From the Earth to the Moon HTML version
Chapter 1. The Gun Club
During the War of the Rebellion, a new and influential club was established in the city of
Baltimore in the State of Maryland. It is well known with what energy the taste for
military matters became developed among that nation of ship-owners, shopkeepers, and
mechanics. Simple tradesmen jumped their counters to become extemporized captains,
colonels, and generals, without having ever passed the School of Instruction at West
Point; nevertheless; they quickly rivaled their compeers of the old continent, and, like
them, carried off victories by dint of lavish expenditure in ammunition, money, and men.
But the point in which the Americans singularly distanced the Europeans was in the
science of gunnery. Not, indeed, that their weapons retained a higher degree of perfection
than theirs, but that they exhibited unheard-of dimensions, and consequently attained
hitherto unheard-of ranges. In point of grazing, plunging, oblique, or enfilading, or point-
blank firing, the English, French, and Prussians have nothing to learn; but their cannon,
howitzers, and mortars are mere pocket-pistols compared with the formidable engines of
the American artillery.
This fact need surprise no one. The Yankees, the first mechanicians in the world, are
engineers-- just as the Italians are musicians and the Germans metaphysicians-- by right
of birth. Nothing is more natural, therefore, than to perceive them applying their
audacious ingenuity to the science of gunnery. Witness the marvels of Parrott, Dahlgren,
and Rodman. The Armstrong, Palliser, and Beaulieu guns were compelled to bow before
their transatlantic rivals.
Now when an American has an idea, he directly seeks a second American to share it. If
there be three, they elect a president and two secretaries. Given four, they name a keeper
of records, and the office is ready for work; five, they convene a general meeting, and the
club is fully constituted. So things were managed in Baltimore. The inventor of a new
cannon associated himself with the caster and the borer. Thus was formed the nucleus of
the "Gun Club." In a single month after its formation it numbered 1,833 effective
members and 30,565 corresponding members.
One condition was imposed as a sine qua non upon every candidate for admission into
the association, and that was the condition of having designed, or (more or less) perfected
a cannon; or, in default of a cannon, at least a firearm of some description. It may,
however, be mentioned that mere inventors of revolvers, fire-shooting carbines, and
similar small arms, met with little consideration. Artillerists always commanded the chief
place of favor.
The estimation in which these gentlemen were held, according to one of the most
scientific exponents of the Gun Club, was "proportional to the masses of their guns, and
in the direct ratio of the square of the distances attained by their projectiles."