August 28, 1864: Sherman’s neckties

Sherman necktie

Atlanta campaign map

Sherman’s three armies are all assembling for the move to Jonesboro, and in the meantime they have instructions to take a day to thoroughly destroy the West Point and Atlanta railroad. Sherman gives Thomas explicit instructions on the best way to permanently disable a railroad:

“To march a regiment to the road, stack arms, loosen two rails opposite the right and two opposite the left of the regiment, then to heave the whole track, rails and ties, over, breaking it all to pieces, then pile the ties in the nature of crib work and lay the rails over them, then by means of fence rails make a bonfire, and when the rails are red-hot in the middle let men give the rail a twist, which cannot be straightened without machinery.”

A variant of this procedure, when the heated rails were twisted around tree trunks, was to become known as a “Sherman necktie”.

Official Records:


NEAR WEST POINT RAILROAD,
August 28, 1864-4 p. m.
(Received 29th.)
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
Washington, D. C.:

Army of the Tennessee is on the West Point railroad near Fairburn; Army of the Cumberland is on the same road at Red Oak; and that of the Ohio will be to-night at Camp Creek. Enemy has made no serious opposition to our movement.

W. T. SHERMAN,
Major-General.

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HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND,
Near Cook’s House, August 28, 1864.
Major General W. T. SHERMAN,
Commanding Military Division of the Mississippi:

GENERAL: I have General Davis in position on commanding ground, his left resting on the railroad, his line extending south to within a mile of the Jonesborough road, from New Hope or Fairburn. I suppose it runs nearly east and west. General Morgan has a strong picket on that road, and General Davis’s right flank is completely covered by the breaks of the ground and General Morgan’s picket. General Stanley has been ordered to post his pickets on the north of the railroad, his left extending toward Mims’ house, and covering the road by which the troops marched. The trains are getting into position on the right and rear of our position. Major-General Howard is about a mile in rear of our right. Will we march to-morrow, or will we remain here to destroy the railroad? I had almost forgotten to report that General Morgan’s picket officer on the Jonesborough road reports that the woman living on that road at his picket-post says that a considerable body of rebel cavalry had passed there, and that they had informed her that the rebel army was moving toward Jonesborough.

Very respectfully, yours, &c.,
GEO. H. THOMAS,
Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, Commanding.

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HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
In the Field, Red Oak, Ga., August 28, 1864-6.45 p. m.
Major-General THOMAS,
Commanding:

GENERAL: We will remain here to-morrow. I wish the railroad thoroughly destroyed as far forward as possible, and to the rear until you meet General Howard’s troops. Let the destruction be so thorough that not a rail or tie can be used again. My own experience demonstrates the proper method to be: To march a regiment to the road, stack arms, loosen two rails opposite the right and two opposite the left of the regiment, then to heave the whole track, rails and ties, over, breaking it all to pieces, then pile the ties in the nature of crib work and lay the rails over them, then by means of fence rails make a bonfire, and when the rails are red-hot in the middle let men give the rail a twist, which cannot be straightened without machinery. Also fill up some of the cuts with heavy logs and trunks of trees and branches and cover up and fill with dirt. Please give minute instructions on this subject to-night, and have the work commenced as early in the morning as possible, taking proper precaution also to guard against attack on either the working parties or the general position. General Howard has received similar instructions and General Schofield will be moved to your left front.

W. T. SHERMAN,
Major-General, Commanding.

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HEADQUARTERS FOURTH ARMY CORPS,
Near Red Oak Station, Ga., August 28, 1864-11.30 p. m.
Brigadier-General KIMBALL,
First Division, Fourth Army Corps:

GENERAL: The general commanding directs that you readjust your lines to-morrow morning, and build a strong barricade along your front. We will remain in our present position to-morrow. He also directs that you instruct Colonel Taylor to report with his brigade to General Wood to-morrow, to assist him in destroying the track of the Atlanta and West Point Railroad. Have these troops make preparations to perform such duty as soon as rations are issued to them in the morning.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. S. FULLERTON,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

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