Critics of the Confederate Navy often
point to the amount of iron expended in armoring warships and claim
that the same iron would have made a big difference to the
railroads. How much armor was created for the Navy? How much rail
would this amount of iron have produced?
| The Navy constructed about 26
ironclad warships to the point where armor was produced for the
ships. Some of the ships were never completed, but the armor was
committed. An additional 20 ironclads were started to some degree,
but never completed, and had no armor provided for them (though the
Navy was trying to get armor for them). There were also several
ironclad batteries that were rail protected.
From incomplete data, it appears that about 450
tons of armor was required for the average ironclad. Thus, 26
completed ironclads times 450 tons means that 11,700 tons of armor
was provided (some as plate, made from railroad rails, and some as
railroad rails). It took about 100 tons of rail to build a mile of
track (both sides). Therefore, the armor provided could have
provided 117 miles of track. The incomplete ironclads were creating
a demand for another 9,000 tons of iron -- another 90 miles of track.
| The rails in use by the railroads were
frequently bent by accidents and Union troops and were subject to
lamination. Rails could have been easily returned to near new
condition if they could have been re-rolled. However, no Confederate
iron work had the capacity to re-roll rails because of the other
Government work they were doing -- especially rolling Navy armor.
This need to re-roll rails was so important that railroad
conventions called for the creation of re-rolling mills for the
sole purpose of restoring railroad rails. Though acknowledged as a
vital need, no one ever created such a plant.
| Finally, it should be noted that many of
the rails rolled into armor were damaged and laminated ones. There
was a conscious effort, at least after the Spring of 1863, to remove
good rails from non-critical roads, lay them in place of damaged
rails on critical roads, and then make armor from the damaged rails.
| For comparison, the absolutely vital
Piedmont Railroad required 50 miles of track and was delayed in its
completion for many months because of lack of labor and lack of
iron. Several other roads, like the Blue Mountain connection, were never
laid iron because there was none to be had, regardless of how
important the roads were.
| It should also be noted that many
ironclads were armored with the rails themselves since the rolling
mills did not have the time to roll them as plates. Two of the
railroad rail ships were the CSS Arkansas and CSS Georgia.
| The final part of this issue is usually
not asked, because it hard to produce a factual answer. If the iron
and rolling capacity devoted to armor had been devoted to railroad
rails, what would the result have been? Certainly, several important
links would have been completed earlier or at all. Also, higher
speeds could have been maintained. This would have kept the Army of
Northern Virginia in better supply, but would probably not have
changed the outcome of any campaign, much less the war. But how
would the removal of ironclads from the Confederate arsenal affected
the progress of the war? My estimation is that, except at Wilmington
and Charleston, the absence of ironclads would have made only a
minor difference in the way the naval campaigns progressed.
|Also see Atlanta Armor Shipping Impact,
C. S. S. Virginia Armor Shipping Impact
and photo of CSS Georgia Armor