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John Henry Parker
Col. John Henry Parker, U.S. Army, circa 1917.
Nickname "Gatling Gun Parker"
Born (1866-09-09)September 9, 1866
Died October 14, 1942(1942-10-14) (aged 76)
Place of birth Sedalia, Missouri
Place of death San Francisco, California
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Department of the Army Seal.svg United States Army
Years of service 1892-1924
Rank US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Battles/wars Spanish-American War
Pancho Villa Expedition
World War I
Awards Distinguished Service Cross (4)
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Purple Heart

General John Henry Parker aka "Gatling Gun Parker" (9 September 1866 – 14 October 1942) was a brigadier general in the United States Army.[1] He is best known for his role as the commander of the Gatling Gun Detachment of the U.S. Army's V Corps in Cuba during the Santiago campaign in the Spanish-American War.[1]

Early career[]

John Henry Parker was born and raised in the small town of Sedalia, Missouri.[1][2] Nominated by his congressman to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, he graduated in 1892, and was assigned in June, 1892 as a 2nd Lieutenant to the 13th Infantry Regiment.[1][2][3]

Known as "Blackie" to his fellow officers, Parker was tasked with the charge of training soldiers of the Machine Gun Detachment in the use of their weapons.[4][5] In the 1890s, duty with the machine gun detachment was regarded as of little value by most Army officers, and the detachment was frequently used as a dumping ground for men deemed unsuitable or undisciplined by their commanders.[5] Nevertheless, Parker successfully carried out his assignment, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on June 11, 1892.[5]

At the time, all of the Army's artillery and ammunition supplies were transported by draft animals (usually, horses). It was becoming evident to many army commanders, both in the United States and abroad, that draft animals - the sole source of transport away from railroad tracks - were highly vulnerable to modern artillery fire at ranges under 1,500 yards, especially when contained in slow-moving trains of horse-drawn carriages and heavy wagons. The inability of army ground forces to bring gunnery and ammunition trains closer than 1,500 yards to an opponent with modern artillery support effectively prevented the short-ranged American black powder cannon of the day from providing any effective counterbattery fire to advancing infantry. In 1897, after considering the issue, Lt. Parker submitted a paper to the Army General Staff in which he advocated the use of highly mobile machine gun detachments. These machine gun detachments would be equipped with portable machine guns capable of being dismantled and transported to the front, together with sufficient supplies of ammunition and spare parts carried in highly mobile carriages and wagons. Parker visualized the detachments as independent from the slow-moving artillery and ammunition trains, constantly redeploying to avoid being targeted by enemy artillery, while using terrain masking to provide cover for the men and their transport animals. As self-contained, mobile units, the machine gun detachments could be used by a commander to provide effective covering fire for the artillery trains until they could get within effective range of the enemy lines.[3][6] Unfortunately, Parker's treatise was ignored by the Army, though he continued to advocate the use of the machine gun in an offensive role.

In September 1897 Parker was assigned to the Infantry and Cavalry School as a student officer, where he graduated in April, 1898.[2] That same month he was assigned as a First Lieutenant of Infantry to the 25th Infantry Regiment. He joined the 25th IR at Tampa, Florida, where it was fitting out for an amphibious assault in Cuba.[2]

Spanish-American War[]

After the outbreak of war with Spain, Lt. Parker approached General William Rufus Shafter, commander of the U.S. expeditionary campaign being readied in Tampa, Florida for the assault on Santiago, Cuba, and requested permission to form a Gatling Gun Detachment.[7] After Parker presented a detailed operational plan for the composition and employment of the Gatling Guns, Shafter approved the request, apparently impressed by the lieutenant's enthusiasm and attention to detail. On May 27, Parker was given four of a consignment of fifteen brand-new ten-barrel Model 1895 Gatling guns in .30 Army caliber recently received from Colt's Arms Company.[5][8] In order to save time, Parker also received permission from General Shafter to utilize men from the infantry regiments already in Tampa and assigned to the invasion. However, the men themselves were 'volunteers' selected by their existing company commanders, many of whom believed the assignment to be a temporary work detail (one commander even sent the cook from his private mess).

On his own initiative, Parker developed his own table of organization to include gun carriages, crew schedules, ammunition loads, and draft animal requirements. He then commenced training drills for the crews, using his own theory of mobile machine gun tactics to structure the new unit.[5][9] Parker's men responded enthusiastically to the challenge of learning to operate, maintain, and fire the new guns.[5]

When it became apparent that space aboard the transports of the invasion force would be limited, Parker had the Gatling Gun detachment assigned to guard ammunition being taken aboard the transport Cherokee. Under this pretext he was able to get his men, guns, wagons, and equipment aboard ship, though the Detachment still had not been supplied with any horses for pulling the guns.[5]

