten in number, arranged lengthwise around a central shaft.

A hand crank revolves this entire assembly, though later an electric motor was added, and appropriate gearwork. A cartridge is fed automatically and successively into each barrel by a crank mechanism, which revolves so that the bolt pushes each cartridge into the barrel, guided by a camming grove in a cam plate. By the time the barrel reaches the bottom of the cylinder, the striker is released and that cartridge is fired. Then, as the bolt continues upward on the other side of the Gatling gun it is drawn back by the cam groove, ejecting the empty casing. Thus, half of the barrels are loaded and half are unloaded at any given time in the cycle. As each barrel is fired only once per revolution, heating and fouling are kept to a minimum.

The firing speed of the early, hand-cranked production guns was varied simply by cranking speed, the faster the cranking, the more rounds per minute. These early models used a gravity feed system, which sometimes caused feeding failures. However, Gatling’s longtime associate, a professional engineer named J.G. Accles, introduced an improved magazine and feed system, which bears his name, solving that problem.

Gatling’s motivation for his gun came during a conversation with a friend in 1861, President-to-be Benjamin Harrison, then an Army general. Gatling explained that he was disturbed by the inhumanity of war and felt the need to invent an “ultimate weapon to diminish the need for drawn-out wars. Fear of all their soldiers being cut down by my killing machine would cause Generals to stop warring,” he told Harrison.

“There’s little doubt our Civil War could have been shortened had the War Department purchased my devilishly deadly weapon,” said Gatling, promoting his machine gun in England five years later.

Although the prototype was produced in Indianapolis, Gatling’s home, the initial dozen production models of the 1862 pattern were built in Philadelphia. Firing a maximum 250 rpm, the model 1862 was a powder, ball, and percussion cap affair that was immobile, subject to gas leaks, and awkward to set up. But, it was far better than anything else around, and Gatling was more than willing to make improvements as he tried unsuccessfully to sell his gun to the U.S. military.

Gatling met with official refusal until he personally demonstrated his gun to Gen. Benjamin F. Butler in Baltimore. Unable to get official funds for the guns, Butler personally paid $12,000 for the dozen Gatling guns, carriages, and 12,000 rounds of shot. These guns were used during the siege of Petersburg, VA.

A contemporary newspaper story quotes an awed artillery officer who witnessed the Gatlings in action, “a soldier turns a crank and shells fly out like a firestorm. It cut the rebel boys down.”

Despite this and Butler’s glowing reports, the Union War Department refused official purchase. Undaunted, Gatling wrote directly to President Lincoln, imploring him that “this invention is an Act of Providence for suppressing the rebellion in short order.” Gatling also wrote that his gun was “the most destructive engine of war ever invented.”

Not only was he an immodest salesman, but also this inventive genius truly did have faith in his guns. An unusual and versatile man of talent, Richard Jordan Gatling was born in North Carolina in 1818. His father was a well-to-do planter and inventor. Young Gatling was a schoolteacher for a while, and then tried being a storekeeper. Tiring of this, he worked with his father and alone as an inventor for five years, gaining patents on many agricultural items. Bored with trying to sell his ahead-of-their-time inventions to skeptical farmers, the brilliant Gatling entered medical school.

Although he graduated from Ohio Medical College as a dentist in 1849, Dr. Gatling never practiced medicine outside of his own family. His fulltime expertise was devoted to inventions, the most famous of which made him a wealthy man. And, when it came to that invention, Richard Gatling was a perfectionist.

By 1865, he had vastly improved his weapon and was granted a second patent that year. Twelve weapons were ordered for the Department of War’s testing facilities. The tests were quite satisfactory, and in August of 1866, the U.S. Army finally adopted the Gatling gun. Gatling received an order for 100 additional weapons to be produced by the Colt Patent Firearm Fire Arms Manufacturing Company in Hartford.

The inventor and his Gatling Gun Company moved to Hartford to oversee production and to coordinate further foreign sales and manufacture. This began a long association between the two companies, such that, by 1890, Colt had essentially absorbed the smaller Gatling Company. The takeover was made official in 1897. However, before that took place, though, a lot of Gatling guns came out of the Hartford plant in at least a dozen calibers to win myriad battles all over the world.

The initial hundred-gun order to be produced included fifty 1-inch and fifty .50 caliber models, each with six rifled steel barrels. The cartridges were copper-cased and primed, just like modern ammunition. The weapons weighed about 225 pounds each, while the carriage and limber together weighed about 405 pounds.

According to Ordnance Corps data, the larger weapon had a full range of two miles, while the smaller Gatling gun could fire at a one-mile range. The effective combat range was certainly much less, of course. Retractable open sights were located on the center of the breech housing with elevation controlled by a jackscrew. If the sights were not in use they could be retracted down into the case.

