Tales of the Gatling
Believe it or not when Dr. Richard Gatling received the patent for his Gatling gun in 1862 he did so thinking that it would lead to smaller armies and thus fewer deaths. He truly underestimated the human condition. We’ve all seen pictures of the Gatling guns and are familiar with their looks. The one pictured above is an 1883 model that saw duty with the Illinois National Guard during the Spanish-American War.
The round cartridge at the top carried 104 rounds of .45 caliber ammunition that would be fed through the ten barrels at a potential rate of 350 rounds per minute. They could certainly lay down a heck of a field of fire. The problem was they were heavy and needed the carriage to be moved from place to place.
Two stories about Gatling guns sort of give you a good overview of their usefulness. During the Spanish-American War, a battery of four Gatling guns was used with great effectiveness during the charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba. Three of them were swivel mounted and could pretty much rake the Spanish lines. During that one battle, the three guns fired over 18,000 rounds of ammunition and helped the Americans win the day.
A few years earlier in 1876 General George Custer of the US 7th Cavalry took his troops on a punitive expedition against the natives in the hills of South Dakota. It did not end well for them. The US troops were very, very outnumbered and figured that superior technology and tactics would win the day. The big problem, perhaps, was that they left behind several Gatling guns that had been tasked to them.
The Gatling was heavy and slow and though they could have provided overbearing firepower to Custer and his men, he decided they would just slow his horses down. He deployed without them. Who knows what difference if any those guns would have made during the battle?