“If war was made more terrible, it would have a tendency to keep peace among the nations of the earth.” – Richard Gatling

 

For nine months, Union and Confederate soldiers had fought for feet in the thirty miles of filthy trenches surrounding Petersburg. Victims died as much from the unsanitary conditions of trench warfare as firearms. The city stood as the final Southern fortress in the death rattle of the Confederacy.

With its fall, Grant hoped to break the Confederate supply line and hasten the end of the war; Lee had no choice but to sustain the city as long as possible. This strategic imperative had cost tens of thousands of lives. 

One afternoon in 1865, a lone supply train whistled to a stop well outside the city and twelve canvas-wrapped contraptions were slowly wheeled out of a car. Covered in canvas and smelling of gun oil, they were rolled to the long trenches, surrounded by a buzzing crowd of Union soldiers.

PETERSBURG TRENCHES

The soldiers had heard rumors of new weapons coming to the field, but nothing more specific than rumors. They DID know these contraptions weren’t Army-issued. Several generals had privately purchased the weapons for use in the trenches of Petersburg.

Kept safely away from Confederate artillery range, officers unveiled the curious devices, and soldiers whispered with both amusement and awe. They were obviously guns, but none had ever seen guns like this before. These things looked like Dr. Frankenstein’s take on firearms.