This was his second gun, the model 1865, and the efficient, fast, death-spraying gun that made the name Gatling famous. Fired in competition with howitzers, cannon, and other “machine” guns in various government trials, the Gatling gun came out on top every time. Early Ordnance Corp tests noted of the Gatling, “This novel engine of war will prove useful. little recoil to affect accuracy rapid-fire day or night and always be on target.”

The Report praised the simple operation, the potential for any variety of caliber choices and concluded, “Like the gun itself, all the parts work well and are durable.”

Capt. T. G. Baylor, U.S. Ordnance Corps, who tested a Gatling gun at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, in July of 1866, reported an early test of field ruggedness. He noted that after firing, the gun was not cleaned. Instead, as Capt. Baylor reported, “I had the oil rubbed off this gun, drenched it with water and exposed it for two nights and a day to rain and weather, but though it was rusty it was fired 97 times in a minute and a half, one man turning the crank.”

In another test by U.S. ordnance officers, one Gatling gun fired 63,000 rounds continually without a stoppage. With its adoption, even the usually stuffy War Department officialdom echoed the bombastic praise of the Gatling gun’s inventor. One report says of the weapon, “It has the firepower of two companies of infantry, yet takes the services of only four men to operate each weapon. Ease of movement is not criticized. Compared to other artillery the Gatling gun and its carriage is modest and can be easily drawn by two horses whereas it requires four or six horses to draw other field guns.”

Adopted after the close of hostilities in America, the Gatling gun was a weapon without a war. Gatling and Colt salesmen hit the worldwide road to sell this highly successful revolving machine gun. Competition was tough, but the Gatling beat all comers. For example, in 1869, in Germany, the Gatling was pitted against a hundred expert marksmen armed with French rapid-fire and highly accurate “needle” guns. At 800 meters, the Gatling put 88% of its bullets in the target, while the competition scored 27%. With performance like this, the Gatling also won sales orders in England, Russia, France, Egypt, Morocco, China, Japan, Mexico, and in many South and Central American countries.

Gatling had secured a British patent in 1865 and his gun was officially adopted as a standard service weapon after the 1871 trials. The Armstrong Company working under a Gatling license manufactured his British weapon in England. The British used them with grand success in the Middle East, both on land and at sea. In 1879, the British used Gatlings against attacking Zulu tribesman, reporting that a single gun had swept down 475 tribesmen in a few minutes firing time. And, during the Franco-Prussian War, newsmen reported that Gatling salesmen gave the ultimate demonstration. They set-up their guns for the French and personally devastated a Prussian charge.

The French also armed many of their colonial armies with Gatling guns in the Middle East and in the Caribbean. In Canada, government troops used Gatling guns to put down Louis Reil’s “Northwest Rebellion” in 1885.

The Gatling gun was literally selling itself all over the world, gaining an international reputation as “the most reliable, accurate and deadly firing mechanism yet designed,” as a company brochure advertised.

The 1-inch model sold to individuals for $1,800 each, while the .50 caliber unit cost $1,200. Quantity prices for governments were somewhat cheaper, e.g. the smaller, round drum topped Camel model Gatling gun sold for $1,000. The .45/70 model sold for $850.

In the U.S. it was a different story. A nation at peace, its unimaginative military minds of the late 19th century could not yet accept using something as effectively radical as the Gatling gun, despite its international reputation. Official records show that each Army regiment had three Gatling guns, but very little is recorded as to actual use. Most seemed to have been stored in federal arsenals or unit armories. To paraphrase, many were issued, yet few served. Those that did, of course, were on the western frontier.

A battery of three Gatlings broke up a massed charge of Comanches and Kiowas in West Texas, saving a goodly portion of Gen. Major General Nelson A. Miles Indian Territory Expedition of 1874.

Then, sigh there is the infamous George Custer/Gatling gun issue, an intellectual quagmire of miniscule parameters. Despite popular fiction to the contrary, history would have been no different had Gen. George Custer taken his three Gatlings with him when he went Indian hunting in the summer of 1876. Most military historians agree that the Gatlings would not have turned the tide for Custer’s forces against the onslaught of those thousands of Indians. It is said that the column of Indians leaving Little Big Horn after the battle was more than three miles long and half a mile wide. Even the fabled Gatlings couldn’t top odds like that, especially in that terrain.

Custer’s decision not to use Gatlings was based on both terrain and supply situations, and not the dislike of the weapon or the oft-quoted rumor that the guns would slow his assault pace. In 1874, while commanding his military expedition into the Black Hills, Custer wrote highly favorable comments about the Gatling guns in his reports.

