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"American Civil War (ACW) Ironclad Tech: The Tank?" Topic

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Personal logo Cacique Caribe Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2012 1:01 p.m. PST

If they already had the technology to make the USS Monitor, what TECHNOLOGICAL obstacles would have kept them from coming up with something like this?



In other words, what necessary parts or materials were NOT invented and could NOT have been invented by that time? Or was it already technologically possible to do, but infrastructure factors were simply the problem?

For that matter, what about a simple Da Vinci "tank", but with SOME iron plates (maybe just the front and sides?) and with a rotating Gatling gun on top?


Was THAT combination of attributes technologically possible during or soon after the ACW?

Inquiring minds want to know.



Personal logo Saber6 Supporting Member of TMP Fezian01 Aug 2012 1:02 p.m. PST

some form of engine (Steam being the only real candidate)

jpattern201 Aug 2012 1:09 p.m. PST

What Saber6 said: Not enough horsepower in a small enough package.

Rubber Suit Theatre Inactive Member01 Aug 2012 1:11 p.m. PST

It was mostly about horsepower to weight ratios. They simply didn't have good enough alloys and manufacturing processes to reliably get the steam pressure high enough to move off road. What you describe would work just fine as some sort of armored rail car, but taking it up and down the undulations of normal ground just takes more power to weight than was feasible. The problems were throughout the drive train. The tanks that came about 50 years later were the result of two generations of work in metallurgy and engineering, not to mention infrastructure development.

Rich Bliss Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2012 1:35 p.m. PST

Beyond the obvious power train issues, you are also going to run into trouble with the suspension. Without hydraulics, you're relying on leaf springs and given the weight of the armor, and weaponry, they're going to be huge. You'll have no effective ground clearance and a really crappy ride.

Landorl01 Aug 2012 1:40 p.m. PST

You'll have no effective ground clearance and a really crappy ride.
Even the early tanks of WWI had this problem, and the were 50 years ahead of the technology of ACW.

Still, it is fun to play games with tanks in ACW.

There were some steam tractors a few years later, but they didn't have to worry about armor and weapons!

Twig6601 Aug 2012 1:55 p.m. PST

I wonder if you could make some kind of "technical" out of a Roper Steam Carriage? (c.1870)


Bottom Dollar Inactive Member01 Aug 2012 2:06 p.m. PST

You've got to have tracks.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2012 3:17 p.m. PST
Timbo W01 Aug 2012 3:26 p.m. PST

I've always been curious about the confederate 'Winan's Steam Cannon' having run across pics of it on t'internet eg link

and someone built a replica that sits in a park at Elkridge, here's the story of its Civil War predecessor link .

Mythbusters reconstructed it but found it was fairly useless as the speed of the balls wasn't enough to be lethal except at point blank

Despite its 'gofaster' appearance the machine wasn't mobile itself, being drawn by horses instead. The cone-shaped bit is instead a gun-shield – nice use of sloped armour 80 years before the T34!

EJNashIII01 Aug 2012 6:00 p.m. PST

"I wonder if you could make some kind of "technical" out of a Roper Steam Carriage? (c.1870)"

Another factor in not using steam was that the vehicle was a threat to it's own crew. The fire tube boilers of the day always provided the threat of explosion of the steam chest even during ideal conditions. link
Imagine using one under artillery and rifle fire! If you tried to encase this boiler in an armor shell to protect it, then it would quickly get incredibly hot inside the vehicle.

Patrick R, thanks for posting a link to my railroad monitor webpage.

Covert Walrus01 Aug 2012 9:47 p.m. PST

You could place an artillery piece on a traction engine of around about that time as long as you didn't have them in front lines. Their wheels could cross muddy English fields, so tracks are not really a great requirement.

But yes, the problem is mainly power-to-weight ration engines.

CATenWolde02 Aug 2012 4:31 a.m. PST

How about something more like an APC, with stout iron-faced wood walls in a box for men with repeaters, or a Gatling? Bring them up on a train, and unload them to roll across the fields … though of course the rifled cannon of the enemy would reduce them to splinters.

