The cars are described in Alan Koenig's dissertation, "Ironclads on Rails: Armor Returns to the Battlefield, 1861-65. This was our main source as it cites several statements from the builders, as well as observers that saw the car in service or after it was destroyed.
The ironclads are also mentioned in Robert Hodges, Jr.'s book, "American Civil War Railroad Tactics." The latter includes an artist's concept painting of what the cars may have looked like as no known images of the cars have survived. While we agree with the overall look of the cars in the painting, there are certain details we will change.
The drawing shows our interpretation of the cars. The approach we used is to assume they started with standard boxcars and added the armor as an applique. These cars were built quickly, so it seems likely they started with existing parts if not whole cars.
According to Koenig, one source says the armor was mounted on a 45 degree angle. That is possible on the front of the car, but not possible on the sides as it would make the car too wide. So we made the side taper more vertical.
Koenig lists one source that states the rail was "T" iron, while another just says "railroad iron." We elected to go with "T" iron, in the form of code 55 rail, which works out to 2.6 inches in full scale. At this point most major railroads were installing 60 to 70 pound per yard rail on their mainlines, which scales down to about code 90 (0.093 inches inches tall). So the rail on this car represents lighter rail that was either destined for yard use or was retired. I had a bunch of code 55 on hand, so I used it.
|"T" Rail added by the crew to protect the casement corner on USS Cairo|
Some sources say the rail was spiked on, but Dan believes that it was bolted. I used the railroad T armor on the restored USS Cairo as a guide for how such rail would have been bolted on. In the case of the USS Cairo, the rail was bolted with the flat side facing out. I reversed it on the car as it was too hard for me to get the code 55 rail to look correct in that configuration. It would not lie flat as I assembled it.
Most sources state that the cars were equipped with one gun each, mostly small mountain howitzers, but one had a 6 pound brass smoothbore. The first versions of these cars had cannon mounted in the vehicle suspended from the roof with a series of ropes. But later versions used standard field carriages as we show here.
There is a gun port on the front of the car. The artist concept in Hodge's book shows gun ports and cannon pointing out the side, but the car is too narrow for the standard field cannon to fire to the side. So there is no point to have gun ports on the sides, though there may have been observation ports. We elected to include 3 loop holes on each side instead of additional gun ports.
These cars were operated in sets. An armored train would have ironclads on front and back, with rifle cars between the ironclad and the locomotive. So a gun pointing out from each end of the train might be effective in covering the area around the train, especially if the gun could cover a 60 degree arc from its embrasure.
The last puzzle was the rear of the car. Again according to Koenig, one source says the rear was also sloped with an embrasure for a gun. But most other sources say that only one gun was mounted in each car. If you put a 6 pounder smooth bore on a standard field carriage on a rail car that can travel along standard gauge tracks, there is no way the car can be wide enough to turn the gun around inside the car. So one gun cannot serve both gun ports. It seemed impractical to me for the car not to have a decent size access door, so I added one to the rear.
One of the problems I have noted with some artists' concepts and drawings of artillery mounted on flat cars is that they make the gun carriage too small in relation to the car. The drawing above shows both the gun and car in the same scale. As you can see, a 6 pounder on a standard field carriage just barely fits in the car. There is some room to deflect the cannon right or left to aim, but firing off the side is not possible.
We welcome your comments or ideas. The famous ship historian and modeler Howard Chapelle once said words to the effect that you should never build a model until you have all the information you need, as others that view the model will not know where you guessed. (for more of Howard's argument see this link.)In this case, we recognize that the information is sketchy about these cars and do not claim that this is a 100 percent accurate representation of the car, but the best we can make. We hope you enjoy it.