Actually, the 7th Calvary had used Gatling guns some years earlier, when a bison stampede threatened the safety of the Hancock Expedition. Two Gatling guns commenced firing at some distance into the mammoth herd of raging animals, killing several dozen and splitting the herd away from the wagon train. By the way, for the benefit of today’s environmentally minded reader, the commander’s report noted that the wagon train used most of the meat for garrison and passenger consumption.

Another use of Gatling guns in the Indian Wars was against Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce at the Clearwater River in July of 1877. The outcome of this epic battle, in which Gatling guns figured greatly, was widely and colorfully reported in the NEW YORK TIMES. That fall, Gen. Miles used a Gatling-supported assault to force Chief Joseph and his band to surrender. According to Gen. Miles’ report, the brave and intelligent Indian leader inspected a Gatling gun, and then told officers, “From where the sun now stands I fight no more against the white man.” He kept his word, too, even though the white man often did not

Gatling guns were also used against Shoshones and Bannocks who were dug in near the Umatilla Agency in 1878. The storm of bullets form the Gatling quickly ended the rebellion, driving the Indians away from their hilly fort and back to their camp.

Meanwhile, back East, Gatling worked to perfect his gun. For example, later models used drum-type gravity feeders of both 200- and 400-round capacity. The model 1876 was designed as a mobile, lightweight weapon in army-issue .45 caliber, capable of firing 1,200 rpm. The 1893 Bulldog model was even smaller and designed for police use in riot control.

In 1893, the very active 75-year-old Richard Gatling was granted patents for a flat, metal strip feeder - ancestor of the belt-fed machine gun. Later that year, he patented an electric motor drive for his gun upping the firing rate to a maximum 3,000 rounds per minute. His final improvement was a prototype device, which could make the Gatling gun a gas-operated, fully automatic machine gun after the initial shot.

Despite technology and international success, it was not until 1898 that an American soldier first officially fired a Gatling gun against a foreign enemy. And then, it was only because a junior officer dared to defy tradition.

Lt. John H. Parker had an interest in these modern automatic weapons, and when the invasion of Cuba was being planned he asked his superiors for permission to organize a Gatling battery for the purpose of close support for assault infantry - a very radical idea at the time. Lt. Parker sold Col. Arthur MacArthur and Gen. William Shafter on his idea of Gatling guns supporting the invasion at Santiago. Both officers were keen on the idea and ordered Parker to form and train his battery.

The rest of the story is that Parker’s Gatlings turned the battle that day. Jesse Langdon, the last surviving member of the Rough Riders, recalled the Gatling guns during an interview in 1968, saying, “The Gatlings enfiladed the top of the Spanish trenches, keeping them down or killing them. We’d never have taken San Juan Hill without Lt. Parker’s Gatling guns,” Langdon told reporters.

Theodore Roosevelt himself added to the truth about the Gatling guns, and not solely regular troops or the Rough Riders, won the battle at Santiago. Roosevelt told a Hearst newsman “the way Parker handled those Gatling guns was the most striking feature of the campaign.”

In his memoirs, written while he was President, Roosevelt added that “Parker deserves more credit than any one man in the campaign. the support use of the Gatlings was magnificent. I’m glad we chose that weapon over the Colt or Maxims available.”

That day closed the era of the Gatling guns as an active American combat weapon, although it was not officially declared obsolete until 1911. Its inventor and chief advocate was 82 years old at the turn of the century and had turned his own interests back to designing farm machinery, leaving his weapons business to Colt. Gatling was active until the day of his death, 26 February 1903. The old man had been weakened by grippe, but had visited the offices of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN magazine on the morning of the day he died, to discuss farm technology.

With Gatling dead his gun faded to history, too. The last publicized combat firing of an original Gatling gun was by units of Pancho Villa’s revolutionaries early in the Mexican Revolution.

The 1927 Bannerman Catalog of Military Goods listed a number of Gatling guns and accessories for sale to the public. They were offered as military surplus and outdated items. The catalog noted, “We have a large stock, purchased at the right prices and we can meet any legitimate competition.” Most were listed as “nearly new in all calibers from .30 to .45 to 1-inch models.” Prices were not listed, instead customers were invited to “inspect the merchandise and hear our bargain prices.”

That seemed to be it, all remaining stocks of historic Gatling guns had been regulated to surplus armament storage at Bannerman’s fabled castle on the Hudson River.

War being what it is, though, the story of the Gatling gun did not end.

American military officers, both combat wise and history rich, realized that Gatling’s gun had timeless merit .They rescued the basic design from historic obsolescence, when the Army adopted the Vulcan, a multi-barreled, 7.62x51mm machine gun developed by General Electric. The year was 1956, just 90 years after Gatling finally convinced his government to use his original multi-barreled machine gun.

