By Russell Miller
The first known air powered rifles were designed around 1580. These very rare, large caliber weapons were used to hunt game by the very rich. Around 1779, a Tyrolean inventor named Girandoni came up with a much more robust and practical model called a “wind rifle.” It had an effective accurate range of 100 yards and was used in the service of the Austrian army from 1780 until 1815. The compressed air reservoirs required 1,500 pumps by hand to fill and were sufficient for about 30 rounds of .46 caliber balls. This was a staggering rate of fire for the times. The interchangeable gas canisters were built into the butt-stock, or hung from the fore-stock in front of the trigger guard.
ODDLY ENOUGH … These guns were carried by Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition (1804-06) and demonstrated to every new Native American tribe they encountered. This was done primarily to invoke awe and respect. Many natives referred to this wonder as “something from the gods.”
The “Arkansas” was a Confederate ironclad ship that experienced a stellar career during the American Civil War while fighting on the Mississippi River. She was cobbled together with scraps and hastily painted brown to cover the rust on her uneven sheet metal paneling. Even her 10 salvaged guns were comprised of four different calibers. Amazingly, the “Arkansas” disabled Union ironclads, crippled and destroyed at least nine Union vessels, and did most of it with one engine room completely out of commission. Even after enduring a constant two-day pounding by the Mississippi Union fleet, the “Arkansas” continued to remain afloat and fight.
ODDLY ENOUGH … The entire length of time the “Arkansas” was commissioned was only 23 days, from the beginning of her fighting history, until her crew scuttled her by setting her on fire after she ran aground due to complete engine damage.
Russell Miller is an illustrator, cartoonist, writer, bagpiper, motorcycle enthusiast, and reference librarian. Currently, he illustrates books for Cody Lundin and Bart King.