|Doctor Richard Gatling's patent drawing|
As history has proven, however, Dr. Gatling was way off the mark.Hartford, June 15th, 1877My Dear Friend.
It may be interesting to you to know how I came to invent the gun which bears my name; I will tell you: In 1861, during the opening events of the war, (residing at that time in Indianapolis, md.,) I witnessed almost daily the departure of troops to the front and the return of the wounded, sick, and dead. The most of the latter lost their lives, not in battle, but by sickness and exposure incident to the service. 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, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease be greatly diminished. I thought over the subject and finally this idea took practical form in the invention of the Gatling Gun.
The original Gatling gun models saw use in dozens of wars around the world, from the Spanish-American War of 1898 to the colonial conflicts in Africa and other undeveloped nations. The colonial European powers made particular use of Gatling's weapon to bolster their fortifications against hordes of warriors. Once the destructive power of the Gatling gun was realized, the technology spread around the world like wildfire.
The Gatling gun was operated by a hand-crank, which meant that it wasn't the first truly automatic weapon (that title goes to the Maxim gun invented in 1884). Regardless of this lack of automation, the Gatling gun still holds the title of first machine-fed gun useful on the field of battle.
Prior to Gatling's invention, the most common multi-shot weapons were the French mitrailleuse and grapeshot fired from cannons. The problem with both of those weapons was that they had to be reloaded after every shot, so the high mass rate of fire was counteracted by the slow manual loading process.
The operation of the Gatling gun was different. From The American Civil War Home Page:
"The Gatling gun was a hand-crank-operated weapon with 6 barrels revolving around a central shaft. The cartridges were fed to the gun by gravity through a hopper mounted on the top of the gun. 6 cam-operated bolts alternately wedged, fired, and dropped the bullets, which were contained in steel chambers. Gatling used the 6 barrels to partially cool the gun during firing."
|Mitrailleuse Gatling model APX1895|
(Musée de l'armée, Paris, France)
It's worth noting that the Gatling gun wasn't really adopted by the United States Army until 1866, after the war ended. This can be tied to the many problems that the original 1862-patented design had. Among these was the jamming potential of the original design, which was prodigious because of the tapered barrels that ran the risk of not always aligning properly with the chambers. The bullet design that the first Gatling gun used -- a steel chamber full of black powder and primed with a paper percussion cap -- was both fragile and expensive, as self-contained brass bullets had not yet become available.
The 1866 redesign of the Gatling gun included those aforementioned brass cartridges among other improvements, which finally resulted in the gun being picked up by the U.S Army. The Gatling gun was used extensively in the conflicts of the latter part of the 19th Century, going so far as to make the journey to Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Gatling's weapon made its appearance at San Juan Hill among other battles.
In 1876, the weapon had reached theoretical rate of fire of 1,200 rounds per minute. It's important to note that this is a purely theoretical rate, as in practice it was more likely to achieve 400 rounds per minute. This is still an impressive rate of fire for a weapon that required a four-man team to operate. Its "Bruce"-style feed system, where one row of bullets could be loaded while the other was being fired, allowed for the greater increase in rate of fire.
|Inspection of the gatling gun of an A-10 Thunderbolt II, at Osan Air Base, Korea. (from Wikipedia, Photo by USAF Staff Sgt. Bradley C. Church)|
Hook the crank to a steam engine that runs on high-pressure steam, and you have a purely automatic weapon that can potentially be fired by a man sitting in a giant robot. The best part about the Gatling gun is that Dr. Gatling was a consummate mechanical engineer, which makes his simple and effective design perfect for use in a Steampunk society where gearwork and steam power dominates.
How would you design a Steampunk Gatling-style weapon? What materials would you use?