Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Lost Mill Workers of Roswell

Can you imagine what it would be like to be arrested and deported just because you worked for a company that someone else didn’t like? That’s exactly what happened during the Civil War to women and children who worked for the Roswell Manufacturing Company in the cotton and woolen mills.

Just down from the Visitors Center is Sloan Street Park. At the far end of the park is a ten-foot Corinthian column, shattered at the top to symbolize the lives torn apart by the Civil War tragedy. This monument was erected and dedicated on July 8th, 2000 to the memory of the 400 mill workers, mostly women and children, arrested and charged with treason during the Civil War.

Theophile Roche, a French citizen, had been employed by the cotton mills and later the woolen mill. In an attempt to save the Roswell Manufacturing Company mills during the Union occupation of Roswell, he flew a French flag in hopes of claiming neutrality. However, the letters "CSA" (Confederate States of America) were found on cloth being produced. For two days the mill was spared, but on July 7, 1864 after it was proven that the claim of being neutral was false, General Sherman wrote: “I repeat my orders that you arrest all people, male and female, connected with those factories, no matter what the clamor, and let them foot it, under guard, to Marietta, which I will send them by cars to the North…The poor women will make a howl.”

The nearby cotton mills and woolen mill were destroyed. Mill workers, women, their children, and the few men, most either too young or too old to fight, were rounded up on the square, arrested, and charged with treason. They were transported by wagon to Marietta and imprisoned in the Georgia Military Institute, by then abandoned. Then, with several days' rations, they were loaded into boxcars that proceeded through Chattanooga, Tennessee, and after a stopover in Nashville, Tennessee, headed to Louisville, Kentucky, the final destination for many of the mill workers. Others were sent across the Ohio River to Indiana.

First housed and fed in a Louisville refugee hospital, the women later took what menial jobs and living arrangements could be found. Those in Indiana struggled to survive, many settling near the river, where eventually mills provided employment. Unless husbands had been transported with the women or had been imprisoned nearby, there was little probability of a return to Roswell, so the remaining women began to marry and bear children.

The tragedy, widely publicized at the time, with outrage expressed in northern as well as southern presses, was virtually forgotten over the next century. Only in the 1980s did a few writers begin to research and tell the story. Even then, the individual identities and fates of the women remained unknown.

In the New York Commercial Advertiser, dated September 9, 1864, the editor of the Louisville Journal recalled visiting the prisoners in an article entitled, “Sherman’s Female Captives”: As we ascended the steps, the first object that greeted our eyes was a child full of robust health engaged at play in the hall. Passing the lower apartments, the doors standing wide open, we found, on an average, three double beds in each room and seated around and on the beds, engaged in sewing, and other occupations common to ladies, were women - some with the bloom of eighteen years upon their cheeks and others advanced in years beyond the hey-day of life. . .Some moved about the building in sprightly manner, others with their robes gathered negligently about them, and with all the languor to be found in the invalid, or in the person prone to yield to gloomy thoughts, and grow sad and morose.”

A northern newspaper correspondent reported on the deportation …”only think of it! Four hundred weeping and terrified, Ellens, Susans, and Maggies, transported in springless and seatless army wagons, away from their loves and brothers of the sunny South, and all for the offense of weaving tent-cloth.”

Although the women mill workers were charged with treason, they were never tried for that crime. Shipped north, imprisoned and ordered to declare allegiance, they were eventually released—but without provisions or assistance to get back home. Some of the women would make their way back to Roswell, but what happened to others remains a mystery. We can only speculate. Because many of the women were young, they might have stayed in Indiana, married and settled. Some may have found employment in Indiana mills or other locations. If their fathers, husbands and brothers had been killed in the War, they may have had no reason to try to find their way back to Roswell.

Here are two stories of women that survived the deportation and managed to come back to Georgia:

One of the women involved in this tragedy was pregnant and working as a seamstress at the mill. She was sent north to Chicago and left to fend for herself. It would take five years before she and her daughter would return, on foot, to Roswell. Her soldier husband returned to Roswell after the war. Thinking that his wife must be dead, he remarried before she returned.

Another young woman was just a teenager working in the Roswell Mills with her mother and grandmother. All three were charged with treason and deported. The mother died on the train between Chattanooga and Nashville. The grandmother died on a steamship on the Ohio River, after being carried on board sitting in a rocking chair. The young woman married a Confederate veteran in Louisville, KY. The newlyweds tried to make a new life in Indiana but her health had been ruined by the deportation. A doctor advised that she would not live through another Indiana winter. The couple moved south to Cartersville, GA, back to the South she loved.

Sources: , “Roswell – The Lost Mill Workers of Roswell” monument brochure by The Roswell Mills Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, , , “The Guide to Roswell,” a publication of the Roswell Convention and Visitors Bureau, Caroline Matheny Dillman, The Roswell Mills and a Civil War Tragedy: Excerpts from Days Gone by in Alpharetta and Roswell, Georgia, vol. 1 (Roswell, Ga.: Chattahoochee Press, 1996), Michael Hitt, Historian and author of Charged With Treason.

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