The War was raging and General Sherman had begun a scorched earth policy he believed that terrorizing civilians was the best way to destroy the South’s morale and ability to wage war.


In July 1864, approximately 400 mill workers in Georgia – nearly all women, were taken prisoner by the Union Army. They were then put on trains headed North, and few of them ever made their way back home. They would be referred to as the Roswell Women in the Official Records.


The mills employed hundreds of women and young girls, some of them black. The women often brought their children with them to the mills because they had no one to care for them while they worked. Other residents had fled before the Union soldiers arrived, but the mill women remained on the job, producing materials for the Confederate soldiers.


The women and children were given a short time to gather their belongings and then marched out to the Roswell town square where they waited long hours for supply wagons to transport them to Marietta. On their arrival in Marietta, the workers were imprisoned in the abandoned Georgia Military Institute, where they remained for the next week.


From Marietta, the 400 or so Roswell Mill women and children were loaded into boxcars and given several days’ rations, none of them knowing where they were being taken or if they would ever return. They were not given the opportunity to leave messages for their loved ones. By July 15, two trainloads of the refugees had been given nine days’ rations and sent north.


Other Roswell women were taken across the Ohio River into Indiana. The women in Indiana struggled from the beginning, taking whatever work they could find. Many were uneducated and knew nothing but mill work. There was very little possibility that they would ever find their way home. Some eventually made their way back to Georgia.


The atrocities suffered by these women were noted in some newspapers in the North. The New York Tribune, in reporting the women from Roswell had been loaded into wagons and sent to Marietta, wrote:


“Only think of it! Four hundred weeping and terrified Ellens, Susans and Maggies transported, in the springless and seatless army wagons, away from their lovers, and brothers of the sunny south, and all for the offense of weaving tent cloth and spinning stocking yarn.”


The Patriot and Union, a Pennsylvania newspaper, wrote:
…It is hardly conceivable that an officer bearing a United States commission of Major General should have so far forgotten the commonest dictates of decency and humanity… As to drive four hundred penniless girls hundreds of miles away from their homes and friends to seek livelihood amid strange and hostile people. We repeat our earnest hope that further information may redeem the name of General Sherman and our own from this frightful disgrace.


Indiana’s “New Albany ledger” wrote sympathetically of the refugees’ plight; describing them as “thinly clad,” living in “hovels,” with some dying from starvation or exposure.


Mary Petite’s book, “The Women will Howl,” gives an account of the workers fate. Some died of freezing and starvation on the banks of the Ohio River; many gave children up for adoption to keep them from starving. Requests by local agencies for assistance from the Federal government were denied.


A similar fate befell approximately 300 millworkers of the neighboring New Manchester Mill on Sweetwater Creek. Arrested women workers were allowed to bring their children. Male workers arrested were mostly too young or too old to fight in the war.




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May 20, 2014 post