Bits ‘n Pieces

by Fred Ray on July 1, 2008 · 0 comments

Professor Sasha Volokh of Georgetown University would like your recommendation for a good general history of the Civil War. Who can resist a request like that?

The Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley reviews Julia Keller’s Dr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It.

For all of Richard Jordan Gatling’s cool-headed technical finesse and businessman’s brio, he actually came up with his gun, he claimed, for the most tender-hearted of reasons: as a way of saving lives. ‘It occurred to me,’ he wrote to a friend in 1877, ‘that if I could invent a machine — a gun — which could by rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a great extent, supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease be greatly diminished.’ As disingenuous and self-serving as that sentiment sounds, it ended up being quite correct: Innovations in arms steadily reduced the relative lethality of battles (not to mention the cost of waging war) throughout the twentieth century.”

Questionable, I’d say. Hard to say that WWI and II were less lethal, even if they were fought at longer ranges. Yadley notes that Keller is “given to broad strokes, sweeping generalizations, large claims and overheated prose.” Still, there were a couple of interesting tidbits, one being that probably the first “combat” use of the Gatling gun was when three of them protected the offices of the New York Times from mobs during the draft riots in the summer of 1863. These were private purchases (at $1000 each, about the cost of a Whitworth rifle), back in the Good Old Days when private citizens could own automatic weapons. Today’s NYT management has considerably different views on the matter.

And finally, Gene Hackman did make it to Asheville to flack his Civil War book, but I missed it due to family commitments. You can see the photo gallery here (no direct link, you’ll have to scroll down). The gentleman with Hackman is one of Asheville’s characters, Rev. H. K. Edgerton, who likes to promote Confederate heritage.


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