Note: This story is from the March-April, 2017 issue of the Gypsy Journal.
In the friendly college town of Athens, Georgia we came across an unusual historical artifact with an interesting history that is a classic example of engineering gone wrong, even though it seemed like a good idea at the time
Home to the University of Georgia, Athens was an important supply center during the Civil War, which made it a potential target for the invading Union Army. Fortunately, except for a skirmish between Confederate forces and Union Calvary as part of the Stoneman Raid, the town was spared from destruction during the war. Fortifications from that time can still be found along parts of the North Oconee River in Athens.
With the constant threat of enemy attack, a local dentist and tinkerer named John Gilleland came up with what he thought would be a devastating weapon, a double-barreled cannon. Gilleland was a private in the Mitchell Thunderbolts, an elite home guard unit of business and professional men who were deemed ineligible for service in the Confederate Army due to age or disability.
The idea behind his cannon was that both barrels could be loaded with a cannonball, and the two balls would be connected to each other with a sturdy eight foot long chain. When fired, Gilleland predicted that the balls and chain would tear across a battlefield, taking down enemy soldiers like a scythe through wheat. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on which end of the cannon you were on), things didn’t work out quite as planned.
The flaw in Gilleland’s design quickly became apparent when the gun was tested. For the cannon to work, the powder in each barrel had to ignite at the same instant, which did not happen because there was no way to synchronize the twin barrels to fire at the exact same time. The result was that the cannonballs did not follow the same path, instead going off in different directions.
This is not to say it wasn’t still a devastating weapon. On the first firing, a nearby farmer’s corn crop was completely destroyed. The second time the gun was fired the chain snapped and one cannonball killed a cow, while the other knocked down a tree and then plowed through a cabin and took out the stone chimney. None of these were anywhere near where the cannon was aimed, and historians have never been able to determine whether the unfortunate cow sided with the Union or the Rebel cause.
Undaunted, Gilleland tried to sell his invention to the Confederate States Army and pitched it to military leaders, hoping to get someone to show an interest in it, but was unsuccessful. Eventually the idea was scrapped, if not the weapon itself, and today the formidable folly of a firearm sits on the lawn of the Athens city hall, pointed north to warn away any Yankee invaders who don’t know how useless it actually is.
With Thanksgiving and all of the Black Friday sales just around the corner, how about a good mystery? What would you do if you braved the crowds of shoppers on Black Friday and suddenly your whole world had changed? Read Black Friday and find out how a simple shopping trip changed one man’s life forever.
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Thought For The Day – For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. – Winston Churchill