Book Signing/ Presentation on Steam Gun at Harper’s Ferry

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2012 by secondmdus
Image

The Steam Gun from an 1861 English Publication

Steam powered weapons are a staple of steampunk literature, art, and fashion, but in 1861 Harper’s Ferry played a part in the story of the “Winans” Steam Gun. “Its tough to imagine Harper’s Ferry as enemy territory, but in May 1861, Federal troops captured a steam gun, allegedly built by Maryland industrialist Ross Winans as it was being transported to Harper’s Ferry” says John Lamb, author of A Strange Engine of War: The “Winans” Steam Gun and Maryland in the Civil War. “ The men captured with it hoped to sell it to the Confederate troops there.”

Image

John Lamb

While the gun never made it to Harper’s Ferry, Lamb will share its story with patrons of Steam at Harper’s Ferry on May 6. “Steam is a steampunk art and gift shop. What better place to share the story of such an outlandish, but entirely real Civil War device?” Lamb says. “Steampunk is a literary, artistic, fashion, and musical movement that starts with Victorian aesthetics, keeps things steam powered while taking technology and society in different directions. While contemporary to us, its roots go back to the 19th Century.”

“One of the frequent themes of steampunk literature, is inventors toiling in obscurity on their creations – that is a pretty fair synopsis of the steam gun’s creation by Charles Dickinson and William Joslin,” Lamb says. What started as an effort to build a hand powered “centrifugal” gun by the men, grew into a steam powered weapon that rocketed to national prominence in the wake of the April 19, 1861 Baltimore Riot.

The gun’s menacing appearance and its arrival on the public stage at the height of anxiety after the riots helped bury its true origin, and forever linked it to noted Maryland industrialist Ross Winans through newspapers at time and through many books and historical articles over the years. While the basic facts of the story were talked about Imageat the time, they soon faded from memory, according to Lamb. “Newspaper articles around the 50thanniversary (1911), helped bring out the story of its last days,” Lamb says. “During the 100th anniversary (1961), a replica was built for a reenactment of the gun’s capture. In 2007, Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel put the idea of the gun to the test. My book, published in 2011, continues the gun’s 50 year cycle of returning at key anniversaries for another round of publicity.”

Lamb’s interest in the gun was sparked when he found an engraving of it while working on another project in the early 1990s. “My curiosity about it began simply – what was it, was it dangerous? What happened to it? The more source materials I read, the less sense it all made – with good reason – the accepted account of events had little to do with what really happened.” Lamb says. “I worked on it here and there as I could and slowly a more complete account of the gun emerged. Being on Mythbusters spurred me to complete my work and put out a book, which came out in 2011. I have really enjoyed uncovering the true story of the Steam Gun, and am looking forward to sharing it with gallery guests at Steam at Harpers Ferry.”

If You Go: Historical Presentation/ Book Signing with John Lamb, Author of A Strange Engine of War: The “Winans” Steam Gun and Maryland in the Civil War, 2-4 p.m., Sunday, May 6, Steam at Harper’s Ferry, 180 High Street, 1B (on the stairs), Harper’s Ferry, WV, 25425. For more information visit, www.steamatharpersferry.com, call 304-885-0094 or send an email to info@steamatharpersferry.com

About John Lamb

John W. Lamb, author of A Strange Engine of War: The “Winans” Steam Gun and Maryland in the Civil War works in communications and development in the non-profit sector, is interested in Maryland’s Civil War history, 19th Century technology and shapenote singing, and appeared on the Discovery Channel’s *Mythbusters* series episode regarding the Winans Steam Gun. He lives in Harrison, Tennessee, with his wife and 3 children.

About Steam

Steam at Harper’s Ferry is a Victorian/Steampunk themed art gallery and gift shop located in the historic lower town of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Steam at Harper’s Ferry has quarterly openings and features local and regional artists.

The Myth of the Winans Steam Gun

Posted in Uncategorized on May 10, 2011 by secondmdus

Born in the fear and confusion in Baltimore after the Riot of April 19, 1861,

the myth of the Winans Steam Gun still lives

Open many accounts of events in Baltimore just after the clash between an angry mob and Union volunteers along Pratt Street, and you are likely to find some mention of a mysterious weapon, said to be invented and built by wealthy industrialist and friend of the South, Ross Winans.  Considerable ink was spilled in those long ago times, as word of this dangerous weapon spread across the land.  Alas, after a desperate attempt to sneak the weapon out of town, it was captured by Union troops, with is inventor barely escaping capture with the gun’s most crucial part, rendering it useless.

“Perhaps it was the gun’s menacing appearance, or its arrival on the public stage at the height of anxiety after the riots, but either way, the true origin of the gun was lost as its story, merged with rumors, and twisted by sectional tensions blossomed into charges of treason for Ross Winans,” says historian, John Lamb, whose book on the Steam Gun, is forthcoming from the Chesapeake Book Company.

