The Gatling gun was an early machine gun that utilized a set of typically six revolving barrels; it was patented by the American Dr. Richard J. Gatling in 1862. First used by the Union Army during the American Civil War, it was to be a mainstay of warfare for the more industrially advanced nations for several decades, being used in the Anglo-Zulu War and the Spanish-American War, among others.
The original Gatling gun had two main problems. The first was overheating--since it fired so rapidly, there was not enough time for the barrels to properly cool. For this reason, they were water-cooled, but even as such they had a tenancy to overheat if used too much. The second major problem they had was jamming. At the beginning, ammunition was fed into the gun buy pouring it into a hopper. The cartridges were usually aligned properly to be fired, but sometimes would not be, causing the mechanism to become blocked. These factors made them unreliable, even if fairly effective.
After the introduction of single-barreled automatic weapons the Gatling gun fell out of favor, but in motor-driven form it has recently become popular in applications where a high rate of fire is of paramount importance. These include fighter aircraft and the Phalanx anti-missile system.
It was also, perhaps unusually, celebrated in poetry. Sir Henry Newbolt's patriotic appeal Vitai Lampada has as its middle verse:
The sand of the desert is sodden red-
Red with the wreck of the square that broke
The gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed its banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks-
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"