With the official opening of the Robert E. Petersen Gallery just a day away, NRAblog decided to poke around the new exhibit to check out some of the highlights. One section that really jumped out is the Gatling gun collection.
"We have the largest, most diverse collection of Gatlings that any institution has on display," said National Firearms Museum Senior Curator Doug Wicklund. "Even threw in a Gardner to bring it all together."
The Gardner (invented by former Union Army Captain William Gardner after the Civil War), along with the new Gatlings, raises the National Firearms Museum's collection of mechanized rapid-fire arms to ten. And they are something to see.
"Dr. Gatling saw box cars filled with the bodies of Union soldiers go through town almost every day during the Civil War," explained Senior Curator Phil Schreier. "He believed that if he came up with a device so devastating that the other side would capitulate rather than fight, then perhaps he could ultimately reduce the number of deaths and bring an end to the war."
Firing 200 rounds a minute, Gatling guns were eventually available in the .30, .42, .43, .45, .50, .55, .65, .75, and one inch caliber. Despite Gatling's intent, they saw little to no action during the Civil War.
"Ammunition was the problem," explained Schreier. "The Ordinance Department knew a good man could fire three rounds from a standard issue rifle — they could account for that. But with a Gatling gun firing 200 rounds a mintue, well, accounting for that ammunition would be almost impossible."
And because of their size, as well as their need for a high firing position, Gatling guns were often left behind rather than lug the awkward, hefty piece of machinery into battle.
Col. Custer and the 7th Calvary left their Gatling guns behind when they departed Ft. Lincoln," said Schreier. "Who knows what history would say about Little Bighorn today if Custer decided to bring them along."