Gatling gun is one of the best-known early rapid-fire spring
loaded, hand cranked weapons and a forerunner of the modern machine
gun. Invented by Richard Gatling, it is known for its use by the Union
forces during the
American Civil War
American Civil War in the 1860s, which was the first
time it was employed in combat. Later, it was used again in numerous
military conflicts, such as the Boshin War, the Anglo-Zulu War, and
the assault on San Juan Hill during the Spanish–American War. It
was also used by the Pennsylvania militia in episodes of the Great
Railroad Strike of 1877, specifically in Pittsburgh.
The Gatling gun's operation centered on a cyclic multi-barrel design
which facilitated cooling and synchronized the firing-reloading
sequence. Each barrel fired a single shot when it reached a certain
point in the cycle, after which it ejected the spent cartridge, loaded
a new round, and, in the process, allowed the barrel to cool somewhat.
This configuration allowed higher rates of fire to be achieved without
the barrels overheating.
American Civil War
American Civil War and the Americas
1.2 In Africa and Asia
1.3 Spanish–American War
2 Basic design
3 Development of modern Gatling-type guns
4 See also
6 External links
Patent drawing for R. J. Gatling's "battery gun", 9 May 1865
Gatling gun was designed by the American inventor Dr. Richard J.
Gatling in 1861 and patented on November 4, 1862. Gatling wrote
that he created it to reduce the size of armies and so reduce the
number of deaths by combat and disease, and to show how futile war
Although the first
Gatling gun was capable of firing continuously, it
required a person to crank it; therefore it was not a true automatic
weapon. The Maxim gun, invented and patented in 1883, was the first
true fully automatic weapon, making use of the fired projectile's
recoil force to reload the weapon. Nonetheless, the Gatling gun
represented a huge leap in firearm technology.
Prior to the Gatling gun, the only weapons available to military
forces capable of firing many projectiles in a short space of time
were mass-firing volley weapons, like the Belgian and French
mitrailleuse of the 1860s and 1870s, and field cannons firing canister
shot, much like an upsized shotgun. The latter were widely used during
and after the Napoleonic Wars. Although the maximum rate of fire was
increased by firing multiple projectiles simultaneously, these weapons
still needed to be reloaded after each discharge, which for
multi-barrel systems like the mitrailleuse was cumbersome and
time-consuming. This negated much of the advantage of their high rate
of fire per discharge, making them much less powerful on the
battlefield. In comparison, the
Gatling gun offered a rapid and
continuous rate of fire without having to be manually reloaded by
opening the breech.
Gatling gun was a field weapon which used multiple
rotating barrels turned by a hand crank, and firing loose (no links or
belt) metal cartridge ammunition using a gravity feed system from a
hopper. The Gatling gun's innovation lay in the use of multiple
barrels to limit overheating, a rotating mechanism, and a gravity-feed
reloading system, which allowed unskilled operators to achieve a
relatively high rate of fire of 200 rounds per minute.
The US Army adopted Gatling guns in several calibers, including .42
caliber, .45-70, .50 caliber, 1 inch, and (M1893 and later) .30 Army,
with conversions of M1900 weapons to
.30-03 and .30-06. The
.45-70 weapon was also mounted on some
US Navy ships of the 1880s and
American Civil War
American Civil War and the Americas
Gatling gun was first used in warfare during the American Civil
War. Twelve of the guns were purchased personally by Union commanders
and used in the trenches during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia
(June 1864 – April 1865). Eight other Gatling guns were fitted
on gunboats. The gun was not accepted by the American Army until
1866, when a sales representative of the manufacturing company
demonstrated it in combat.
On July 17, 1863, Gatling guns were purportedly used to overawe New
York anti-draft rioters. Two were brought by a National Guard unit
from Philadelphia to use against strikers in Pittsburgh.
Gatling guns were famously not used at the Battle of the Little
Bighorn, also known as "Custer's Last Stand", when Gen. George
Armstrong Custer chose not to bring Gatlings with his main force.
