Athens Double-Barrelled Cannon
- Type: Experimental Double 6-pdr. Gun
- Year of Manufacture: 1862
- Tube Composition: Cast Iron
- Bore Diameter: 3.67 inches each
- Projectiles: Two 6 lb. balls connected by a chain
- Tube Length: 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches
- Tube Weight: 1,300 lbs.
- Cost: $350
- Invented By: John Gilleland
- Casting Foundry: Athens Steam Co., Georgia
- Current Disposition: Mounted at the corner of College and Hancock Aves, Athens, Georgia
- Special Notes: The only known full size double-barrel cannon of its kind in the United States.
More about the Athens Double-Barrelled 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.
Gilleland's idea was to connect two cannon balls with a long chain, 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 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.
Upon completion, the cannon was taken out on the Newton Bridge Road in April 1862, 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.
Historical Marker Text
"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."