Sunday, November 4, 2012

Civil War Sunday- The Weapon to End All Wars

I was torn between a famous military anniversary today and my visit Thursday to view the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.   I will go with this anniversary, and blog about the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation next week.

So, what is important about this day in history, 150 years ago?

On November 4, 1862, the Gatling Gun was patented.

This weapon became the Civil War version of a "weapon of mass destruction".  We know it today as the forerunner of the machine gun; as a rapid fire gun that was supposed to be such a terrible weapon that mankind would be convinced to give up war.  Or so the inventor, Dr. Richard Gatling, a North Carolina native, said.

At various gun demonstrations at the Antietam reenactment and the Antietam battlefield back in September, we saw how warfare was waged prior to the Gatling gun.  The typical Civil War soldier of 1862 used a single shot rifle, which was loaded by a complicated process including using paper based cartridges. The soldiers got quite good at it but it was still a relatively slow process, as this demonstration shows.

The Gatling gun patented was a 6 barrel gun, mounted on wheels, which could be loaded and fired quickly, and could be quickly reloaded and then replaced by the next barrel by use of a crank.

It could fire some 200 shots a minute.  Compared to the guns in the video above, this was a great leap forward in the technology of killing.

The irony is that the Gatling Gun was invented by a medical doctor, a doctor who was more interested in inventing than doctoring.

His agricultural background gave him the inspiration to create a rear loading device that would load cartridges at regular intervals, somewhat like an agricultural seeder.

Did the Gatling gun prove to be such a terrible weapon that the Civil War became the War to End All Wars?  Not exactly.  It actually didn't play much of a role in the Civil War at all.  And, it certainly did not end the horror of war.

But the design survived, was improved further in the years after the Civil War, and Gatling guns are used by the military even today.

Are you surprised by 150 year old technology still being used today?  Don't be.   You would be surprised to find out what else in your life is that old.

Next week - a timeless document.


  1. Great video. Very interesting about the teeth :) Have a blog on the Doctor back when we were doing NC/SC "quotes" on Sundays. Sad he didn't see his goal met regarding war. Also, of all places, I got to see a Gatlin gun in a museum in Alaska! Private collector with lots of other goodies too. Great post!

  2. Hi and how are you! You ask

    "Are you surprised by 150 year old technology still being used today?"

    and I'll answer "no I'm not." Gatling gun technology has been developed to the point where this weapon's descendants is now one of the most dangerous and feared aerial ground attack and close air support weapons in the world. Carried by an American Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt, it was used to devastating effect during the 'road to Bassorah' attack during Gulf 1 and it has continued to wreak havoc wherever (Bosnia, Iraq, Af/pak etc) it has been used ever since.

    It works like this..the gun is placed in the nose of the plane and it delivers at 70 high-explosive rounds per second. Yup.

    Incidentally, and on the same theme, I learned today that businessmen encoded their secret confidential commercial communications long before Blackberries came along. How long? Almost 80 years. And we think we're the whizz kids!


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