In April 1867, a
Gatling gun was purchased for the Argentine army by
minister Domingo F. Sarmiento under instructions from president
Captain Germán Astete of the
Peruvian Navy took with him dozens of
Gatling guns from the United States to Peru in December 1879 during
the Peru-Chile War of the Pacific. Gatling guns were used by the
Peruvian Navy and Army, especially in the
Battle of Tacna
Battle of Tacna (May 1880)
and the Battle of San Juan (January 1881) against the invading Chilean
Lieutenant A.L. Howard of the
Connecticut National Guard
Connecticut National Guard had an
interest in the company manufacturing Gatling guns, and took a
Gatling gun to Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1885 for use
with the Canadian military against Métis rebels during Louis Riel's
Early multi-barrel guns were approximately the size and weight of
artillery pieces, and were often perceived as a replacement for
cannons firing grapeshot or canister shot. Gatling guns were even
mounted aboard ships. Compared with earlier weapons such as the
mitrailleuse, which required manual reloading, the
Gatling gun was
more reliable and easier to operate, and had a lower, but continuous
rate of fire. The large wheels required to move these guns around
required a high firing position, which increased the vulnerability of
Sustained firing of gunpowder cartridges generated a cloud of smoke,
making concealment impossible until smokeless powder became available
in the late 19th century. When operators were firing Gatling guns
against troops of industrialized nations, they were at risk -
vulnerable to artillery they could not reach and targeted by snipers
they could not see.
In Africa and Asia
British Army Gatling guns from the Second Anglo-Afghan War
Gatling gun was used most successfully to expand European colonial
empires by defeating indigenous warriors mounting massed attacks,
including the Matabele, the Zulu, the Bedouin, and the Mahdists.
Imperial Russia purchased 400 Gatling guns and used them against
Turkmen cavalry and other nomads of central Asia. The Royal Navy
used Gatling guns against the Egyptians at
Alexandria in 1882.
The first use of the Gatling by the
British Army was in the Afghan war
Battle of Charasia in October 1879.
Further information: Spanish–American War
Because of infighting within army ordnance, Gatling guns were used by
the U.S. Army during the Spanish–American War. A four-gun
battery of Model 1895 ten-barrel Gatling guns in .30 Army, made by
Colt's Arms Company, was formed into a separate detachment led by Lt.
John "Gatling Gun" Parker. The detachment proved very effective,
supporting the advance of American forces at the Battle of San Juan
Hill. Three of the Gatlings with swivel mountings were used with great
success against the Spanish defenders. During the American charge
up San Juan and Kettle hills, the three guns fired a total of 18,000
.30 Army rounds in 8 1/2 minutes (an average of over 700 rounds per
minute per gun of continuous fire) against Spanish troop positions
along the crest of both hills, wreaking terrible carnage.
Despite this remarkable achievement, the Gatling's weight and
cumbersome artillery carriage hindered its ability to keep up with
infantry forces over difficult ground, particularly in Cuba, where
roads were often little more than jungle footpaths. By this time, the
U.S. Marines had been issued the modern tripod-mounted M1895
Colt–Browning machine gun using the
6mm Lee Navy
6mm Lee Navy round, which they
employed to defeat the Spanish infantry at the battle of Cuzco Wells.
A British 1865
Gatling gun at Firepower - The Royal
Gatling gun operated by a hand-crank mechanism, with six barrels
revolving around a central shaft (although some models had as many as
ten). Each barrel fires once per revolution at about the same
position. The barrels, a carrier, and a lock cylinder were separate
and all mounted on a solid plate revolving around a central shaft,
mounted on an oblong fixed frame. Turning the crank rotated the shaft.
The carrier was grooved and the lock cylinder was drilled with holes
corresponding to the barrels.
The casing was partitioned, and through this opening the barrel shaft
was journaled. In front of the casing was a cam with spiral surfaces.
