Remembering the ‘Lost Mill Workers of Roswell’

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ROSWELL, Ga. – One hundred and fifty years ago on July 5, 1864, Union Gen. Kenner Garrard rode into Roswell with his cavalry and discovered the town was not defended. Most of the men in Roswell were fighting in other parts of the Confederacy, leaving old men and young boys to face a plethora of Union troops. Those defenders retreated across the Chattahoochee and tried to burn as many bridges as possible.

Garrard found 400 workers, primarily women and children, working in the Roswell Manufacturing Company turning out cotton cloth, rope and yarn and the Ivy Mill providing wool material for uniforms known as “Roswell Grey.”

The Union general burned the mills and informed Gen. William T. Sherman that the workers were still in Roswell.

Sherman gave Garrard the order to arrest the mill workers for treason and send them to Marietta for deportation and reported his decision to Washington. Gerrard asked the general to clarify his order.

“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, whence I will send them by cars to the North...The poor women will make a howl. Let them take along their children and clothing, providing they have the means of hauling, or you can spare them.”

On July 9, wagons began transporting them to Marietta. There they were joined by workers from the similarly destroyed New Manchester Mills – the ruins are located in Sweetwater State Park. The workers and their families were put into railroad cars and were carried north, via Nashville, to Louisville, Kentucky, from whence they were dispersed into Indiana and surrounding areas, without jobs or means of support.

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

Most of those exiled from Roswell never returned. Although some came back to Georgia, many remained in Kentucky and Indiana. Lack of records has made tracing them difficult, and only through family stories do we know the fate of a few. The rest have become “The Lost Mill Workers of Roswell.”

In 2000, the Sons of Confederate Veterans Roswell Mills Camp erected a memorial to these “Lost Mill Workers” located at Old Mill Park on Sloan Street in Roswell. The Roswell Mills Camp will honor the memory of those lost workers with a wreath laying ceremony at the Sloan Street monument at 9 a.m. June 28. The general public is invited to participate.

The main speaker for the ceremony will be the Honorable Martin O’Toole. A graduate of the University of Georgia and the Georgia State University Law School, O’Toole is a partner in Griffin & O’Toole in Marietta. He is a member and past commander of the Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk SCV Camp No. 1446, in Smyrna, and has served as the parliamentarian and division judge advocate general for the Georgia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

RN 06-12-14