By the 25th of July, 1864, the siege of Petersburg continued on, but Union General Grant developed a plan to pester Confederate forces. Two divisions of Federal cavalry, the Second Corps, was sent to the north bank of the James River. Their orders were to tear up railroads and threaten Richmond in any way their hearts desired. Grant’s hope was that Lee would detach some of his forces to drive the cavalry off.
Union cavalry not only tore up track, but they also burned the ties and iron, twisting the bars when hot. The reasoning was that bars simply bent could be re-used, but if they were twisted while red hot, they became usless. The instructions were to “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 become spiral.”
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