The devil went down to Georgia
Georgia Mills and the Roswell Women
In July of 1864, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's troops approached Atlanta which would set the stage for a total war against the people of Georgia, commonly called his "March To The Sea." From Atlanta to Savannah, Sherman left a trail of utter destruction behind. He and his bummers stripped the land clean of all resources. What they could not use themselves, they destroyed so that nothing was left for the civilian population in the way of sustaining life.
"On July 2nd, regiments of Union cavalry and infantry arrived at New Manchester, Georgia with the mission to cause destruction to the factories and mills in the area. Former Governor Charles J. McDonald and business partner James Rogers built the mill known as the Sweetwater Manufacturing Company. The mill went into operation on December 21, 1849, and their products rapidly became known throughout the south. In addition to the textile operations, there was a flour and gristmill to the south and a water powered saw mill one mile north. In 1861 the Company contracted with the Confederate Government to produce material for Confederate uniforms. The mill/factory combination was five stories tall, bigger than any building in Atlanta at that time. By 1864 most of the men were fighting in the Confederate Army. The 60 to 70 employees at the mill consisted mostly of women and their children. A small contingent of Militia known as the “Sweetwater Guards”, were stationed at the mill.
On July 5, 1864, Federal General Kenner Garrard's cavalry reached Roswell and finding it undefended, occupied the city. The cotton factory was working up to the time of its destruction, some 400 women being employed. Despite its tiny size, the town had become the center of a thriving textile industry during the war. The cotton mill was cranking out up to 191,000 yards of cloth per month and the woolen mill up to 30,000 yards of "Roswell Gray" uniforms. Each of the mills employed hundreds of women, some of them black.
The Yankee troops were under orders from General Sherman to arrest everyone in the towns, as they are connected to the factory production, and destroy the resources that sustain the mills and the people. Refinements of Confederate militia posted as outlooks spotted the sizeable approaching troops commanded by Colonel Adams and Major Tompkins. Artillery following the Union forces took aim on the mill located on the Sweetwater Creek. The site was terrorizing to the workers, mostly women who posed no threat to the Union soldiers. Henry Lovern and A.C. "Cicero" Tippens who were operating the mill were soon arrested by the Army officers. Guards ordered to escort all the workers home and to put the town on marshal law. In effect they arrested every citizen in the community, and thus closing the mill. Adams and Tompkins told the townspeople that their operation was to protect them from being in harms way when the fighting commenced. They informed the citizens that as soon as wagons could be obtained, they would be transported to a safer location miles to the west.
With the the town under control. the Union troops searched the entire town, taking some property and destroying other property out if spite. Soldiers also broke into a safe attempting to locate valuables. Union patrols were sent to other areas such as Ferguson's Merchant Mill and Alexander's Mill. Tompkins took a sizeable part of his cavalry and moved on to Roswell to confront the operators of the mills there.
The owners of the Roswell Mills learned of the approaching Yankee marauders and in a desperate maneuver they thought might save their property, turned over ownership to Theopholie Roche. Roach was a French citizen, not an American. He chose to fly a French government flag on the property. When asked by Tompkins why he was flying a foreign flag, Roach told him of his citizenship and that his property was under the protection of the French government. Any act against him or the property, was an act of war against France. Tompkins was stumped so he sent word back to the commanding generals. General Sherman became furious when given the news. He is quoted as saying. "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, where I will send them by cars to the North. Should you, under the impulse of anger, natural at contemplating such perfidy, hang the wretch (Roche), I approve the act beforehand!"
Tompkins returned on July 8 New Manchester. He already burnt Roswell Mills and was not ready to carry out Sherman's reiterated orders to level the mills, the town and to make prisoners all the citizens. General Garrard reported to General William T. Sherman on July 6, 1864 that "there were fine factories here, I had the building burnt, all were burnt." Tompkins is quoted as saying to the leaders of the town "You must fix up to go west where you could get provisions, as they intended to destroy everything in this part of the country." On July 9, New Manchester, mills, stores, homes were all burnt by Yankee troops. Next the Federal artillery had its turn at destroying the town. A 300 foot dam that was built to span the creek near the mill was blown apart by cannon fire. The rush of flood waters completed the leveling of the town.
Federal wagons arrived to take the citizen prisoners North to Marietta, rather than to safety in the west as had been promised. There were simply not enough wagons to haul all the citizens away, so the officers ordered the men of the Calvary troop to take on a citizen rider. Of course the soldiers chose the women factory workers to be their riding partners. This kind of close contact between men and women of the period was considered an indecent act. The women protested being subjected to this degradation, but to no avail, they were overpowered by the soldiers. These Georgia women were not only forced to ride in close contact, they were subject to all kinds of other contact, deemed needed by the "guards" It became quite a scene as Calvary fought to pick out their preferred spoil of war. A crude Yankee stated in a letter "It is a very fine sight we don't often see in the army. The employees were all women and they were really good looking." and "We always felt that we had a perfect right to appropriate to our own use anything we needed for our comfort and convenience." One soldier confided to his diary, "My delirium took the form of making love to the women." These conditions hurled at the Confederate soldier's sisters, wives, nieces and mothers whom they had left behind at home. At no time did they conceive of such a dastardly, uncivilized thing happening under the protection of a General Officer's orders. By night some officers had to post their troops a mile north of the female prisoners for fear of loosing all control over them.
