The Athens Double-Barreled Cannon (Athens, Georgia)

Double Barreled Cannon
Photo by J. Stephen Conn

Designed by John Gilleland of Athens, Georgia, the Athens’ Double-Barreled Cannon is a one of a kind relic from the Civil War. The concept behind the 1863 cannon was that two small cannon balls connected by chain and fired at the same time could cut down attacking soldiers several at a time. The two barrels of the cannon were cast as a single piece and set at a slight 3 degree divergence so the chain between the cannon balls could fully extend when fired, causing the most possible damage to Union troops.

The problem with the cannon, or rather the main problem with the cannon, is that it didn’t work. It seems that the unreliability of gun powder and fuses meant that one cannon ball would fire a split second before the other and hilarious catastrophe would ensue.

According to witness reports, one of the three times the cannon was tested, the chain broke and the two cannon balls flew in opposite directions. One of them knocked down a nearby chimney and the other killed an unfortunate cow in a distant field. It should be noted that Gilleland saw the destruction as a resounding success.

In 1862 Gilleland, a professional dentist and hobbyist builder/mechanic, raised money from a coterie of Confederate citizens in Athens to build his cannon. At a cost of $350 the experiment in weaponry would prove a rather costly mistake. It was also a mistake that could have been avoided since it was a mistake that had already been made. In 1642, Florentine gun maker Antonio Petrini ran into exactly the same problems when his double-barreled cannon likewise didn’t work.

Despite Gilleland’s attempts to prove his cannon could be useful in the fight against the North, the Confederate States Army declared the cannon unfit for its purpose. They were able to find a use for it and the cannon was used, briefly used that is, as a signal gun to warn of advancing Yankee troops.

On 27 July 1864, the cannon was fired for the last time when a false report of Union soldiers outside Monroe, Georgia was made. It was then stored away till 1891 and ultimately disappeared for twelve years. Rather than dismantling the essentially worthless cannon when it was rediscovered, it was presented as a gift to the City of Athens. For more than a century the little cannon that couldn’t has stood as little more than a curiosity for Civil War buffs and sightseers.

Double-Barreled Cannon Facts

  • Athens’ double-barreled cannon was built at the local foundry.
  • The cannon resides in front of Athens, Georgia, City Hall at the corner of College Ave. and East Hancock Ave.
  • It is still pointing north, just in case.
  • The side-by-side bores of a little more than 3 inches (7.5cm) in diameter.
  • The double-barreled cannon was featured by “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”
  • The cannon has for many years been one of the most popular, well-known, and photographed attractions in the city.