Our Iron-clad fleet: The Bellephoron

Gatling’s Battery Gun adopted by the United States Army. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The battery gun, a six-barrelled fieldpiece invented by Mr. B. J. Gatling, of Indianopolis, and manufactured by Colt's Fire Arms, at Hartford, in Connecticut, has been adopted by the United states Government, after a series of satisfactory trials at the Bridesbarg Arsenal, near Philadelphia, at Washington, and at Fort Monroe, conducted by some experienced artillery officers, under the orders of Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War; and one hundred of these guns are now being made for the use of the United States army. A specimen of this novel invention has been brought to England Major General John Love and Mr. Lewis Broadwell, agents for its sale in Europe; and, having been submitted to the inspection of the Relect Committee on Ordnance, it was tried, with its own ammunition, at Shoeburyneas, on Thursday, the 7th inst., in comparison with the Armstrong rifled breech - loader, firing case-shot and segment-shells. We give an Illustration of the Gatling gun, with the following description and brief account of its performances on this occasion. Gatling's battery-gun is an automatic machine, loading and firing incessantly the cartridges being supplied from tin feed-boxes, from which they are run into a slot in the breech-cover, whilst the battery of six steel barrels, secured in position in front and behind by two metal plates, is made to revolve by the turning of a handle. six barrels discharge metallic cartridges, and have six cylindrical plungers to close their breech-ends, each fitted with a horizontal piston, or striker, worked longitudinally through its centre to explode by the force communicated by a spiral spring [to] the fulminate in the cartridge. The diameter of the bore of these barrels is 1 in.; and the cartridges are of two varieties. Both are designed a the same plan, and differ only in the nature of the projectiles with which they are loaded. A stout copper cylinder, furnished with a rim for the grip of the extractor, forms the case. Across the rear end of the cartridge-case is an internal iron bar, having a small cell scooped out on one side. This is filled with fulminate, and the bar is held in position by the indentation of the copper case along a line of about a quarter of each side into grooves at its ends, the fulminate facing the inside of the metallic rear end of the cartridge, which, in the act of firing, is driven in by the piston upon the fulminate. One variety of cartridge carries a single solid lead shot about 23 in. in length, and weighing 7 1/2 oz.; the other is a longer cartridge, closed by a smaller point ball of 2 oz. weight, but carrying within the case between the powder and the point fifteen small bullets of thirty-two to the lb. The solidshot cartridge has a charge of 4 oz. of powder, and the compound cartridge has the same charge.

The gun was fired from 150 yards distance at a frontage of 54ft. of 2-inch-thick 9 ft-in height, and in 1 min. 20 sec. disposed of ninety-six cartridges. Of these seventy-six were exploded and twenty were missfires. The number of missiles discharged by these seventy-six effective rounds was 1216, of which 628 were counted in targets — namely, twenty-six point balls through, 443 lodgers, and 159 struck. There is no doubt that, the bullets being light, the strong wind that was blowing carried a good many of them to the right of the targets. The penetration, however, was very slight, most of the bullets-lodging in the wood, and also being, from the softness of the lead, greatly distorted in shape by their jamming together in the gun at the time of discharge. If the bullets had been hardened, as those used in our own service are, better results would undoubtedly have been attained; as it is, the gun must not be blamed for the defects of the ammunition. Against this Gatling gun an Armstrong 9-pounder field-gun was fired with Lieutenant Reeves's case-shot, the powder charge used in the gun being 1 lb. 2 oz., and the shot being eleven to the pound. Seven rounds were fired in the same time — 1 min. 20 sec.— and, consequently, as each case shot contained sixty-eight bullets, 476 projectiles were discharged. Two of the case-shots, however, passed bodily through the target, and therefore the total of missiles must be reckoned at 360. Of these 184 passed through the target, ten were lodgers, and two struck. The case-shot used in this instance was somewhat adverse to a fair criterion on behalf of the breech-loader, as Lieutenant Reeves's case-shot of sixteen to the pound, with the interstices utilised with buck-shot, would have been more on a par with the numbers and dimensions of the bullets in the Gatling ammunition. The Gatling gun weighs 9 cwt.; the Armstrong 9-pounder, 6 cwt. On a repetition of the firing of the Gatling gun about twenty-one point-balls passed through the target, and there were 416 of the smaller bullets lodged, and eighty-six struck. This last practice told in the centre of the targets.

The Gatling gun was next tried at 800 yards, with solid leadshot, going through its 149 rounds in 1 min. 47 sec. Of these 117 rounds were discharged and thirty-two were missfires. It is only just to say that in these missfires are included the cases arising from the cartridges of one barrel, which had its striker broken, as well as those occurring through the fulminates of the cartridges not exploding. Of the 117 shots discharged, forty-one passed through the target and one struck [sic]. All these were driven to the right-hand target by the wind. Against this the Armstrong nine-pounder at the same range, with a powder charge of 1 lb. 2 oz., firing field-service segment shells of forty-one segments, with percussion fuses, to act on graze, got through four rounds and all but a fifth in the same time (1 min. 47 sec.). Seven rounds could probably have been done had not the wind taken the smoke of the discharges directly along the road towards the targets, and thus preventing for considerable intervals the resighting of the gun. The fragments of the shells would in this case add to the number of the missiles. One hundred and three holes were counted in the targets, thirty-seven lodgers, and thirty-one struck. The Gatling gun is a formidable weapon; and for trenches or a breach, and for street fighting, would do execution. The little amount of recoil and the consequent advantage of retaining a tolerably accurate direction after being once sighted, might prove a valuable element, and, in certain cases, would give it an advantage not possessed by ordinary cannon, which have to be resighted after each discharge.

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“The Gatling Battery Gun.” Illustrated London News (27 March 1867): 300. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 16 January 2016.]

Last modified 17 January 2016