Sherman’s Bowties

Not Exactly a Fashion Statement

No – we are not talking about fashion statements made by the famous Union general. What we are referring to is Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s tactics for disrupting Confederate supply lines, specifically in Georgia.

Sherman began his “March to the Sea” in Chattanooga marching to Atlanta and then on to the Savannah coast on orders from Union Army’s Commander Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, who believed the Civil War would end sooner if Southern supply lines and infrastructure were destroyed. However, as soon Union soldiers tore up railroad tracks, it seemed Confederate soldiers would have the railroad restored within hours or a day.

Sherman then instructed his men to twist the rails so Confederates would not be able to reuse the rails and damage would take much longer to repair. The men began wrapping the rails around trees. His new instructions worked and within three days, only one confederate railroad remained operational.

In case of the sounds of serious battle [Major-General McPherson] will close in on General Schofield but otherwise will keep every man of his command at work in destroying the railroad by tearing up track, burning the ties and iron, and twisting the bars when hot. Officers should be instructed that bars simply bent may be used again, but when red hot they are twisted out of line they cannot be used again. Pile the ties into shape for a bonfire, put the rails across and when red hot in the middle, let a man at each end twist the bar so that its surface becomes spiral.

— Wm. T. Sherman, Special Field Orders, July 18, 1864

When Confederate soldiers later headed north, they returned the favor to the Union and named their version “Old Mrs. Lincoln’s Hair Pins.”


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