Log guns

Take a log, paint it black, and make sure your enemy can see it. The “quaker guns” were a key piece of strategic deception in the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Quaker gun
George N. Barnard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Quakers – the Religious Society of Friends – are famously nonviolent. One wartime tactic bears their name, not because they created it but because it bears the same hallmarks of nonviolence: the quaker guns.

This is how it typically worked: find a log that was roughly the shape and size of an artillery gun barrel, paint it black, and maybe carve the end a bit so it looks like a muzzle. Prop it up, point it at your enemy, and trust them to come to the wrong conclusion.

Take the Siege of Corinth during the United States Civil War. Following the Battle of Shiloh, which was disastrous for the Confederate forces, the town of Corinth, Mississippi, was reinforced to defend the strategic town against the approaching Union army. It was strategic, by the way, because two major railway lines met in Corinth – without the town, the Confederate forces’ mobility and supply chains would be doomed. But it was very clear to the general in charge, P. G. T. Beauregard, that his forces were severely outnumbered. After a month of siege and skirmishes, the Confederate forces made a plan to retreat.

How do you escape a town without the enemy rushing in? You scam them. The Confederates put up a number of bluffs and tricks to make the Union army believe they were there, they were strong, and they were staying put. Camp fires stayed lit, music played, drums beat the reveille at sunrise. Some discontented soldiers were given extra rations and told that they would be attacking soon – and when they deserted to the Union camp they brought that fake intel with them. Whenever a train arrived, everyone cheered as if reinforcements were pouring into the town.

On top of all these bluffs, the Confederate army set up quaker guns along the lines – rows and rows of fake guns pointing out at the real enemy. The scam worked, and the Confederate troops successfully got out of town before the Union forces knew what was up.

There’s an earlier story of quaker guns from the American Revolutionary War. Loyalist forces were bundled up tight in a barn, and the Continental Army colonel wanted to get them out without a fight. He set up a quaker gun, pointed it at the barn, and called for the Loyalists’ surrender or he would “open fire.” They immediately gave up and came out – at which point they must have discovered the deception. They had just given up a fortified position and surrendered to a force half their size, all under the threat of some fake artillery.


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