Gatling Gun

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Without doubt one of the most famous weapons in modern history the Gatling gun had a huge impact of warfare and spawned a long line of evolutionary offspring that can be seen today in the ship borne defence systems known as goalkeepers or Phalanx systems. In 1861, Doctor Richard Gatling patented the Gatling gun, a six-barrelled weapon capable of firing an impressive 200 rounds per minute. The Gatling gun was a hand-driven, crank-operated, multi-barrelled weapon and one of the first of was to be later called machine guns. It was certainly the first machine gun with reliable loading, the Gatling gun had the ability to fire sustained multiple bursts. Born September 12, 1818 in Hertford Count, North Carolina, Richard Gatling was the son of planter and inventor, Jordan Gatling, who held two patents of his own. Besides the Gatling gun, Richard Gatling also patented a seed-sowing rice planter in 1839 that was later adapted into a successful wheat drill. Richard Gatling created his gun during the American Civil War, he foolishly hoped that his invention would end war by making it unthinkable to use due to the horrific carnage possible by his weapons. At the least, he reasoned, the Gatling Gun's power would reduce the number of soldiers required to remain on the battlefield.

The 1862 version of the Gatling gun had reloadable steel chambers and used percussion caps. It was prone to occasional jamming. The Gatling gun saw only limited use in the American Civil War, but the conflict tested this weapon, perhaps the first successful machine gun used in warfare. Gatling used the six barrels to partially cool the gun during firing. Since the gun was capable of firing 600 rounds a minute, each barrel fired 100 rounds per minute. The gun had a number of problems, however. The bores were tapered, and often the barrels and chambers did not exactly align, affecting accuracy and velocity. The chamber system itself, in which a paper cartridge was contained inside a capped steel chamber, was both expensive and fragile. While the gun showed much promise and fired the standard .58-caliber ammunition, it had so many drawbacks and was so radical in design and purpose that Gatling was unable to interest the U.S. government. The army purchased none of his guns, but Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, after a field test, purchased 12 for $1,000 each. They were used on the Petersburg front in 1864 and were apparently considered successful. That, however, was the only active service the guns saw.

In January 1865 Gatling's improved model 1865 gun was tested by the Ordnance Department. Among other things, this weapon used rim fire copper-cased cartridges instead of the steel-chambered paper variety. Though this model did not see service, it was adopted officially in 1866. Having at least received government approval, Gatling began to sell his guns throughout the world; they achieved lasting fame in the post-war years. New models were produced regularly steadily improving the basic design up until the early 20th century. With the advent of the automatic machine gun, the U.S. Army declared their Gatling guns obsolete in 1911, after 45 years of service to the U.S. Army.

The Gatling Gun: 19th Century Machine Gun to 21st Century Vulcan, Joseph Berk. Paperback, 1290 pp, Paladin Press. cover cover cover
How to cite this article:Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (9 April 2005), Gatling Gun, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_gattling.html

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