While aboard the transport Cherokee, Parker's Detachment was assigned the task of anti-torpedo boat duty by the ship's captain, and the men were forced to manhandle one of the guns from the stifling hold up to the deck to accomplish this task. Parker's battery, consisting of four guns, carriages, and some 30,000 rounds of .30 Army ammunition, was given priority for disembarkation at Daiquirí, Cuba by General Shafter. When General Samuel Sumner ordered Parker and his men to remain aboard and wait their turn (on the grounds that Parker, a mere lieutenant, lacked authority to enforce his priority), Parker sent word to the expedition commander, General Shafter, who personally arrived in a steam launch to ensure that the Gatling Gun Detachment was landed immediately. Upon landing at Daiquirí, Parker immediately arranged for the purchase of several mules from local sources to pull the guns.[10]

After being officially mustered into service on June 30, 1898, the Gatling Gun Detachment was ordered to advance to El Pozo, the site of General Shafter's headquarters for the impending offensive. Parker's battery was initially ordered to provide covering fire for the artillery. One of the Gatlings was detached to the service of General Shafter's aide, Lt. Miley.[10] After being ordered to send his guns forward "to the best point you can find", Parker set up his remaining three Gatlings near the base of the San Juan Heights to provide covering fire for the advancing U.S. ground forces.[10][11]

During the assault on San Juan Heights, Lt. Parker and his men used three of their four Gatling guns to cover the American assaults on both San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill.[5][12] Equipped with swivel mountings that enabled the gunners to rake Spanish positions, the three fast-firing[13] guns, firing at a range of 600-800 yards, expended approximately 18,000 cal. .30 rounds in eight and one-half minutes (over 700 rounds per minute of continuous fire) into the Spanish defensive lines atop the heights, killing many of the defenders, forcing others to flee the trenchlines, while disrupting the aim of those still alive who continued to resist.[14]

Col. Theodore Roosevelt later noted that the hammering sound of the Gatling guns raised the spirits of his men:

"While thus firing, there suddenly smote on our ears a peculiar drumming sound. One or two of the men cried out, “The Spanish machine guns!” but, after listening a moment, I leaped to my feet and called, “It’s the Gatlings, men! Our Gatlings!” Immediately the troopers began to cheer lustily, for the sound was most inspiring."[15][16]

Trooper Jesse D. Langdon of the 1st Volunteer Infantry, who accompanied Col. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in their assault on Kettle Hill, reported:

"We were exposed to the Spanish fire, but there was very little because just before we started, why, the Gatling guns opened up at the bottom of the hill, and everybody yelled, “The Gatlings! The Gatlings!” and away we went. The Gatlings just enfiladed the top of those trenches. We’d never have been able to take Kettle Hill if it hadn’t been for Parker’s Gatling guns."[12]

On San Juan Hill, Parker's battery of Gatling guns continued to rake the trenchlines until the American assault broke into a charge about 150 yards from the crest of the hill, when the guns ceased firing (via hand signal from Lt. Ferguson of the attacking 13th Infantry) to avoid causing friendly fire injuries.[3][17] Upon gaining San Juan Hill, the carnage wrought by the Gatling fire was immediately noted by the officers and men who had led the charge into the Spanish trenches atop San Juan.[5][18] Captain Boughton, among the first of the officers to surmount the crest of San Juan Hill during the infantry assault, stated the trenches on the hilltop were already filled with dead and dying Spanish riflemen, while the open ground behind the trenchline was covered with dead and dying Spanish defenders who had been shot while attempting to flee the hail of Gatling fire.[5] Parker's employment of machine guns to support and cover infantry in the offense marked the first use by the U.S. Army of such weapons in that role.

After gaining the Spanish positions on the heights, the Americans prepared for a Spanish counterattack. Parker sited two of his Gatling guns near the crest of San Juan Hill. A major counterattack by some 600 Spanish infantry troops developed against the positions of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry and 3rd Cavalry on Kettle Hill.[19] At a distance of 600 yards, Parker immediately ordered Sgt. Green's Gatling - the only gun within shouting distance - to open fire against the Spanish attacking the Americans on Kettle Hill.[19] The effect of Sgt. Green's Gatling fire was immediate. According to the testimony of Spanish officers captured after the action, only 40 of the 600 Spanish troops survived.[20] Parker then moved the two guns again to avoid counterbattery fire, where they were used at a range of 2,000 yards to kill and scatter the crew of a Spanish 160mm (6.3-inch) artillery cannon.[19][21] The contributions of Parker's Gatling Gun Detachment during the Santiago campaign were noted by Col. Roosevelt, who stated:

"I think Parker deserved rather more credit than any other one man in the entire campaign...he had the rare good judgment and foresight to see the possibilities of the machine-guns..He then, by his own exertions, got it to the front and proved that it could do invaluable work on the field of battle, as much in attack as in defence."[16]

On 2 July 1898, Parker's guns were placed in reserve. On the 4th, Parker ordered the three operational Gatlings moved into the battle line. The wheels of the gun carriages were removed, and the Gatlings, along with two M1895 Colt-Browning machine guns (a gift from Col. Roosevelt) were placed in breastworks where they could command various sectors of fire. The fourth Gatling was repaired and placed in reserve behind the others. However, it was soon moved to Fort Canosa, where it was used to fire 6,000 to 7,000 rounds into the city of Santiago during the siege of that city, causing enemy casualties, disrupting communications, and demoralizing the defenders.[22] After Parker's exploits became known by the press, he would forever after be referred to as "Gatling Gun" Parker.[23]

