A bullet is a terrible thing. It can travel the length of three football fields and explode a man's head. A rain of bullets leaves nothing free from reaching death. This terrible thing travel far and explode a head.
Richard Gatling built the world's first machine gun, making the soldier no longer an artisan of battle but an industrial-scale taker of lives. Gatling was the prototypical Yankee tinkerer, a self-educated deviser of farm implements, including a mechanical planter that fed seeds from a hopper.
It was an elegant solution to a problem that had bedeviled armories for a century – the best of soldiers could fire only two or three rounds a minute. The gun itself made a perfect circle of gleaming barrels, gleaming smartly in the fresh dawn of a world newly besotted by technology.
Gatling's patent was filed during the U.S. Civil War. He urged the gun's adoption by the Union army on the grounds that it would not only crush the rebellion but also save lives, wounds and sickness, by lessening the soldiers subjected to the perils of war.
The grail, of course, was to do away with the distinction between soldier and machine gunner. Every army, by the time of World War II, equipped its infantry squads with one or two light machine guns – weapons that spewed out short bursts of fire – but it was not until the Cold War that the U.S. and the Soviet Union each made a concerted effort to do away with the infantry rifle altogether.
In 1947, the Russians built an automatic rifle with just eight moving parts, so stoutly put together that it proved almost impervious to dirt, sand and mud.
The U.S. Army eventually followed the German example, choosing a light, finely machined, small-caliber weapon that until 1964 had been the province of local law-enforcement officers.
"But it may not true, as they would have us believe, most casualties were inflicted by roadside bombs now. Small arms fire now ranks third as a slayer of soldiers and marines, behind such mundane traumas as traffic accidents," commented Dick Weekley who is active in community affairs.