The year was 1862, and the citizens of Athens, Georgia, were reasonably freaking out over the whole "advancing Northern armies" thing. Such situations often encourage inventiveness in weapon design, and this time was no different. A dentist, handyman, and reserve troops private called John Gilleland emerged with a cunning plan for a cannon that could potentially change everything. On paper, the double-barreled cannon seemed like such a clever idea that it was almost unfair. A cast-iron cannon with side-by-side twin barrels, it would be loaded with two 6-pound cannon balls that were linked with a 10-foot chain. This spinny horror-projectile would then scythe through the enemy ranks like a buzz saw made of iron and hate. Surely, a row of such weapons would single-handedly win the Civil War for the South.
Martin Hunter/Getty Images News/Getty Images
This picture will make sense in a moment.
The theory behind the cannon was sound. Chain-shot projectiles had seen use since the early 17th century, mostly in naval warfare to mess with the mast and sails of enemy vessels. However, they had always been fired from the same barrel, because the balls needed to be fired simultaneously to achieve the effect. Two guesses as to how difficult this is with a cannon with two barrels specifically designed with separate touch holes so they can be fired independently.
In April 1862, financiers of the weapon, members of the military, and assorted gawkers gathered on a field to give the double-barreled cannon a trial run. How this transpired is almost impossible to describe in a way that is funnier than the original account, so I'll just let historian Richard E. Irby Jr. take over briefly:
According to reports, one ball left the muzzle before the other and the two balls pursued an erratic circular course plowing up an acre of ground, destroying a corn field, and mowing down some saplings before the chain broke. The balls then adopted separate courses, one killing a cow and the other demolishing the chimney of a log cabin. The observers scattered in fear.
"On a positive note, it did end the war."
"Shut up, Gilleland."
That's such a magnificently absurd chain of events, Seth MacFarlane would deem it unrealistic. What I particularly like is the way the crowd fled in panic although the shot had already been fired, like the shot behaved so erratically that they genuinely feared that the balls might follow them home and stab them. It makes sense, really, considering that just a single shot from the cannon managed to:
1. Fire its chain-shot in a spectacularly impossible trajectory
2. Mess up an entire cornfield and a chunk of forest
3. Break its projectile into two pieces, which fly in opposite directions to ...
4. Wreak havoc on a building and murder a random cow grazing on the sidelines in a suspiciously accurate fashion
Despite this insane first trial, Gilleland was convinced that his cannon was a perfectly good weapon. However, even with some signs that it might actually be usable if the ammunition was switched to grape shot (basically, the cannon version of shotgun pellets), the governor of Georgia shut the project down, presumably by pointing out that they already had perfectly good cannons that were a lot less likely to behave like they were haunted by the vengeful ghosts of cattle-stampede victims.
Today, the double-barreled cannon sits on the lawn of the Athens City Hall, pointing north. This is presumably meant as a bit of a Civil War-related middle finger, but knowing the cannon's performance history, all it really says is, "Yo, Northern friends, we love you so much that we'd rather shoot at literally anything else."
Pauli is a Cracked columnist and freelance editor. Go say hi to him on Facebook and Twitter.
For more from Pauli, check out 5 Advanced Weapons Clearly Invented by a 6-Year-Old and 8 Ridiculous Sex Toys for the Budget-Conscious.
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