Later career[]

As an Army officer, Parker continued to expound his theories on the tactical employment of machine guns, particularly in the offense. He was a prolific writer, and contributed numerous articles and treatises to the Infantry Journal and other Army publications. Parker was promoted in rank to captain in 1900 and was transferred to the 28th Infantry Regiment. In January 1908 he was assigned the task of developing organizational schedules and training regulations for the U.S. Army's dismounted machine gun companies.[24]

During World War I, Parker - by now a Colonel in the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th Division, A.E.F. - saw combat on numerous occasions, and was singled out numerous times by his superior officers for his efficiency and bravery in the field. As an instructor at the Army Machine-Gun School at Langres, France, Parker instructed AEF troops in the use of the machine gun, for which he received the Distinguished Service Medal. From January - November 1918 Parker received the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross Citation four times for valor displayed on four separate occasions (his final DSC Citation was a Third Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Fourth Award of the DSC).[25][26] His fourth DSC citation states that he was receiving the award for extraordinary heroism in action:

"During the attack on the village of Gesnes Colonel Parker displayed great gallantry and fearlessness in leading and directing his front line with utter disregard for personal safety and urged his men forward by his personal example, all under heavy machine-gun, high-explosive, gas-shell, and shrapnel fire. He was abreast of his front line until he fell, twice wounded, but thereafter remained in active command for a period of five hours, when he was relieved by the lieutenant colonel of his regiment."[1]

Parker remained in the Army after the Armistice, eventually rising to the rank of Brigadier General. He retired from the Army in 1924.


General Parker died on October 13, 1942, and was interred at Section OS, Row 36, Site 8 at the Presidio in San Francisco, California, the final resting place of his former commander, General Rufus Shafter.

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Veteran Tributes: John H. Parker, retrieved 2 May 2012
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Thompson, Goldianne (Guyer), Biography of the Guyers, Denver, CO: Monitor Publications (1968), p. 33
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Tucker, Spencer C. (2009). "The Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History". Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Press. p. 237. ISBN 1851099514. ; three volumes; volume not identitified
  4. Roark, Albert E., Doctor Gatling's Gun, Arizona and the West: Journal of the Southwest, No. 4 (Winter 1962), pp. 309-324
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 Parker 1898, pp. 20, 35–37, 85–89, 136–137
  6. Parker 2006, p. 40
  7. Parker 1899, pp. 39–40
  8. Parker 1899, p. 41
  9. Parker 2006, p. 17: Parker recorded that the Gatling guns received from Colt were very tightly fitted, and required extensive modification to prepare them for extended periods of firing.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Parker 1898, pp. 260–263
  11. Armstrong, David A. (1982). "Bullets and Bureaucrats: The Machine Gun and the United States Army 1861-1916". Greenwood Publishing. ISBN 0-313-23029-3. , p. 101
  12. 12.0 12.1 Jones, V. C. (August 1969). "Before The Colors Fade: Last Of The Rough Riders". p. 26. 
  13. Cranked at its highest speed until the first magazine of ammunition had been emptied, the M1895 Gatling Gun had a rate of fire of 800-900 .30 rounds per minute.
  14. Armstrong 1982, p. 104: Well before the American infantry had reached the top of the heights, Capt. Lyman Kennon of the 6th Infantry and Capt. James B. Goe of the 13th Infantry reported that they personally observed Spanish troops running away to escape the Gatling fire.
  15. Parker 2006, p. ??[page needed]
  16. 16.0 16.1 Roosevelt, Theodore (May 1899). "The Rough Riders". New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. , p. 568
  17. Parker 1898, pp. 137–138: Col. Egbert, commander of the 6th Infantry assaulting San Juan Hill, stated that his regiment was brought to a momentary halt near the top of San Juan Hill until the cease fire order was given, as the Gatling fire striking the crest and trenchline was so intense.
  18. Armstrong 1982, p. 104
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Parker 2006, pp. 59–61
  20. Parker 2006, pp. 59–61: Capt. Henry Marcotte, U.S. Army (ret.), correspondent of the Army and Navy Journal who accompanied the Detachment, stated that Spanish officers in charge of the counter attack against Kettle Hill told him that the enemy consisted of about 600 troops who had withdrawn from El Caney, whose attack was repulsed by machine gun fire so effective that only forty troops ever got back to Santiago, the rest being killed.
  21. Armstrong 1982, p. 101
  22. Parker 2006, p. 68
  23. Roark, Albert E., Dr. Gatling's Gun, Phoenix, AZ: Journal Of The Southwest (1962), pp. 311-312
  24. Parker 1908, p. 3
  25. Full Text Citations For Award of The Distinguished Service Cross, World War I, To Members of the U.S. Army (N-P)
  26. Ihrig, B.B., et al., Sedalia's Famous Sons (1960), p.118

Authored works[]

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