Experimental Athens Double-Barrel Cannon

In 1862, a man named John Gilleland, from the little Georgia town of Athens, came up with this inventive, some would say crazy, idea for a double-barrel cannon. Gilleland, a local house builder and mechanic, a Jackson County dentist, a private in Mitchell’s Thunderbolts and an employee of Cook’s Armory, thought that a cannon such as this would serve the defenses of his community, and the needs of the Confederate Army, very well. It's the only known full size double-barrel cannon of its kind in the United States.

ARTILLERY PROFILE
  • Model: Gilleland's Double-Barrelled Cannon
  • Type: Experimental Muzzleloading Double 6-pdr. Gun
  • In Service With:
    • Lumpkin’s Artillery (Unofficial Rumors)
    • The Town of Athens
  • Purpose: "mow down enemy lines …. like a scythe cutting wheat"
  • Invented By: John Gilleland
  • Current Disposition: Mounted on a Cannon Carriage at Athens City Hall
  • Location: At the corner of College and Hancock Avenues, Athens, Georgia
  • Map Coordinates: 33°57'35.9"N 83°22'34.7"W
  • Rarity: One of a Kind
:CSA1stNat:

MANUFACTURING

1581087147827.png

Photo Credit: David Earnest, circa 1900-1912
Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The Univ. of Georgia Libraries.
The double-barreled cannon on the median that divided College Avenue.


  • Casting Foundry: Athens Steam Company, Athens, Georgia
  • Year of Manufacture: 1862
  • Tube Composition: Cast Iron
  • Purchase Price in 1862: $350.00 (CS)
  • No. of Surviving Pieces Today: 1
  • Special Notes: Appears to have been cast horizontally, then drilled. The mould casting lines are still visible today. Also this gun has two cascabels, presumably welded on after casting, an odd arrangement for sure!
WEIGHTS & MEASURES
  • Bore Diameter: 3.67 inches each
  • Rifling Type: no grooves
  • Tube Length: 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches
  • Tube Weight: 1,300 lbs.
  • Carriage Type: Custom Carriage to accommodate extra wide barrel (about 900 lbs., 57" wheels)
  • Total Weight (Gun & Carriage): about 2,200 lbs.
AMMUNITION

1581092593267.png

From the Southern Watchman,
an Athens, Georgia Newspaper.
Published April 30, 1862.

  • Standard Powder Charge: Unknown
  • Projectiles Types: Two solid shot connected by a chain
  • Projectiles Weights: Each ball weighed about 6 lbs.
PERFORMANCE
  • Rate of Fire: Unknown
  • Muzzle Velocity: Unknown
  • Effective Range (at 5°): Unknown
  • Projectile Flight Time (at 5°): Unknown
HISTORIC MARKER

Marker Posted Behind Double Barrel Gun, at Athens City Hall
THE ATHENS
DOUBLE-BARRELLED CANNON



This cannon, the only known one of its kind, was designed by Mr. John Gilleland, a private in the "Mitchell Thunderbolts," an elite "home guard" unit of business and professional men ineligible because of age or disability for service in the Confederate army. Cast in the Athens foundry, it was intended to fire simultaneously two balls connected by a chain which would "mow down the enemy somewhat as a scythe cuts wheat." It failed for lack of a means of firing both barrels at the exact instant.

It was tested in a field on the Newton's Bridge road against a target of upright poles. With both balls rammed home and the chain dangling from the twin muzzles, the piece was fired; but the lack of precise simultaneity caused uneven explosion of the propelling charges, which snapped the chain and gave each ball an erratic and unpredictable trajectory.

Lacking a workable firing device, the gun was a failure. It was presented to the City of Athens where, for almost a century, it has been preserved as an object of curiosity, and where it performed sturdy service for many years in celebrating political victories.

029-5 - GEORGIA HISTORICAL COMMISSION - 1957

NOTES ON THE ATHENS DOUBLE BARREL CANNON

John Gilleland's idea was to connect two cannon balls with a long chain (by some reports 8 foot long, others say it was as long as 50 feet!), and fire them simultaneously from this new double-barrel cannon, mowing down enemy lines with this wicked weapon like a scythe cutting wheat. The town of Athens, Georgia took up Gilleland's outlandish idea, and the cannon was financed by a $350 subscription raised by 36 interested citizens.

The cannon was cast at the Athens Steam Company in 1862, it's a double six-pounder, cast in one piece, with a three degree divergence from the parallel between the barrels. Each barrel has its own touch hole so it can be fired independent of the other and a common touch hole in the center is designed to fire both barrels simultaneously.

