Used in warfare to fake out an enemy, a Quaker gun is a dummy piece of artillery, typically constructed of wood and sometimes painted black. The term comes from the fact that Quakers, members of a religious group formally known as the Society of Friends (or Religious Society of Friends), traditionally believe in pacifism and non-violence. Quakerism began in England in the mid-1600s as a new Christian sect that rejected grandiose religious ceremonies, didn’t have clergy and held that the presence of God existed in every person. In 1682, Englishman William Penn, one of the many early Quakers who faced persecution in his homeland, arrived in America and founded the colony of Pennsylvania as a place for religious freedom. It’s uncertain exactly when the term Quaker gun originated, but one such sham weapon was employed in the Revolutionary War battle at Rugeley’s Mill in South Carolina. (The Quakers’ anti-war stance stopped them from actively participating in the American Revolution.) During that engagement, on December 4, 1780, Continental forces under the command of Colonel William Washington attacked the fortified barn where some 100 Loyalists under Colonel Henry Rugeley were holed up. When the attack failed, Washington, lacking artillery, had his soldiers construct a phony cannon from a log—and then called for Rugeley and his men to surrender or else. The ploy worked and the Loyalists gave up.
During the U.S. Civil War, Quaker guns were used as a means to make fortifications seem from a distance as if they were stronger, as well as a way to make it look like troops were occupying a certain position when in reality they’d already retreated. In one example during Union General George McClellan’s 1862 Peninsula Campaign, the Confederates placed logs made to resemble cannons at their earthworks around Centerville, Virginia, and duped Union scouts into thinking these sites were heavily fortified. As a result, McClellan delayed his troops’ advance and the rebels escaped the area.