Monday, July 3, 2017

The Baltimore or Winans Steam Gun - Civil War

At the start of the Civil War, a bullet proof "steam gun" was patented by Charles Dickinson and worked on in Ross Winans foundry in Baltimore.  Dickinson was on his way to sell it to the Confederacy, when it was captured in Ellicott City by Col. Jones and the 6th Mass. It was kept at Relay to guard the Thomas Viaduct. The muzzle of the gun/cannon protruded from the slit of the cone (see below) and it was dragged by a team of horses.  A large replica can be seen at Elkridge.

A replica was made in 1961 for its 100th anniversary, and is located in Elkridge off at the northern juncture of Rt 1 (Washington Blvd) and Old Washington Rd by the Elkridge sign and flags, near the Patapsco River.

Harpers Weekly May 25, 1861   "Winans Steam Gun" -
WE herewith illustrate, from a photograph by Weaver, the celebrated STEAM Gun, patented by Mr. Dickinson, and made by Mr. Winans, of Baltimore. This gun was seized by Colonel Jones, of the Massachusetts Volunteers, when on its way from Baltimore to the Rebel Camp at Harper's Ferry, and is now used in protecting the Viaduct at Washington Junction on the Baltimore Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. We also publish here with a view of the RELAY House, now occupied by the Federal Volunteers. This point commands the Baltimore and Ohio Road, being the point at which the road from Washington branches off on one side to Washington, on the other to Harper's Ferry and Wheeling.

The merits of the steam gun are a matter of some controversy. We shall probably know before long what it can do. The following is the statement of its principles by the inventor:

“As a triumph of inventive genius, in the application an practical demonstration of centrifugal force (that power which governs and controls the universe and regulates and impels the motion of planetary bodies round the sun), this most efficient engine stands without a parallel; commanding wonder and admiration at the simplicity of its construction and the destructiveness of its effects; and is eventually destined to inaugurate a new era in the science of war.

“Rendered ball-proof, and protected by an iron cone, and mounted on a four-wheeled carriage, it can be readily moved from place to place or kept on march with an army. It can be constructed to discharge missiles of any capacity from an ounce ball to a twenty-four pound shot, with a force and range equal to the most approved gunpowder - - - projectiles, and can discharge from one hundred to five hundred balls per minute.

“For city or harbor defense it would prove more efficient than the largest battery. For use on the battle-field (the musket calibre engine) would mow down opposing troops as the scythe mows standing grain; and in sea-fights, mounted on low-decked steamers, it would be capable of sinking any ordinary war-vessel. “In addition to the advantages of power, continuous action, and velocity of discharge, may be added economy, "in cost of construction, in space, labor, and transportation, all of which would be small in comparison to the cost and working of batteries of cannon, and the equipment and management of a proportionate force of infantry.

“The possession of this engine—ball-proof, and cased in iron—will give the powers using it such decided advantages as will strike terror to the hearts of opposing forces, and render its possessors impregnable to armies provided with ordinary offensive weapons. “Its efficiency will soon be practically demonstrated, and the day is not far distant when, through its instrumentality, the new era in the science of war being inaugurated, it will be generally adopted by the Powers of the Old and New Worlds, and, from its very destructiveness, will prove the means and medium of peace. 
Charles S. Dickinson.
“BALTIMORE, May 1, 1861.”

The workings of the gun from "The Baltimore Steam Battery". Scientific American. May 25, 1861 -
It was invented by Charles S. Dickinson, of Cleveland, Ohio, and patented August 9, 1859, and according to Thomas Winans letters to the Baltimore papers, it was repaired in their shop. … "The construction of the gun is represented in Fig. 2.  A steel gun barrel, bent at an elbow as shown, is caused to revolve by steam power with great velocity’ when the balls, being fed into the perpendicular portion, which is at the center of revolution, are thrown out of the horizontal arm by centrifugal force.  A gate, J, keeps the balls from flying out until the barrel is in the desired position, when this gate is opened by the action of the lever, C, and the balls permitted to escape.  To make sure against accident from the cance issuing of balls when the barrel is not in the  proper position, a strong wrought iron casing surrounds the gun, with a slit in one side through which the balls may pass, as shown [in the first sketch, with the gun in front of Winans’ “extensive works”]"

©2017 Patricia Bixler Reber
Forgotten history of Ellicott City & Howard County MD

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