Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 11, 1861 (Saturday): An Early Super Weapon

Viaduct over the Patapsco at Elkridge, Maryland

                                                                        RELAY HOUSE, May 11, 1861
The Secretary of War:
   From the dispatch I received from Captain Hamilton I fear that in the haste to inform you of the capture of the steam gun I may have laid myself open to the censure of having claimed more credit than belonged, therefore beg leave to briefly state the facts, viz:
   Yesterday I received information of the gun having left Baltimore.  I immediately informed Colonel Lyons, who was left in command of the brigade by General Butler, of the rumor.  He deemed it unreliable, and not worthy of notice.  I did not have full confidence in the report, but still thought it of sufficient importance to be looked after.  It was finally decided to send one company from Colonel Lyons’ regiment, one from my command, and two pieces from the light artillery.  I arranged for a train (by seizure), and had embarked the light artillery with their horses and the company from my command, and started the train.  When the company from Colon Lyons appeared I stopped the train, and they went aboard.  R. R. Hare, esq., a gentleman connected with General Butler’s staff, volunteered and went forward on horseback, and overtook the gun, which was in the charge of two men, and captured it alone, and with the assistance of the neighbors held it until the arrival of the train.  It has been brought into camp, and I shall set some machinist at work to-day to get some knowledge of it. 
                Your obedient servant,
                                                                                                EDWARD F. JONES,
                                                                                    Colonel, Sixth Massachusetts

The steam cannon described here was designed to hurl projectiles at long ranges, and also could function as a primitive machine gun.  There are no accounts of its use in combat.  The seizure described came about when four rebel sympathizers attempted to haul the weapon to Harper’s Ferry to turn over to Confederate authorities.  It spent the war guarding the approaches to the viaduct over the Patapasco at Elkridge, Maryland.

Replica of the Winans Steam Cannon at Elkridge, Md.  (Mike Radinsky and Elizabeth Janney-Elkridge Patch)


  1. A new history of the gun is out - A Strange Engine of War: The "Winans" Steam Gun & Maryland in the Civil War - available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other major booksellers

    1. Thanks for the update. I had not heard of it, but it is a great story.