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Ironclads on rails: American Civil War rail road weapons, 1861-1865

Alan Robin Koenig, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


During the American Civil War, both Confederates and Federals employed locomotives and rolling stock for tactical missions. These "railroad weapons" included a variety of vehicles, the most notable being armored trains and railroad batteries. Serving as maneuver elements, they performed several missions, including reconnaissance, railroad defense, escort duties, and artillery support. Ironclads on Rails starts with a short primer on Civil War artillery and a cursory look at the struggle for vital logistical lines, also known as the "Railroad War." Belligerents attacked enemy railroads and trains in several ways. Defenders accordingly employed rapid reconstruction, railroad guards, fortifications, and other defensive measures. They also used "control cars," handcars, rams, locomotives, and steam passenger cars in various capacities. Ironclads then addresses the exploits and vulnerabilities of armed trains, and how "Monitor Fever," the craze for ironclad vessels, transformed trains into viable armored fighting vehicles. Furthermore, it analyzes the missions and evolution of railroad monitors and rifle cars, and how the two formed fast and powerful armored trains. Ironclads also details how Federal and Confederate railroad batteries proved a novel way of employing heavy artillery in battle. Ironclads covers the men who designed, built, and manned these railroad weapons. It also considers psychological effects and effectiveness of American railroad weapons in light of the day's artillery. The ultimate contribution of American developments to military science was that they set several precedents for subsequent railroad weapons, in particular those of the Boer War, World War One, and the Russian Civil War. American railroad weapons were even conceptual ancestors to tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled artillery, and a host of other tracked and wheeled armored fighting vehicles. Sources include The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, regimental histories, period newspapers, memoirs, diaries, archival material, and other assorted primary sources. Some secondary sources, primarily in Russian, French, German, and Polish, provide information for the European chapter of the dissertation.

Subject Area

American history|European history

Recommended Citation

Koenig, Alan Robin, "Ironclads on rails: American Civil War rail road weapons, 1861-1865" (1995). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9538638.