The cam imparted a reciprocating motion to the locks when the gun
rotated. Also in the casing was a cocking ring with projections to
cock and fire the gun. Each barrel had a single lock, working in the
lock cylinder on a line with the barrel. The lock cylinder was encased
and joined to the frame. Early models had a fibrous matting stuffed in
among the barrels, which could be soaked with water to cool the
barrels down. Later models eliminated the matting-filled barrels as
Cartridges, held in a hopper, dropped individually into the grooves of
the carrier. The lock was simultaneously forced by the cam to move
forward and load the cartridge, and when the cam was at its highest
point, the cocking ring freed the lock and fired the cartridge. After
the cartridge was fired the continuing action of the cam drew back the
lock bringing with it the spent cartridge which then dropped to the
The grouped barrel concept had been explored by inventors since the
18th century, but poor engineering and the lack of a unitary cartridge
made previous designs unsuccessful. The initial
Gatling gun design
used self-contained, reloadable steel cylinders with a chamber holding
a ball and black-powder charge, and a percussion cap on one end. As
the barrels rotated, these steel cylinders dropped into place, were
fired, and were then ejected from the gun. The innovative features of
Gatling gun were its independent firing mechanism for each barrel
and the simultaneous action of the locks, barrels, carrier and breech.
The ammunition that Gatling eventually implemented was a paper
cartridge style round charged with black powder and primed with a
percussion cap. because self-contained brass cartridges were not yet
fully developed and available. The shells were gravity-fed into the
breech through a hopper or simple box "magazine" with an unsprung
gravity follower on top of the gun. Each barrel had its own firing
Despite self-contained brass cartridges replacing the paper cartridge
in the 1860s, it wasn't until the Model 1881 that Gatling switched to
the 'Bruce'-style feed system (U.S. Patents 247,158 and 343,532) that
accepted two rows of
.45-70 cartridges. While one row was being fed
into the gun, the other could be reloaded, thus allowing sustained
fire. The final gun required four operators. By 1886, the gun was
capable of firing more than 400 rounds per minute.
The smallest-caliber gun also had a Broadwell drum feed in place of
the curved box of the other guns. The drum, named after L. W.
Broadwell, an agent for Gatling's company, comprised twenty stacks of
rounds arranged around a central axis, like the spokes of a wheel,
each holding twenty cartridges with the bullet noses oriented toward
the central axis. This invention was patented in U. S. 110,338. As
each stack emptied, the drum was manually rotated to bring a new stack
into use until all 400 rounds had been fired. A more common variant
had 240 rounds in twenty stands of fifteen.
By 1893, the Gatling was adapted to take the new
.30 Army smokeless
cartridge. The new M1893 guns featured six barrels, later increased to
ten barrels, and were capable of a maximum (initial) rate of fire of
800–900 rounds per minute, though 600 rpm was recommended for
continuous fire. Dr. Gatling later used examples of the M1893
powered by electric motor and belt to drive the crank. Tests
demonstrated the electric Gatling could fire bursts of up to
The M1893, with minor revisions, became the M1895, and 94 guns were
produced for the U.S. Army by Colt. Four M1895 Gatlings under Lt. John
H. Parker saw considerable combat during the Santiago campaign in Cuba
in 1898. The M1895 was designed to accept only the Bruce feeder. All
previous models were unpainted, but the M1895 was painted olive drab
(O.D.) green, with some parts left blued.
The Model 1900 was very similar to the model 1895, but with only a few
components finished in O.D. green. The U.S. Army purchased a quantity
of M1900s. All Gatling Models 1895–1903 could be mounted on an
armored field carriage. In 1903, the Army converted its M1900 guns in
.30 Army to fit the new
.30-03 cartridge (standardized for the M1903
Springfield rifle) as the M1903. The later M1903-'06 was an M1903
converted to .30-06. This conversion was principally carried out at
the Army's Springfield Armory arsenal repair shops. All models of
Gatling guns were declared obsolete by the U.S. military in 1911,
after 45 years of service.
