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The Billinghurst-Requa Volley Gun
Significant Historic Pictures and Information

The Images Presented Below are of Original weapons "cleaned" up photographically for clarity.
But first a brief history of their use.

Private production of the Requa volley gun began in 1862. The first Federal "Requa Battery", a component of the 108th Regiment of New York Volunteers, was formed in Rochester, New York in 1862. 'Mack's Rifled Battery' was outfitted with the REQUA BATTERIES and recruited to be part of Rochester's 108th New York Infantry. Instead they were added to the 140th as the 26th New York Independant Battery when the 108th left before Mack's unit was at full strength.


Folly Island, S. C. July 9, 1863. - CONFIDENTIAL INSTRUCTIONS.

I. The attack on Morris Island, ordered for this morning but postponed in consequence of the inclemency of the weather and other unfavorable circumstances, will take place to-morrow morning at break of day by opening our batteries at the north end of Folly Island. General Strong's brigade, or so much of it as the small boats can accommodate, will embark to-night, and hold itself in Folly Island Creek....
II. Lieut. Commander Francis W. Bunce, U.S. Navy, with four navy howitzer launches, will approach Light-House Inlet at daybreak..., and engage the enemy's rifle-pits and batteries on Morns Island in flank and reverse, choosing his own position. He will cover General Strong's landing.
III. Two regiments of infantry, a battery of light artillery, and FIVE REQUA RIFLE batteries will be held in readiness to re-enforce General Strong promptly. Brigadier-General Seymour will arrange and order all details.

By order of Brig. Gen. Q. A. Gillmore: ED. W. SMITH, Assistant Adjutant-General.

Aug 27 1863 (Thursday)

After the initial abortive attempt, General Terry led the 3rd New Hampshire and the 24th Massachusetts on a successful charge against the Confederate rifle pits protecting Battery Wagner. Most of the eighty-six defenders, unwilling to risk retreating over ground seeded with torpedoes, quickly surrender. The pits were quickly fortified with Requa batteries and 8-inch mortars allowing Gillmore to begin his final approach against the stubborn Rebel battery.

During the attack on Morris Island, Lieutenant Nichols of the 48th Regiment New York State Volunteers was detached from his regiment and was placed in charge of the Billinghurst and Requa Batteries. Men of the 39th Illinois Infantry also served the REQUA GUNS.

Although the Gatling Gun, patented Nov. 4, 1862, proved to be a superior weapon, the Billinghurst-Requa battery , patented Sept. 16, 1862, predates the Gatling and for this reason has been referred to as the first "practical" machine gun to be used during the war. The multiple barrel design was first suggested in the Renaissance, but it was the invention of the self-contained metal cartridge that made the idea practical. Only three gunners were needed to service the Requa volley gun. The cleverly arranged breech which closed on a piano hinge allowed for the ammunition strips to be loaded, fired, extracted, and reloaded quickly.
Rear View of the Volley Gun with the Protecing Barrel Covers Open and the Breech Mechanism Closed
There are records of the Federals using volley guns at the siege of Charleston, SC in 1863. Elements of the 39th Illinois Infantry, the 3rd New Hampshire Artillery, and the 48th New York Volunteer Infantry used Requa batteries in the attack on Fort Wagner. They trained their volley guns on the Confederate works in support of an infantry attack.

The Federal army may have had as many as one hundred volley guns, but most were placed in the defenses around Washington, DC. The Confederate government purchased at least twenty volley guns prior to the opening of hostilities and may have purchased more thereafter. Incomplete southern records have obscured any exact record of their number or deployment.

Front View of the Requa Battery on Exhibit at the Kentucky State Museum
When the side mounted loading levers were up (as in this picture) the breech was open. A powder train was laid behind the ammunition strip. Pushing the levers forward secured the breech. A musket cap was placed on the centrally located priming nipple and activated with a simple flip-over hammer mechanism.The barrels, each 24 inches long, fired sequentially from the center out with a characteristic rippling effect. Note the elevating screw below the breech mechanism.
A Better View of the Dismounted Breech with Cartridge Strip
Requa batteries were sometimes called "Covered Bridge Guns" because they could command the length and width of a bridge. This probably ancedotal nickname belies the purpose of the weapon which was to be deployed in the field in support of infantry regiments. Although designs for more barrels existed, Volley guns with 25 rifle barrels set in parallel were most common. The weapon could be fired at the rate of seven strips per minute by a trained crew. This gave a rate of fire of 175 rounds per minute. The strips were pre-loaded and carried in an ammunition case on a limber. The limber could be pulled by as few as two horses.

An authentic Requa Battery cartridge
This is a civil war period cartridge from a Billinghurst-Requa gun. Each of the twenty-five cartridges was placed in a metal strip that allowed for quick reloading of the gun. The .52 caliber cartridge is about the size of a 45-70 with a simple touch hole in the rounded button back.The metal case is two inches long,and the overall length is two and one-half inches.

The aim of the twenty-five barrels could be converged to a point or diverged by a lever beneath the frame, so as to scatter the balls 120 yards across the field of fire in a distance of 1000 yards. The weight of the Requa battery-gun was approximately 1400 pounds.

The Springfield Arsenal Museum in the 19th Century
A surviving Requa gun sits among the exhibits from this very old, hand colored print.Just in front of it is a "coffee mill" gun, and just behind its limber.