The gun grew out of work on a hand powered centrifugal gun invented by a mechanic named William Joslin, who by the late 1850s was living in Cleveland, Ohio, says Lamb.  “Charles Dickinson, who was apparently a dancing instructor and gymnasium operator, went into partnership with Joslin and another investor.  They built several versions of the device, and then sought a patent, but had a falling out when the patent came out in Joslin’s name only. “   Dickinson would go on to patent his own device, which would be steam driven,  and after exhibiting the hand powered gun in the Midwest, he had a working prototype built in Boston, then took it to Baltimore, no doubt hoping to find buyers or investors, Lamb says.  “In the great tradition of American snake oil and patent demonstrations, Dickinson invited Baltimore’s city council to a demonstration of the gun outside his home in February, 1861.”

Immediately after the Baltimore Riot of April 19, 1861, the gun was taken for Dickinson’s associates, by City Police.   “Available evidence suggests that like several other artillery pieces, the gun passed through the former locomotive works of Ross Winans,” Lamb says.  “While early reports, noted the connection to Dickinson, others noted that a steam gun from Winans shop was on display outside Old City Hall, which was serving as an armory for weapons being gathered by the city.  After being on displayed it was sent to Winans shop for repair. “   By this point, the city was done with it, and it was returned to Dickinson who promptly hired men to drive it to Harper’s Ferry – the plan was to sell it to Confederate troops.

When Union troops at Relay heard that the gun was headed out of town, an orderly rode ahead, drew a gun on the teamsters, and marched them on foot to Ellicott’s Mills.  Meanwhile, a detachment of infantry and artillery, arrived via B&O train, secured the gun, and returned with it to their Camp at Relay.  The gun attracted much attention.  “Several press accounts noted that it was useless due to Dickinson’s alleged escape with key parts.  However, several letters sent to papers at home by Massachusetts men in the camp, reveal that mill mechanics in the 6th Massachusetts tested the gun at relay,” Lamb says.

Sent first to Annapolis, then to Fort McHenry, then to Lowell, Massachusetts, by the fall of 1861, the gun was in the hands of the Middlesex Mechanics Association.  While there it was exhibited at agricultural fairs and other events until interest past.  It eventually was scrapped, says Lamb.  “According to published reports, Civil War veterans crowded the room trying to buy its parts.  Perhaps, somewhere in nearby home, museum or neglected corner, a piece of the gun remain.

While the basic facts of the story were talked about at the time, they soon faded from memory.  “News paper articles around the 50th anniversary, helped bring out the story of its last days,” Lamb says.  “During the 100th anniversary, a replica was built for a reenactment of the gun’s capture.  In 2007, Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel put the idea of the gun to the test.  As we reach the 150th anniversary of the Baltimore Riot which brought to the gun to prominence, it association to Ross Winans, born in the panic after the riot, continues, and probably always will, despite the real facts of its invention and construction, which were circulated widely at the time, but are just now being considered, as a fuller picture of the gun’s story emerges.

 About John Lamb

John W. Lamb, author of  A Strange Engine of War: The “Winans” Steam Gun and Maryland in the Civil War works in communications and development in the non-profit sector, is interested in Maryland’s Civil War history, 19th Century technology and shapenote singing, and appeared on the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters series episode regarding the Winans Steam Gun. He lives in Harrison, Tennessee, with his wife and 3 children.

The Puckle Gun 1700s

Posted in Uncategorized on May 25, 2009 by secondmdus

While rapid fire weapons are generally thought of as a 19th Century invention, James Puckle patented a rapid fire gun in 1718!

Check out this image of the gun from his patent:  http://www.wedmore.org.uk/puckle/James.htm A bit more information on the gun can be found at http://www.ccrkba.org/pub/rkba/news/PuckleGun.htm

Rain’s Subterra Shells

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7, 2009 by secondmdus

Gabriel Rain’s bears the dubious honor of introducing landmines during the Civil War, during the Peninsula Campain.  His Subterra shells used as land mines and booby traps created a bit of a challenge for Union forces.  Click here for an article about Rains and his explosives work. http://maic.jmu.edu/JOURNAL/6.1/notes/robbins/robbins.htm

Rain’s deadly hanywork was put to use at Battery Wagner to fend off the attack by the 54th Massachusett- Rain’s Subterra shells were pressed into service as immense hand grenades.  This along with a heavily entrenched position helps explain the terrible loss of live in the 54th, whose service is recounted in the movie Glory.

Electricity on Show: Spectacular Events in Victorian London

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7, 2009 by secondmdus

From London’s Science Museum website comes “Electricity on Show” a four part paper detailing science exhibits – particularly electricity related ones -as public entertainment in 19th Century England.  Contains details of a number of interesting exhibitions, including mentions of Tesla and Jacob Perkins, mentioned elsewhere in this blog in connection with his steam gun.

http://www.fathom.com/course/21791714/session1.html

Museum of Retro Tech

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2009 by secondmdus

The Museum of Retro Tech is a great collection of interesting technology – odd steam engines, early communications devices and more!

http://www.dself.dsl.pipex.com/MUSEUM/museum.htm

Da Vinci Drawings of Siege Engines

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2009 by secondmdus

Follow this link for some beautiful drawings of siege engines by Leonardo

http://members.iinet.net.au/~rmine/Leonardo.html

Page also includes many interesting links many kinds of siege engines.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 196 other followers