American Civil War Armored Rail Cars


The Civil war saw the 1st use of armored rail cars.  With this page I hope to document the various designs used and proposed by the North and the South.  If you as find any information, drawings, or photos that I may use to round out the available information, please contact me at





Confederate Rail Battery

“Dry Land Merrimac” (Title from Richmond Newspapers)


Rebel Rail Battery

(Plan drawings from Edwin Alexander book)

Proposed by Gen Robert E. Lee to Col J. Gorgas, Chief of Ordnance, CSA, June 5, 1862.

 “Is there a possibility of constructing an iron plated battery mounting a heavy gun on trucks, the whole covered with iron to move along the York River railroad?  Please see what can be done…”

Completed:  June 14, 1862

Designer:  Lieut. John M. Brooks, CSN

Armament: 32 pound 57 CWT

Weight of car:  60 tons

Supervisor of Construction:  Lt. James Barry, CSN

Commander:  Lieut R.D. Minor

Crew:  Norfolk United Artillery battery (previously of the CSS Virginia) Lt James Barry, Sgt Daniel Knowles and 13 men 


Savage Station, June 1862.  Pushed by standard RR engine. Ordered to be advanced from Richmond by Maj Gen MacGruder.  Fired from a railroad cut that opened on the Federal lines. Federals forced back to new position at an angle to the rail line.  Could have broken the Federals if the gun could have been turned.


Period image of the Rail car.  Sketch by Private Robert Sneden, USA


Sneden Picture


Note side iron armor and “cotton clad” sharpshooter car.


From “The History of the Confederate States Navy”:

“To a Confederate officer, Lieut James Barry, who had served both afloat and ashore, was due the invention and construction of an ironclad railway battery.  He and some of his men, members of the Norfolk United artillery, had served on the CSS Virginia in Hampton Roads; and when the Confederate army was drawn behind the railroad lines around Richmond he conceived the project of, as the Richmond newspapers styled it, the “Dry Land Merrimac.”  Upon a double set of car trucks he built a firm floor, upon which he erected an armor-plated casemate similar to that of the Confederate ironclads, and mounted in it one of the Brooke banded and rifled guns so admirably adapted to firing either shot or shell.  It was on several occasions brought into action on the York River railroad in the neighborhood of Fair Oaks and Savage Station, and did commendable service as long as the enemy was on the line of the road.”

Note: See Federal 1 gun Armoured Parrot car below.  It has been suggested that they might be the same car.  I do not know if this is true or false as the car no longer exists, nor will I comment as this site is only to provide a clearinghouse of available information.

A model train manufacturer produces a O-scale plastic model fairly true to Ed Alexander's design.

MTH Electric Trains, Rail King item# 30-7635  




Galveston Confederate cottonclad Rail Battery


Proposed by General John Magruder.

Completed:  Late 1862

Designer:  ?

Armament: 32 pounder on a barbette carriage

Armor:  breastwork of 500lb cotton bales

Supervisor of Construction:  ?

Commander:  ?


A simple railroad flat car mounting a cannon behind a wall of cotton bales.  Employed Jan 1, 1863 in a gunfire exchange with the Federal gunboat, USS Harriet Lane, at around 300 yards range at Galveston Texas.





Jacksonville Confederate cottonclad Rail Battery


Proposed by Brig Gen Joseph Finegan.

Completed: 1863

Designer:  ?

Armament: 30 pound Parrott rifle

Armor:  breastwork of 500lb cotton bales

Supervisor of Construction:  ?

Commander:  Lt Drury Rambo (crew of 14)


Similar to Magruder’s car.  Used in several skirmishes near Jacksonville Florida.  Feb 20, 1864, took minor part in the battle of Olustee.









Federal 1 gun “ Rail Road Monitor”


Federal 1 gun Monitor

(Plan drawings from Edwin Alexander book)

Completed:  1861

Designer:  ?

Armament: 12 pound napoleon?, Sharpshooters

Commander:  ?


Used on Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad to guard against raiders and bridge burners.  Pushed by standard RR engine.




Federal 2 gun Rail Road Monitor

(Analysis of Image by Michael Levy)


Federal 2 gun Monitor 1/4 scale dwg

(Plan drawings from Edwin Alexander book. Dimensions for "O" scale model)

(Actual Edwin Alexander model. National Toy Train Museum, Strasburg PA)

Completed:  1861

Designer: ?

Armament: 2- 12 pound napoleons?

Commander: ?


Used to protect trains from raiders. Built on a standard RR flat car. Pushed or pulled by Standard RR engine. Advantage of being able to fire to the sides of the train.





Federal 3 gun Rail Road Monitor


Federal 3 gun Monitor


Completed: ?

Designer: ?

Armament:  3- field guns


Described in account of the battle of Folck's Mill, just east of Cumberland Maryland, August 1, 1864.

