Confederate Method of Destroying Rail Roads at McCloud Mill, Virginia
Russell made several photographs of the discovery by the Union army of the simple but effective method developed by the Confederates to destroy Union railroad track. Using the ties as fuel, the soldiers stacked the iron rails in X formations and burned them until they could be twisted and made unusable. Federal engineers employed similar tactics to destroy Southern railroads, and this photograph has been published, inaccurately, as “Sherman’s Neckties.” The title refers to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, who during the Atlanta Campaign on July 18, 1864, gave the following explicit order to his corps: “Officers should be instructed that bars simply bent may be used again, but if 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.”
Andrew Joseph Russell (American, 1830–1902)
Hundreds of photographers whose names may never be known made their living following the armies during the Civil War. They worked out in the field tents and traveled at a moment’s notice. Photographers recorded the faces of tens of thousands of soldiers: new recruits and veterans—producing a vast likeness of American society. Many Civil War photographers began their careers as apprentices to Mathew B. Brady, America's self-appointed photographic "historian." Initially, a small corps of photographers copied maps and charts for the Union's Secret Service, which were distributed as photographic prints to both field and division commanders. During the Civil War, most photographers worked with the collodion-on-glass negatives, which required delicate and laborious procedures even in the studio. When the photographer was ready for action, a sheet of glass was cleaned, coated with collodion, partially dried, dipped carefully into a bath containing nitrate of silver, then exposed in the camera for several seconds and processed in the field darkroom tent--all before the silver collodion mixture had dried. Given the danger of their situation and the technical difficulty of their task, front-line photographers rarely if ever attempted action scenes. Civil War photographers produced vast photographic documentation of the Civil War. Despite decades of painstaking research by dedicated historians and Civil War buffs, a large number of the era's photographs remain unidentified.