Knowledge in all academic fields progresses incrementally, building on past achievements. This is probably most evident in science and engineering, but occasionally it happens with history too, giving us new insights about the past. Blogger Indian Jen has posted this: (emphasis added)
The American Civil War was the most devastating American Conflict in our history. New research indicates that the death toll was significantly higher than previously determined.
“The Civil War left a culture of death, a culture of mourning, beyond anything Americans had ever experienced or imagined,” David Blight, Yale University.
Previous estimates had put the death toll at around 620,000 (with most dying from infection and disease). New research puts than number at 750,000 (more than 21% higher than previous determinations).
(Follow her link for the source of the information.)
Coincidentally a related article that corroborated Gatling’s idea caught my eye in this month’s Military Officer magazine. Author Mark Cantrell relates the history of machine guns, noting their origin in the Civil War: (emphasis added)
When the bamboo “hand cannon” was invented in China around 1250, its creators had no idea the crude weapon someday would revolutionize warfare. From that first invention came muskets and cannons and, later, pistols and rifles. But until the mid-19th century, guns shot single projectiles, one at a time. After the Civil War began in 1861, however, a man named Richard Gatling patented an invention that represented a quantum leap in the evolution of firearms.
Gatling was born on a farm in Hartford County, N.C., in 1818 and followed in his father’s footsteps as an inventor. After earning a medical degree in 1850, he moved to Cincinnati, where he lived near a railroad station. There he saw the bodies of Civil War soldiers returning from the battlefield, and he noted more of them had died from illness than from bullet wounds.
The sight sparked an idea: Gatling would create a weapon so devastating and superior in its firepower that opposing armies would have no chance of victory. In an 1877 letter to the niece of Samuel Colt, he wrote: “It occurred to me that 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 large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished.”
Gatling’s first gun had six barrels, which fired .58-caliber minié balls, connected to a gearing system with a hand crank. In the spring of 1862, Gatling demonstrated his gun in Indianapolis before thousands of people, including Army representatives and the governor of Indiana. The presentation brought him financial backing, and Gatling enlisted Miles H. Greenwood and Co. to produce six prototype guns at its Eagle Iron Works factory in Cincinnati.
The day after he paid Greenwood $6,000 for the guns, however, the factory burned to the ground, melting his prototypes into lumps of brass and destroying all his plans. Undaunted, Gatling came up with an even better design that used rimfire ammunition and soon had 12 more prototypes under construction. Union Gen. Benjamin F. Butler was so impressed with the guns he bought them with his own funds and used them in the siege of Petersburg, Va., from 1864-1865.
Gatling’s notion about a more efficient weapon making war safer and shorter seems to make sense given the nature of it at the time. Dying young from a variety of causes, even infections of minor scrapes, was pretty common in those days. I’m sure they had “shell shock”, a.k.a. PTSD, then too, but just getting home alive would have been a big deal. For context though I’m thinking more about Steven Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. What would Gatling have thought about modern weaponry, suicide bombers, roadside bombs and an 11-year war, I wonder?
The MOAA article follows the development of the machine gun through the present time, for those who want to know more about it. It’s not a long article.