ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Double-Barreled Cannon in Athens, Georgia
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Double Barreled Cannon in Athens, Georgia
|Athens Double-Barrelled Cannon
Designed by a private in the "Mitchell
Thunderbolts," a Confederate home guard unit, the
cannon is a unique Civil War landmark.
The unique Civil War artifact
can be seen on City Hall
Square in Athens, Georgia.
A Southern Secret Weapon
There is some debate over
how well the double-barrelled
cannon worked. An account of
the time indicated that it
The historic cannon is now a
beloved landmark in the city of
Athens Double-Barrelled Cannon - Athens, Georgia
An Attempt at a Secret Weapon!
The marker by the cannon
explains details of its history
and tells the traditional story
of its firing.
|Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
The Athens Double-Barrelled Cannon,
perhaps the South's most unique Civil War
landmark, sits on the grounds of city hall in
A homespun attempt at a Confederate
"secret weapon," the double-barrelled
cannon was developed by John Gilleland, a
house builder and private in a home guard
company dubbed the "Mitchell Thunderbolts."
Investors contributed money for the casting of
the gun, which was manufactured at the
Athens Foundry in 1862.
Gilleland's idea was to build a cannon that
would function as a deadly anti-personnel
weapon. Two six-pound solid iron
cannonballs, connected by an eight foot
chain, would be fired simultaneously by the
two barrels of the piece. There was about a
three degree offset in the two bores of the
cannon, which would cause the cannonballs
to spread to the full length of the chain.
As the gun was fired, the eight foot wide load
would spin forward, cutting down anything in
There is some disagreement as to how well
the cannon worked. The traditional account
holds that the double-barrelled piece was
hauled out for a test firing on Newton Bridge
Road near Athens. When it was fired, legend
holds, the two barrels did not ignite at the
same time and the chain connected iron
balls "plowed up an acre of ground, tore up a
cornfield, mowed down saplings, and the
chain broke, the two balls going in opposite
directions." One of the six-pound balls, it is
claimed, "killed a cow in a distant field, while
the other knocked down a chimney from a log
The further back in time you research the
story of the double-barrelled cannon,
however, the more the story of its capability
seems to change.
In 1899, for example, Cassier's Magazine
included a brief account of the gun which told
a somewhat milder version of the story:
The cannon, we are told, was taken out in the
country. One of the cannon-balls got a slight
start over the other, and the result was
disastrous, the projectiles and chain taking a
whirling motion, ploughing up the ground all
around and scattering the assembled
spectators in every direction.
No mention was made of dead cows,
damaged chimneys or destroyed corn fields,
evidence that the story of the firing of the
double-barrelled cannon probably gained
quite a bit in the telling over the years. In fact,
an account written at the time of the test tells
a very different story.
The Southern Watchman, an Athens
newspaper of the Civil War era, included a
brief account of John Gilleland's invention on
page two of its April 30, 1862, issue:
Double-barrelled Cannon. - MR. GILLELAND
has invented a double-barrelled cannon for
throwing chain shot, which has been tested
and found to work satisfactorily. Two shots
are confined to the end of a chain and one
placed in each barrel of the gun, the bores of
which diverge slightly, and cause the balls to
separate the full length of the chain - cutting
down everything in their path. Of course, the
barrels are fired simultaneously.
The Watchman's account,curiously, indicates
that the cannon functioned as designed and
was a fearsome weapon.
The double-barrelled cannon was tested by
Colonel G.W. Rains and the engineers at the
Augusta Arsenal, but they decided that it was
not of a design suitable for mass production.
It spent the rest of the war in Athens where,
according to legend, it was used as a signal
The famed double-barrelled cannon rests
today on the grounds of the Athens City Hall
at the corner of College and Hancock
Avenues. It can be seen anytime.
|Photos by Savannah Brininstool