Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

For the Ferroequinologists

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on July 30, 2017

A few years ago I happened on this Library of Congress image, and wondered what the implements carried by the man at left were. My guess was that they were handles of some sort for carrying rail. I was on the right track (so to speak), but thanks to a colleague on Facebook, the answer is even more interesting for CW train buffs. It’s described (and this same image included) in Herman Haupt’s memoir:

Other experiments were made on old sidings near Alexandria to determine the best mode of rapidly destroying tracks. The usual mode adopted by the enemy had been to tear up the rails, pile the cross ties, place the rails upon them, set the pile on fire, and bend the rails when heated. I found this mode entirely too slow, as several hours were required to heat the rails sufficiently and, when bent, we could generally straighten them for use in a few minutes, in fact, in less than one-tenth of the time required to heat and bend them.

We had been experimenting for some time with no results that I considered satisfactory, when one day [E. C.] Smeed came into my office with a couple of U-shaped irons in his hands (see illustration on page 111) and exclaimed: “I’ve got it!” “Got what?” I asked. “Got the thing that will tear up track as quickly as you can say ‘Jack Robinson,’ and spoil the rails so that nothing but a rolling mill can ever repair them.”

“That is just what I want,” was my reply; “but how are you to do it with that pair of horseshoes ?”

He explained his plan. The irons were turned up and over at the ends so as firmly to embrace the base of the rail. Into the cavity of the U a stout lever of wood was to be inserted. A rope at the end of the lever would allow half a dozen men to pull upon it and twist the rail. When the lever was pulled down to the ground and held there, another iron was to be placed beside it, and another twist given, then the first iron removed and the process repeated four or five times until a corkscrew twist was given to the rail. After hearing the explanation, I said: “I think it will do; let us go at once and try it.” Smeed’s plan was found to answer perfectly, and the problem of the simplest and quickest mode of destroying track was satisfactorily solved.ā€‹

I don’t know if the men shown are Smeed and Haupt, but I suspect they are.




9 Responses

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  1. Michael Vaughan said, on July 30, 2017 at 8:56 pm


  2. J. B. Richman said, on July 30, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    Here is a link to a picture of Smeed:

    Here is a link to a picture of Haupt:

    I think Smeed is the guy in the top hat, but the officer in uniform is not Haupt.

  3. kbrown2225 said, on July 30, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    That is quite fascinating, Andy. I am still having a little trouble picturing how it works exactly, but still fascinating!

    • Andy Hall said, on July 30, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    • Andy Hall said, on July 30, 2017 at 10:47 pm

      • kbrown2225 said, on July 30, 2017 at 10:49 pm

        Cool, that helps a lot!

        • Andy Hall said, on July 30, 2017 at 10:56 pm

          I have heard elsewhere what Haupt says in his account — that simply bending the rails was not difficult to fix. Twisting them lengthwise, though, and they had to be sent to a mill.

          • J. B. Richman said, on July 30, 2017 at 11:29 pm

            So they were made in to something like a long steel cinnamon twist or a churro! How ingenious!

        • woodrowfan said, on August 8, 2017 at 9:23 am

          indeed, I could not visualize it until this photo. thanks Andy..

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