The "Factory Hands" or "Roswell Women" as they would be referred to in the Official Records, were gathered from the mill areas in Marietta to link up with rail transportation. The approximately 400-500 females were placed in the Georgia Military Institute building as they had been long since separated from any males in the prisoner group. Union General George Thomas reported to Sherman that "The Roswell Factory hands, 400 or 500 in number, have arrived at Marietta. The most of them are women. I can only order them transportation to Nashville where it seems hard to turn them adrift. What had best be done with them?" Sherman planned to send them via railroad from Marietta thru Nashville with an ultimate destination of Indiana. Remember these women had committed no crime. They were taken prisoner, abused, manhandled, molested, raped and now would be transported hundreds of miles way from their homes. In those days it was rare to travel more than 10 miles or so from home. These battered Georgia women, were in complete terror. Some felt death might be a less cruel fate.
The Roswell woman were transport to Nashville then to Louisville by the Western and Atlantic Railroad. A newspaper documented their arrival "The train which arrived at Louisville from Nashville last evening brought up from the South two hundred and forty-nine women and children, who are sent by order of General Sherman, to be transferred north of the Ohio River, there to remain during the war. We understand that there are now at Nashville fifteen hundred women and children, who are in a very destitute condition, and who are to be sent to Louisville to be sent North. A number of them were engaged in the manufactories at Sweetwater at the time that place was captured by our forces."
Upon this news reaching the North, a New York 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 their 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." Sherman said the women were "tainted with treason and...are as much governed by the rules of war as if in the ranks. … The whole region was devoted to manufactories, but I will destroy every one of them"
Another paper wrote " 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." The women were kept in prison until they signed allegiance to the United States. Those that did sign were released and sent across the Ohio River; those that didn't stayed in prison.
When the war ended and soldiers came home, they found their communities destroyed and their relatives missing. None of the New Manchester women ever returned and only a handful of the men. There were only a few men who could be found that had a first-hand knowledge of the events at New Manchester. One can only wonder what happened to the nearly 400 women that were originally taken prisoner. One husband successfully located his wife in Louisville and brought her home, but this was an exception. Most of the returning Confederate soldiers died never knowing the whereabouts of their wives, sisters, children or cousins. Imagine the fate of those expatriated women. How would they survive, some with children? What acts would they be forced to commit to stay alive? What suffering did they endure and for what crime? This vile act of inhumane transgressions, conceived and condoned by General Sherman, against innocent people of the South has never received atonement. It may be a classic example of why the war scars run deep in the South and the descendants of the Confederate soldiers can not today, let this history be forgotten.
References and Resources:
"Destruction of New Manchester, Georgia: The Story Behind the Ruins at Sweetwater Creek State Park", by Monroe M. King
"North Across the River - A Civil War Trail of Tears" by Ruth Beaumont Cook
"The Lost Cause: The Standard Southern History of the War of the Confederates"," by Edward A. Pollard, Chapter 37
"The Story of the Confederate States" by Joseph T. Derry, Part 3, Section 3, Chapter 3 & 4
"The South Was Right" by James R. Kennedy and Walter D. Kennedy, Chapter 4
"Truths of History" by Mildred L. Rutherford, Chapter 10.
"Reports of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman", Official Records (War of the Rebellion)-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXVIII/1 [S# 72] MAY 1-SEPTEMBER 8, 1864.--The Atlanta (Georgia) Campaign. No. 1.--U.S. Army, commanding Military Division of the Mississippi
Official Records (War of the Rebellion)-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXVIII/5 [S# 76] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN, FROM JULY 1, 1864, TO SEPTEMBER 8, 1864.--#4
Official Records (War of the Rebellion)-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXVIII/5 [S# 76] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN, FROM JULY 1, 1864, TO SEPTEMBER 8, 1864.--#5
John K. McNeill SCV Camp #674
Sherman's March: The First Full-Length Narrative of General William T. Sherman's Devastating March through Georgia and the Carolinas
By Burke Davis
List Price: $16.00
SWR/SHNV Price: $10.88
Sherman's March is the vivid narrative of General William T. Sherman's devastating sweep through Georgia and the Carolinas in the closing days of the Civil War. Weaving together hundreds of eyewitness stories, Burke Davis graphically brings to life the dramatic experiences of the 65,000 Federal troops who plundered their way through the South and those of the anguished -- and often defiant -- Confederate women and men who sought to protect themselves and their family treasures, usually in vain. Dominating these events is the general himself -- "Uncle Billy" to his troops, the devil incarnate to the Southerners he encountered.
"What gives this narrative its unusual richness is the author's collation of hundreds of eyewitness accounts...The actions are described in the words, often picturesque and often eloquent, of those who were there, either as participants -- Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers -- in the fighting and destruction or as victims of Sherman's frank vow to 'make Georgia howl.' Mr. Davis intercuts these scenes with closeups of the chief actors in this nightmarish drama, and he also manages to give us a coherent historical account of the whole episode. A powerful illustration of the proposition put forth in Sherman's most famous remark." -- The New Yorker