Development of modern Gatling-type guns
Minigun and Rotary cannon
Gatling gun was replaced in service by newer recoil or
gas-operated weapons, the approach of using multiple externally
powered rotating barrels fell into disuse for many decades. However,
some examples were developed during the interwar years, but only
existed as prototypes or were rarely used. The concept resurfaced
after World War II with the development of the
Minigun and the M61
Vulcan. Many other versions of the
Gatling gun were built from the
late 20th century to the present, the largest of these being the 30mm
GAU-8 Avenger autocannon.
Gorgas machine gun
List of multiple barrel firearms
^ Weight listed for Colt's Model 1877 10-barrel gun, w/o carriage or
^ "Gatling Gun - Facts & Summary - HISTORY.com".
^ a b c d Parker, John H. (Lt.), The Gatlings At Santiago, Middlesex,
UK: Echo Library (reprinted 2006)
^ Chambers, John W. (II) (2000). "San Juan Hill, Battle of". The
Oxford Companion to American Military History. HighBeam Research Inc.
^ Richard J. Gatling, "Improvement in revolving battery-guns," U.S.
Patent No. 36,386 (issued: Nov. 4, 1862).
^ a b Greeley, Horace; Leon Case (1872). The Great Industries of the
United States. J.B. Burr & Hyde. p. 944.
^ Paul Wahl and Don Toppel, The Gatling Gun, Arco Publishing, 1971.
^ Paul Wahl and Don Toppel, The Gatling Gun, Arco Publishing, 1971, p.
^ Randolph, Captain W. S., 5th US
Artillery Service and Description of
Gatling Guns, 1878
^ Friedman, Norman (1984). U.S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design
History. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute.
pp. 457–463. ISBN 0-87021-718-6.
^ Civil War Weapons And Equipment by Russ A. Pritchard Jnr.
^ "The Gatling Gun In The Civil War". civilwarhome.com. Retrieved
^ a b c d e f Emmott, N.W. "The Devil's Watering Pot" United States
Naval Institute Proceedings September 1972 p. 70.
^ Julia Keller, Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel (2008), p. 168-170
^ Rauch, George v (1 January 1999). "Conflict in the Southern Cone:
The Argentine Military and the Boundary Dispute with Chile,
1870-1902". Greenwood Publishing Group – via Google Books.
^ a b Emmott, N.W. "The Devil's Watering Pot" United States Naval
Institute Proceedings September 1972 p. 72.
^ Emmott, N.W. "The Devil's Watering Pot" United States Naval
Institute Proceedings September 1972 p. 71.
^ Farwell, Byron (1985). "Queen Victoria's Little Wars". Google Books.
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. p. 209.
ISBN 9780393302356. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
^ Patrick McSherry. "Gatling". spanamwar.com. Retrieved
^ Parker, John H. (Lt.), History of the Gatling Gun Detachment, Kansas
City, MO: Hudson-Kimberly Publishing Co. (1898), pp. 20, 23–32
^ Parker, John H.: Cranked by hand at its highest speed until the
first magazine of ammunition had been emptied, the M1895 .30 Gatling
Gun had an initial rate of fire of 800–900 rounds per minute.
^ U.S. Ordnance Dept., Handbook of the Gatling Gun, Caliber .30 Models
of 1895, 1900, and 1903, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office,
(1905) p. 21
^ Wahl and Toppel, 1971, p. 155
Ordnance Department, United States (1917). Handbook of the Gatling
Gun, Caliber .30. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gatling gun.
Randolph, Captain W. S., 5th US
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U.S. Patent 36,836 -- Gatling gun
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U.S. Patent 112,138 -- revolving battery gun
U.S. Patent 125,563 -- improvement in revolving battery guns
U.S. Patent 110,338 -- feeder for repeating firearms
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