During Sherman's March to the Sea, in order to deny the Confederates the use of their railroads, it was essential that the rails themselves be rendered useless and unrepairable. To accomplish this, the rails were ripped up, placed on a great bonfire, heated until they were red hot, and then wrapped around a tree. It was the appearance of these rails wrapped around a tree that gave birth to the term "Sherman's Bowties." The following is a description of how this task was accomplished.
".....The destruction of railway communication between the Confederate Army at Richmond, and the Gulf States, had been a very important part of Sherman's purpose, and he spared no pains to do this thoroughly. A battalion of mechanics was selected and furnished with tools for ripping the rails from the cross-ties and twisting them when heated, and these were kept constantly at work; but the infantry on the march became expert in methods of their own, and the cavalry also joined in the work, though the almost constant skirmishing on the flanks and rear of the army usually kept the mounted troops otherwise employed. A division of infantry would be extended along the railway line about the length of its proper front. The men, stacking arms, would cluster along one side of the track, and at the word of command, lifting together, would raise the line of rail with the ties as high as their shoulders; then at another command they would let the whole drop, stepping back out of the way as it fell. The heavy fall would shake loose many of the spikes and chairs, and seizing the loosened rails, the men, using them as levers, would quickly pry off the rest. The cross-ties would now be Idled up like cob-houses and with these and other fuel a brisk fire would be made; the rails were piled upon the fire, and in half an hour would be red hot in the middle. Seizing the rail now by the two ends, the soldiers would twist it about a tree, or interlace and twine the whole pile together in great iron knots, making them useless for anything but old iron, and most unmanageable and troublesome, even to convey away to a mill. In this way it was not difficult for a corps marching along the railway to destroy, in a day, ten or fifteen miles of track most completely; and Sherman himself gave close watch to the work, to see that it was not slighted. Then all machine-shops, stations, bridges, and culverts were destroyed, and the masonry blown up...."
Source: "The March To The Sea/Franklin And Nashville" By Jacob D. Cox, LL. D.,
Late Major-General Commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps Chapter II.--The March Through Georgia.
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