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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

November 17, 1864

March to the Sea; Destruction of Railroad Track

The March to the Sea continued. One of the important assignments the Union troops had was to destroy railroad tracks in their paths. This was done in three steps. First, soldiers separated the steel rails from wooden ties.

Next, the steel rail was stacked atop the wood ties, which were set on fire heating the center section of each rail segment.

The final step was to bend the heated area of the rail around a tree, thus producing what the troops called “Sherman’s neckties.”

Henry Hitchcock, Sherman’s military secretary, wrote in his diary of the destruction of railroad tracks.

“[S]econd day out … we did not start until 7 A.M… . Marched three miles to town of Lithonia, on the railroad, halted say an hour: troops busy destroying track. Capt. Poe’s hooks enable a few men to do pretty much upsetting … Poe reports railroad depot was burned at L. [Lithonia] and sparks set fire to and destroyed some two or three dwellings. Merely bending rails in ordinary way, by piling ties, laying rails across, and allowing their own weight at ends to bend them, thus, is not effectual. If thus merely bent, they can be restored by reverse process. But if twisted, even a little, they are ruined and must be rerolled. Poe has provided wrenches with which his pioneers very quickly and effectually do this – one man at each end of a rail pulling in opposite directions, and thus twisting the heated middle.” Source: M.A. DeWolfe Howe (ed.), Marching with Sherman: Passages from the Letters and Campaign Diaries of Henry Hitchcock, Major and Assistant Adjutant General of Volunteers, November 1864-May 1865 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), pp. 63-64.

Image of March to the Sea; Destruction of Railroad Track Stacked Rails and Ties
George Barnard, Barnard's Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign
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