“The confederate forces then turned south to cross the Potomac near Old Town. They found the bridges burned, and union forces emplaced. Confederate forces involved were the Eighth Virginia Regiment, the Twenty-seventh Virginia Battalion, and the Baltimore Light Artillery, under General McCausland, and General Johnson.

Defending was the 153 Ohio National Guard, under Colonel Strough. Outnumbered, they crossed the Potomac to the safety of a blockhouse built to protect the railroad, in Green Spring, West Virginia. The blockhouses were timber construction, built at strategic locations along the B&O. See Roberts' East End.

Some of the Ohio troops climbed on a B&O train, and headed west towards Cumberland.

The armored train in support was an ad-hoc affair, consisting of "iron-clad railroad batteries containing three guns each, and four musket proof boxcars with loop holes for riflemen. Manning the train was a detachment of Company K, 2nd Regiment, Potomac Home Brigade, under Captain Peter B. Petrie."

Confederate gunner George McElwee of the Baltimore Light Artillery sent his first shot through the locomotive boiler, disabling the train. He then disabled an artillery piece on one of the gun cars with his second shot. With the train disabled, the crew and soldiers bailed out. McElwee was certainly the premier anti-armor gunner of his day.” Armored Trains in the Civil War


Opequon Monitor


Unknown design (possibly same 3 gun car described above)

In operation defending repair parties along the B&O rail line west of Harpers Ferry, July 1863.





Great Cacapon Monitor


Unknown design (possibly same 3 gun car described above)

Drove off an attacking enemy party at Great Cacapon River bridge, B&O railroad, July 2, 1864






 Federal Rifle Car


No picture, (yet)


Completed: ?

Designer: ?

Armament:  small arms


Resembled ordinary boxcars, but their shielding was placed inside the cars. Musket apertures on all sides offered their crews wide fields of fire for small arms.  Improvement over the Federal 1gun car in that the infantry men were separated from the cannon of the monitor car.








Federal 1 gun Armored Parrot Car




(Plan drawings from Edwin Alexander book)

alexander merrimac

(Actual Edwin Alexander model, National Toy Train Museum, Strasburg PA)

(Harold Zeigler model, 1991, Railroad Museum of PA, Strasburg PA)


Completed:  1864

Designer: ?

Armament: 1 Parrot Rifle  ?pdr

Commander: ?


Used as a siege gun near Petersburg VA. Pushed by Standard RR engine.  Note that some research points to the possibility that the car shown in this picture might in fact be miss-identified by the NPS.  Could it be the 1862 Confederate "Dry Land Merrimac" in Confederate service later in the war?  I don't know for sure one way or the other as it no longer exists. However, the latest theories are very convincing.







Federal ironclad car #319


Unknown design, possibly one of above.

 Car #319 Listed in a railroad bill of damages as lost to rebel action near York Pa on or about June 26th, 1863.  Estimated damage: $800.







Federal New Bern Monitors


Civil War New Bern Map

Map by a Captain R.S. Williamson, a U.S. Topographical Engineer. This sketch of the Defenses of Newbern labels (12) “4. [guns] 32's on Platform Cars” 

(Map image provided by Steve Shaffer, New Bern, NC)


2 cars constructed

Completed:  Summer 1862

Designer: ?

Armament: 2-32pdrs

Commander: ?


Built and used for the defense of New Bern after the Federal forces captured the city. Pushed by Standard RR engine.


“We shall have a chance to celebrate the 4th of July, as we did the 8th of February, 14th of March and the 19th of April. There is nothing of much importance except getting ready to move. A train is running between here and Beaufort. The road bed has been repaired as far as Kingston. A railroad monitor has been built with two guns as pickets.”

Pvt. Henry Brown, 21st Mass. Co. F
Newbern, North Carolina, June 29, 1862









“Civil War Railroads & Models”, Edwin P. Alexander, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc, New York, 1977


“Images from the Storm”, Private Robert Sneden, The Free Press, New York, 2001


“History of the Confederate States Navy”, J. Thomas Scharf, Fairfax Press


“Northern Railroads in the Civil War”, Thomas Weber, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1952


“American Civil War Railroad Tactics”, Robert Hodges Jr., Osprey Publishing, New York, 2009

"Railroads of the Civil War an Illustrated History", Michael Leavy, Westholme Publishing, Yardley Pa, 2010


UPCOMMING!  “Ironclads on Rails”, Alan R. Koenig, 2011?





First Maryland Vol Infantry

Armored Trains in the Civil War

 Rail Roads in the Civil War

Osprey book

History article

HO scale models from Bradford Exchange

Dissertation by Alan Koenig

Civil War Railroad Yahoo group

National Toy Train Museum Home of many of the Alexander models

US Military Railroad 1863 Some absolutely beautiful models by Bernard Kempinski.  A must see!


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Last modified: Mar 2014



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