The Vulcan has seen service as a tactical field weapon, but its major contribution to our military effort has been with the Air Force, mounted in helicopters, fighter-bombers, and in that awesome gun platform, the AC-47. Each of these guns is capable of firing up to 7,200 rpm. It is noteworthy that when the first Army Vulcan was tested, it was fired along side of a vintage Gatling from the past century.

The Gatling gun evolved into the GE Minigun, and Southeast Asia became its turf. The literature of Vietnam is full of vivid accounts of AC-47 and other gun ships and esoteric aerial battlewagons festooned with Miniguns literally pouring deadly gunfire into the countryside. Observers called it the most deadly small arms delivery system in the world.

A generation ago, as another war heated up, this one in Latin America, the AC-47 gun ships roared into battle, with the cry of “Puff the Magic Dragon flies again.” Which is what brought me to that hillside kill zone in 1986 as a civilian pacification advisor for the local government. And, that got me thinking about what happened to all the old Gatling guns stored in Bannerman’s basement and in arsenals around the world.

As most original Gatling guns are now in museums or private collections, they are rarely advertised for public sale. In 1981, an individual offered to sell his clean- condition, ten-barrel, .45 caliber, polished brass 1883 model with ammo tender, mount and other accessories for $39,000. Twenty years later, a dealer offered a Navy 1884 for $285,000. In 2002, Master Gatling builder, Bruce Guilmette, me told that he could find me an original Gatling “that you’d be proud to own” for between $100,00 and $225,000. Individually owned Gatlings are scarce I’ve seen only two in my lifetime.

But, that sad fact did not end the story of the Gatling Gun Company, though, thanks to Karl Furr, a noted craftsman of miniature cannons, who was challenged by a customer to build a scaled down Gatling gun in 1968. The result was a 1/3-scale model 1883 firing .22 ammunition.

“The true challenge was working with original plans to convert the center fire .45/70 to .22 rimfire.” Furr said.

His part-time hobby turned into a full-time business as word of the Furr’s true craftsman’s work spread. Working with his son, Douglas, Karl Furr acquired the business name Gatling Gun Company.

They perfected the 1/3-scale models of the 1883 and 1874 Gatlings, and perfected the 1/2 scale 1876 model to fire .22 long rifle.

These fully working Gatling guns are constructed of solid brass, polished to a mirror finish, and eastern black walnut with a hand-rubbed oil finish. Each weapon has ten barrels and will fire up to 800 rpm. The beautiful miniature Gatling guns are true collector’s items.

Back in 1980, the 1876 1/2 scale model sold for $12,500, while the 1874 or 1883 1/3 scale was sold was $6,500. One was of the 1883 models sold for $12,000 in 2002, while a mint 1876 1/2 scale brought $23,000 in 2000. Alas, there were not enough buyers and their production ceased.

Today, Bruce Gilmette’s Gatling Gun Company produces full-sized, fully functional, authentic replicas of the basic 1862 Gatling gun in two configurations. One is a reenactor/demonstration model and the other is a fully operational, life fire model. The reenactor model also has a blank firing configuration as well.

His operational 1862 Gatling gun comes in either .50 caliber or .58 caliber and fires the black powder ammunition at a steady 600 rpm. The .50 caliber live-fire sells for $4,810, while the .58 caliber model runs $5,175. The reenactor units sell for $4,105. All are produced at the Company’s plant in Ortonville, Michigan.

Bruce said he also plans to add a 1905 model in .30-40 Krag, in kit form only, which includes all components needed to make a completely finished gun, except for the frame, which will need to be assembled. Each kit will cost around $25,000 and will include full completion instructions and an assembly video.

Another company, Paul Moore’s RG-G of Trinidad, Colorado, publishes and sells blueprints and definitive plans for serious collectors and shootists to build their own half-sized, .22 caliber Gatling gun. Recently, they added finished, fully functional .22 caliber Gatling guns to their product list.

New, original, or miniature Gatling guns may be bought by anyone as they are not legally machine guns, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

“These are expensive, historically important collectors’ weapons and are not regarded today as machine guns in the legal sense of that term. They do not come under the provisions of the National Firearms Act,” an ATF spokesman told me recently.

The genius of its inventor has brought the Gatling gun through the full evolutionary cycle from loose powder and percussion caps to metallic cartridge, from black to smokeless powder, from hand crank to electric motor, from ground to air, from rebirth in modern warfare and now back in original form for collectors. It’s the type of tribute Richard Gatling would have liked.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N8 (May 2003)
and was posted online on November 22, 2013


Watch the video: Replika kulometu Gatling