Built in 1863, the Double-Barreled Cannon is the only one of its kind in Georgia, and the country. It was designed to be a game changing weapon during the Civil War. Unfortunately, the cannon never worked properly and the double-barreled cannon was retired before it ever saw battle. It has resided in Athens for well over a century.
The creation of the Double-Barreled Cannon has its roots in Athens during the middle of the Civil War. It is a curious cannon that was borne out of the minds of the men left behind during the conflict.
During the Civil War, many communities across the nation, north and south, were concerned about raids on their towns from enemy forces. Athens was especially worried given its proximity to nearby cities and strategic military points. As a response to that fear, a group called the “Mitchell Thunderbolts” was formed with men who were exempt from serving in the Confederacy and had remained in Athens. Within their ranks was a man named John Gilleland who came up with the idea for the cannon. Gilleland apparently held many occupations from mechanic to amateur actor, and once he had the plans for the cannon finalized, he quickly had it cast at the Athens Foundry. Once the cannon was created, the Mitchell Thunderbolts took it out to field a few miles outside of town to test it.
The Double-Barreled Cannon’s basic principle is that two cannonballs are attached by a fifty foot chain within the barrels. Once deployed, the tethered cannons would catapult together, taking out the enemy in double time. However, in order for the conceit to work properly, the cannons have to be released at exactly the same time, a feat that could never be achieved in 1863. The Thunderbolts’ test was a complete failure and the cannon was retired immediately. In subsequent years it was declared lost, only to be recovered by the end of the nineteenth century when it was found in a junk shop in Atlanta. The details are murky, but the cannon is accounted for in Athens in 1891, but disappears until 1898 when the city buys it back from the junk shop. Once the City of Athens acquired the cannon, it was placed on the lawn of City Hall.
The cannon was brought out on special occasions, such as elections or holidays throughout the years. A report from the student run newspaper at the University of Georgia, The Red and Black, in 1936 recounts the story of the last time the Double-Barreled Cannon was ever fired: the cannon had been moved to the middle of the street, when one night a citizen filled it with gunpowder and set it off through the downtown area. This resulted in a significant amount of damage to multiple properties downtown. The city moved the cannon to its currently location, staked it into the ground, and filled the barrels so it could never be fired again.
The Double-Barreled Cannon has remained at this site ever since as a local curiosity. Perhaps the best summary comes from a writer at the beginning of the twentieth century, stating that “in a time of peace [the gun] has acquired a reputation that it failed to make for itself in a time of war”.