1581099685508.png

A view from behind the double-barreled cannon in Athens, Georgia
Photo by
Bloodofox, Taken 2007


Upon it's completion on April 22, 1862, the cannon was taken out to Newton Bridge Road, for a test firing. The test was, to say the least, spectacular if unsuccessful.

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. Then the balls adopted separate courses, one killing a cow and the other demolishing the chimney on a log cabin. Those observing the test firing scattered in fear of their lives.

Later, some reports claimed that two or three spectators were killed by the firing. The reports of the deaths have not been substantiated. The Watchman, a local newspaper, promptly reported that the test was an unqualified success.

The cannon was then sent, at Gilleland’s insistence, to the Augusta Arsenal for further tests. Colonel Rains, arsenal commandant, tested the gun and reported it a failure for the purpose intended. Colonel Rains had tested a similar weapon at Governor’s Island in 1855 with the same results.

Gilleland, however, was still of the opinion that the gun was a perfect success and engaged in a heated correspondence with the Confederate Secretary of War. Gilleland contended the cannon had been fired successfully and James W. Camak reports one successful shot. Camak also stated that the cannon was very effective if both barrels were loaded with canister or grape shot and fired simultaneously.

Further persistence proving futile, Gilleland then approached Governor Brown in an attempt to interest the state in his gun. Brown declined to provide money for further experiments and the cannon was returned to Athens.

For the next few years the double-barrel cannon was used as a signal gun for the town of Athens, to warn of the approach of Union soldiers. There have been claims that the gun was also used against Union infantry, by Lumpkin’s Artillery when they repelled Stoneman’s Raiders at Barbers Creek on August 2, 1864. The cannon was said to be used with canister. The Athens papers did not describe this action in any detail, so further information about the use of the double-barrel cannon in this action is not known.

After the war the cannon was mounted on a carriage and placed in the town square. Today this cannon can can still be seen in the square, mounted at the corner of College and Hancock Aves, in the town of Athens, Georgia.

ATHENS DOUBLE BARREL CANNON CURRENT LOCATION MAP



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Last edited:

rebelatsea

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Mar 30, 2013
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Kent ,England.
Chain shot, two half balls connected by an iron chain was used at sea as dismantling shot, as was bar shot in the Napoleonic era. But that was fired from one gun. Maybe he had heard about that and wanted to try it on land against infantry.
 

CB_Thurston

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I grew up with a small replica of this cannon sitting on my side table. John Gilleland is my 5th Great-Grandfather. My mothers father, used to tell me it could kill something in Jackson County and Madison County at the same time.
 

lelliott19

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I grew up with a small replica of this cannon sitting on my side table. John Gilleland is my 5th Great-Grandfather. My mothers father, used to tell me it could kill something in Jackson County and Madison County at the same time.
Hello Mr Thurston and welcome to CivilWarTalk -- the best place on the internet for Civil War discussion. Very happy to have you aboard. That is some family history! So you are a descendant of the man who designed the double barrel cannon! Amazing. Did you grow up in Madison/Jackson county area? Im researching the 16th Georgia - 2 companies from each of those counties in my regiment. Again, welcome aboard!
 

CB_Thurston

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Thank you for the welcoming! I was happy to find this site!
I was raised between Clarke County and Oconee County. My mother's father, surname Doster, was born and raised in Madison County. His family had been in that area atleast since early 1800's. My lineal descent is through John Gillelands daughter, Elizabeth. She married my fourth great-grandfather, Alvey Carter Pridgeon.

Which companies are you diving into? I know through my own unorganized research I have come across family in the 16th, specifically the Langfords. Other surnames from my family that lived in the areas of the 16th were: Doster, Langford (Lankford), Sims, Pridgeon, McWhirter, Wilder, Hale, O'Kelley.
 

lelliott19

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Which companies are you diving into? I know through my own unorganized research I have come across family in the 16th, specifically the Langfords. Other surnames from my family that lived in the areas of the 16th were: Doster, Langford (Lankford), Sims, Pridgeon, McWhirter, Wilder, Hale, O'Kelley.
Actually, Im working on the entire regiment. All 10 companies. Stephen O'Kelley likely of your family lived a good long while after the war and I have utilized some of his recollections in my research.
 

CB_Thurston

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May 25, 2020
You are correct. The father of Stephen O'Kelley was the brother of my fourth Great-Grandmother. Thank you for the information, I will make sure to give it all a read!
 
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