The Double-Barreled Cannon of Athens

Nov 11, 2017 1 comments

In front of the City Hall of Athens, in Georgia, United States, stands an unusual cannon from the American Civil War. It’s a double-barreled cannon, but unlike other multiple-barrel cannons of the past, the double-barreled cannon of Athens was designed to fire two solid cannonballs connected together by a length of iron chain. The two barrels pointed slightly away from each other, so that when they are fired together the cannonballs would spread to the full length of the chain and mow down enemy soldiers like a scythe cutting wheat on a field, or so was the idea.


Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn/Flickr

The bizarre weapon was invented in 1862 by a man named John Gilleland, who was a dentist, a local house builder and a private in a home guard company. Gilleland thought that a weapon of such deadly power would serve the defenses of his community, and the needs of the Confederate Army, very well. A few interested citizens pooled their money together and the gun was forged at Athens Steam Company. Cast in one piece, the gun featured side-by-side bores, each a little over 3 inches in diameter and splayed slightly outward so the shots would diverge and stretch the chain taut. 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, Gilleland took his new cannon north of Athens to a field near Newton Bridge for a test firing. It didn’t go as intended.

According to reports, when Gilleland touched the cannon off the first time, the two barrels did not fire simultaneously which caused the balls to swirl around erratically across the field plowing up about an acre of ground, destroying a cornfield, and mowing down saplings, before the chain broke sending the two balls in two different directions.

On the second firing, the balls shot towards a thicket pines and left a gaping hole as if, according to one eyewitness, “a narrow cyclone or a giant mowing machine had passed through”.

A third firing was attempted. This time the chain broke immediately. One ball tore into a nearby cabin and knocked down its chimney, while the veered off and struck a nearby cow, killing it instantly.

Incredibly, Gilleland considered the test-firings a success. After all, there was wholesale destruction and slaughter. He tried to sell the gun to the Confederate States Army's arsenal in Augusta, but the arsenal commandant there found the gun unsuitable for use and sent the cannon back to Athens. Gilleland continued to try to promote his invention to other military leaders around Augusta, but failed to interest anyone.

Eventually, the gun was used as a signal gun in Athens to sound out warning against advancing Yankees. After the war ended, the city sold the double-barreled cannon but bought it back in the 1890s and installed it in front of the City Hall as a local landmark. It still points northward as a symbolic gesture of defiance against the North.


Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn/Flickr


  1. Since this canon was fired by igniting the powder beneath the touch hole, the powder in both barrels would have to ignite at exactly the same time--probably nearly impossible. If one barrel ignited just after the first barrel ignited wouldn't the first barrel act as a kind of fulcrom causing one ball to dangerously spin around and possibly back onto the attending crew?


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