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Aug 2012 6:09 a.m. PST

It turns out the Winan's steam cannon was not self propelled. Please see this book link Which I highly recommend.

So back to the basic question, what technology was missing from the trick bag to build an AFV in 1864?

The answer is none
Tracks existed in design form link

Steam Traction

Armor plate existed,breachloading artillery existed, rapid fire arms existed

So the issues included the Union Ordnance Chief, Ripley, lack of a clear tactical need, logistical issues, bad roads and things like that.

The vehicles could have been built with existing technologies in the 1840s

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP02 Aug 2012 10:37 a.m. PST

Boats float

As noted, those touchy technical issues of suspension and power train would limit the use of steam tanks

That being said, it is interesting that the armoured train never seemed to catch on – that would have been totally achieveable with ACW technology

donlowry02 Aug 2012 10:57 a.m. PST

A steam engine burns through a lot of fuel in a short time. Where would the tank carry it?

skyking20 Inactive Member02 Aug 2012 11:20 a.m. PST

You also have to ask how many roads could actually support these kinds of vehicles. Would they scare the horses! Cannon recoil issues. Support services for breakdowns. Also what about the weight limits of briges? etc.

wminsing Inactive Member02 Aug 2012 1:22 p.m. PST

The core issue is that ironclad ships were VERY heavily armored; the Monitor's turret was 8" of iron plates and the Virginia was 4" of iron and 24" (!) of wooden backing, for example. Building an overland vehicle that could carry that load with the steam engine and transmission technology available would have been as others pointed out basically impossible.


tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Aug 2012 2:56 p.m. PST

Ships were armored to protect them from fire from the heaviest ordnance available at the time. Those weapons wouldn't have been generally available on any battlefield, unless the battle was attacking a fortress.

The heaviest weapons would be things like 3 inch rifles and perhaps 32 pounder smoothbores.

Even in WW1 tanks could not survive hits from ANY field artillery weapons. Those weapons did not prevent the use of tanks on the western front.

badger2202 Aug 2012 7:50 p.m. PST

They could not even make a tractor that could pull a cannon, much less carry one and armor. Sure, they could draw a picture of one. What they could not do is make one that would work. And remember, they where still using wood for heat, so not even coal power. And, there would be no way to transport them to the battlefield. Once they rolled off of the train, thats it, any movement would be under thier own power.

How much armor would be needed to resist rifle fire? Not very much. But, it will be cast iron, or perhaps wrought iron. Metals notorious for thier brittleness. Rifle fire would spall off interior fragments big enough to hurt the crew. They way to stop that, which many of the naval ironclads used is to back it with wood. But that ups the weight.

I am also not sure if they could have made a final drive that could take the strain. could they make a big enough peice of steel to make the drive sfat to the track? Modern armor vehicles still shear them with distressing regularity.

They would have had to push thier technology at least one more generation before it would have been at all possible, and then most likely not effective.

Tanks on the western front where only effective when theire where enough of them working in one place to really effect things. Just a couple and the artillery took care of them. confederate gunners where not a bunch of punks. On seeing a land iron clad they would have opeed up. And they will likely get the first shot, as you would not have any visin at all from the inside. If you pop the hatch, well confederate riflemen can fix that problem. So you would need at least enough running in one place to overwhelm a couple of batterys of guns.

So even if it was sort of possible to build one, was it worth the effort to build them and get enough of them nto possition to do anything? Or would they be to expensive for what you got out of them? I am sure that not only are they not possible, they would be an absolute money sink.


donlowry03 Aug 2012 10:47 a.m. PST

The short answer is: They did make these things, only they made them to go on water, not land, where buoyancy helped to support the weight.

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Aug 2012 11:17 a.m. PST

They could and did make steam tractors that could haul cannon before 1860. The British used some in the Crimean and if the war had continued they would have seen service moving equipment in the Crimean. They used the engines to move cannon around Woolwich.

