The Invention of the Gatling Gun
In 1871, a new military technology was developed that would fundamentally change the way warfare was conducted, and which would lead to some of the most tremendous slaughters of human beings ever witnessed. This invention was the machine gun, and it changed warfare by making it possible for a handful of men to kill thousands in only minutes. Richard Jordan Gatling was, for most of his life, involved in the making of farm equipment. The son of a North Carolina plantation owner, Gatling was living in Cincinnati during the outbreak of the war, and came up with the idea for his weapon, according to legend, while watching the wheel of a paddleboat turn. The design of the weapon, however, also owes at least some of its inspiration to the sowing and seeding machines that would have been familiar to Gatling. The Gatling gun had six to ten barrels arranged in a circular pattern, which rotated around a central pivot when a crank was turned. On top of the gun was a hopper, which fed bullets into the barrels as the barrels rotated. As the barrels rotated, bullets would be fed into the barrels, locked, fired, and extracted as the barrels moved around the pivot. In this way, the Gatling gun could fire up to 350 rounds per minute, with some experimental models achieving a rate of fire of over 1,000 rounds per minute. However, the weapon was extremely prone to jams and was large, requiring at least a three- to four-man crew. The two main problems with the Gatling gun were the complicated process through which rounds were loaded, fired, and extracted, and the fact that it was a hand-cranked weapon. In addition to affecting combat tactics, the machine gun totally changed the scale and violence of warfare and exerted a profound psychological impact on its participants. Post-traumatic combat stress, called "shell shock," emerged as a new category of battle injury during World War I, afflicting many soldiers who...
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