The Ager Coffee Mill Gun

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Robert Gray

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 24, 2012
The Agar gun (or Ager) was an early rapid fire machine gun developed during the US Civil War. The weapon was nicknamed the Coffee Mill Gun, and was also called the Union Repeating Gun. During the war, inventors were encouraged to create new and better weapons. The Agar machine gun was one of about fifty or so hand-cranked machine guns developed during this period. It was named after its inventor, Wilson Agar (sometimes spelled Wilson Ager). The gun was so named because the cr...ank and the ammunition hopper on the top of the weapon gave it a look similar to that of a common kitchen coffee grinder.
In 1861, the Agar machine gun was demonstrated to President Abraham Lincoln, who was so impressed that he ordered all ten available weapons to be purchased immediately, at a cost of $1,300 each, which was a very high price at the time. Later in the same year, General McClellan ordered an additional fifty weapons, at a reduced cost of $735 each. General Butler purchased two guns at $1,300 each, and in the following year General Fremont also purchased two, paying $1,500 for each.
The guns were condemned by the Ordnance Department for using too much ammunition to ever be practical, and saw little use on the battlefield. They were often deployed to remote locations to guard bridges and narrow passes. The guns often performed poorly in the field. The single barrel design proved vulnerable to overheating, and the weapon was also prone to jamming. The special steel tubes used to hold the cartridges were heavy and expensive. Later cartridges would use brass, but this was not widely available during the time that the Agar machine gun was used. The gun's range was also criticized. It was about 800 yards, which was roughly the same as the range of the rifle-muskets used by infantry. A longer range weapon would have been preferred.
Because of the way it was used in battle, the Agar machine gun, like most machine guns of the period, was never able to show its potential. In 1865, the few remaining guns were sold for $500 each. [Wikipedia]
The second image shows an Ager gun in the possession of the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry at Camp Northumberland near Washington in February 1862. [Library of Congress]

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7thWisconsin

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 21, 2014
I seem to remember a written account of that 96th Pa gun in action on the Peninsula. Knocked Confederate cavalry patrol out of their saddles before they could come into range with their own weapons. In some ways the coffee mill gun was ahead of its time in that it was a real machine gun, pushing multiple rounds through the same chamber and barrel, rather than a rotating cannon like a gatling gun. At that expense, and given that military bureaucracies are inherently conservative, I'm not surprised that they weren't widely adopted. They really don't do anything that a cannon can't do cheaply and reliably. I'm sometimes surprised that they didn't pursue battalion guns, like the old grasshopper cannons, but then again, if you have a battery attached to an infantry brigade, you already have similar firepower readily available.
 
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Dave G

Corporal
Joined
Jan 14, 2015
Location
Halifax NS
The New Market Museum has a Coffee Mill machine gun except it is described as having been invented by Edward Nugent and has his name on the body. I remember reading an article about it's being used successfully against a small Confederate cavalry unit in some West Virginia town early in the war. I took pictures of the gun but they were pretty dark. Beside the gun there was a model and I had better luck shooting that.
The museum also has a Williams gun and a Gatling gun.

The Card reads: Union Repeating Gun or the Coffee Mill
Patented in 1862 by Edward Nugent, the .58 caliber Union Repeating Gun (displayed ... with its miniature model) was capable of firing 120 rounds per minute. Dangerously hot when fired, the barrel could be easily replaced with a reserve barrel.
President Lincoln was responsible for dubbing the gun the Union Coffee Mill due to its handcrank and hopper. Under his direct orders, 60 of the 61 guns produced were purchased for the Union Army. Only four remain in existence today.


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Dave G

Corporal
Joined
Jan 14, 2015
Location
Halifax NS
March 29 (Saturday) 1862:
Along an old road leading to the Shenandoah Valley was the little town of Middleburg. The whole town had only three churches, seven stores of various kinds, a local academy, a tobacco factory and about 80 houses. The 28th Pennsylvania Infantry, commanded by Col. John W. Geary, reached Middleburg and its passage was contested by a group of Confederate cavalry and infantry based in the town. With a swirl of street fighting, the Rebels broke and their cavalry covered the evacuation of the infantry. The cavalry regrouped in a hollow west of the town where they were fired upon by the Federals, resulting in the Confederates retreating.
The interesting thing about this action was that for the first time a machine gun (Lincoln's "coffee mill") was employed against enemy troops. One Capt. Bartlett, describing the action about a month later, said, "One of these guns was brought to bear on a squadron of cavalry at 800 yards, and it cut them to pieces terribly, quickly forcing them to fly." One of the deadliest weapons invented had had its first field trial in combat.
- The Civil War Years by Robert E. Denney
 

unicornforge

First Sergeant
Joined
Feb 14, 2007
Location
Near Gettysburg, PA
…. “A large number of cannon were captured in this field; I don’t know how many. I counted fifteen on one hill, standing just as the enemy left them: on this same hill I saw the first machine gun, with its handle to turn out a bullet at every revolution. I saw another, which was captured during the seven days’ fight, the only ones seen by the writer during the war.”

Page 102 in the book,
“One of Jackson's Foot Cavalry: His Experience and What He Saw During the War”, 1861-1865 - Collector's Library of the Civil War Hardcover – June 1, 1982 by John H. Worsham (Author)
 
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7thWisconsin

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 21, 2014
March 29 (Saturday) 1862:
Along an old road leading to the Shenandoah Valley was the little town of Middleburg. The whole town had only three churches, seven stores of various kinds, a local academy, a tobacco factory and about 80 houses. The 28th Pennsylvania Infantry, commanded by Col. John W. Geary, reached Middleburg and its passage was contested by a group of Confederate cavalry and infantry based in the town. With a swirl of street fighting, the Rebels broke and their cavalry covered the evacuation of the infantry. The cavalry regrouped in a hollow west of the town where they were fired upon by the Federals, resulting in the Confederates retreating.
The interesting thing about this action was that for the first time a machine gun (Lincoln's "coffee mill") was employed against enemy troops. One Capt. Bartlett, describing the action about a month later, said, "One of these guns was brought to bear on a squadron of cavalry at 800 yards, and it cut them to pieces terribly, quickly forcing them to fly." One of the deadliest weapons invented had had its first field trial in combat.
- The Civil War Years by Robert E. Denney
Can you imagine how surprising it was for that cavalry unit to be taking direct fire at that range? They knew no musket would reach that far.
 

ucvrelics

Major
Forum Host
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
The early tube cartridges were IMHO a pain in the !!!! The were very expensive but could be reused which is where the pain in the field came in. After firing they had to be cleaned and reload to include a percussion cap on the end of the tube which was no more than a VERY short 58cal barrel with a percussion cap on the end. Here are 2 from my personnel collection, one dug and one non-dug. The non-dug one still has the cap on the nipple. The dug one is now in the redbob collection :D
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Lubliner

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
I seem to remember one instance with Fremont's use of the weapon, other than the time Lincoln witnessed it. Wouldn't the weight and handling of such a weapon by troops and cavalry make it more efficient in its use?
Lubliner.
 
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