As for small arms the Springfield musket had 1,000 foot pounds of muzzle energy. The Lee Enfield .303 had one of 2401-2470 ft. lbs. It also used a much smaller bullet made of tougher material that had a better shape. I think that rought iron plate would survive firing from most Civil War era small arms if it was thick enough. I'm not sure a minnie ball has enough energy to spall off the inner side of the armor. Now splash would have been a very serious issue, as the lead minnie balls would have possibly melted (not sure if 1000 ft pounds is enough to melt lead, and not certain of specific alloys)

The Fowlers in 1899 were able to resist Mauser fire.

I think the various sieges such as Vicksburg, St Petersburg, Charleston they could have been brough in by steamboat or railhead and only had to move tactically for a few miles

Lion in the Stars03 Aug 2012 5:41 p.m. PST

Hard-cast lead at 1000fps goes splat pretty nicely, I've been splashed pretty good when my friends shoot steel targets.

I've seen steam traction engines, but you'd need to have 3" of iron and probably 6" of wood backing it to be able to take hits from the rifled artillery.

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP04 Aug 2012 7:15 a.m. PST

There is probably no way no way that any practical vehicle could survive even smoothbore field artillery. A six pounder ball can hit very hard.

A tactical question might be could such a vehicle armed with an Agar Coffee Mill Gun or two could defeat field artillery batteries

The Agar had a range of 800 Yards, about the same as a rifled musket. Could a smoothbore hit even a slowly moving tank sized target at such a range, before the rapid fire weapon drives the crews from their weapons.

Could rifled field artillery weapons, which are more accurate knock out the tank before they get knocked out?

donlowry05 Aug 2012 10:55 a.m. PST

The best you could hope for is to be proof against small arms and shell fragments, I think. But, unlike in WWI, the artillery was not way back behind the lines, it was right up front, firing direct.

Personal logo optional field Supporting Member of TMP10 Oct 2012 5:56 p.m. PST

In answer to the original question, I don't believe caterpillar tracks were invented yet. They do a great deal to reduce ground pressure and keep the heavy vehicles from sinking into the mud.

Dave Crowell11 Oct 2012 5:09 a.m. PST

The question was raised as to why not armoured trains. The answer is: because they would have been trains.

Trains require tracks to run on. Railway tracks are extremely vulnerable to sabotage, it doesn't take much to stop the trains.

Also for a armoured train to be a battlefield effective weapon the battlefield has to be near enough train tracks.

It might have been possible to build a proof against small arms armoured carriage or steam tractor, and fit it with a Gatling or light swivel gun. I am not sure such a device would have been either robust enough or combat effective enough to make it a worth while use of resources.

Murvihill11 Oct 2012 9:42 a.m. PST

They had armored trains up through WW2. Why are we dismissing them?

As far as the steam tank, between the underdeveloped road network and the need for water and fuel it just wouldn't have been useful.

mashrewba Inactive Member11 Oct 2012 10:35 a.m. PST

What does the score on the turret refer to -enemy tanks of maybe even planes…

TheBeast Supporting Member of TMP14 Oct 2012 11:41 a.m. PST

I'm still of the all-wood school for the Civil War; won't stand up to artillery, but with sufficient smaller conveyances, you're still not suffering the same attrition from small arms.

I'm rather fond of the riparian warfare in the west with it's timberclads. I've a number of Mott fruit cups to try and ape Chris Palmer's beasties you can find in the original G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. cover.

Though, a bit small. Maybe best for 15mm…


skyking20 Inactive Member16 Oct 2012 3:57 a.m. PST

I still say the road net (and I use the term loosely) would never support such a beast especially after any kind of rain.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Oct 2012 4:37 a.m. PST

Caterpillar tracks were just in early experimentation in the mid 19th century. 1903 is where the first real "tank" showed up (Like many of his "ideas", DaVinci's tank idea was brilliant, but the details needed refinement. H.G. Wells saw WWI tanks and denied that those were what he meant.) … not far past the ACW.

I think you could reasonably posit a WWI style tank, steam driven, in the ACW. It required being about a generation of engineering ahead of its time. Much more reasonable than many near-future scifi conceits.

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