Roswell remembers lost millworkers 150 years later

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“Roswell remembers” is what they say about the city’s annual Memorial Day service, which by all accounts is the largest service in the state.

But on Saturday and Sunday, July 12 and13, Roswell proposes to remember when the war was not in foreign lands but here at the city gates.

Georgia is celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and for Roswell, it came in July 1864 when Gen. William T. Sherman’s troops marched in to occupy Roswell and burn its mills to deny the Confederacy the benefit of its looms.

But the most heart-wrenching chapter for Roswell during that war was that of the Lost Women of Roswell.

On Sloan Street just off the Roswell Square stands a memorial to one of the most tragic chapters of Roswell history.

On July 10, 1864, more than 400 mill workers of the Roswell Manufacturing Co. were rounded up by occupying Union soldiers. These workers, mostly women, children and a few disabled Confederate veterans, had just lost their livelihood, and now they faced an uncertain future at the hands of these "Northern invaders."

Union Gen. Kenner Garrard reported higher up the chain of command that he was holding around 400 mill workers living in the city, mostly in the mill houses that still encircle Sloan Street today.

Gen. Sherman summarily declared the workers guilty of treason and without trial gave orders to transport them out of the region.

So it was under a hot July sun in 1864 that these 400 workers were marched off 13 miles to Marietta and boarded boxcars to be shipped away like so much cattle. They had no destination. They were simply taken north and summarily abandoned when federal troops had other uses for their train.

They ended up in Kentucky and Indiana and were just turned loose. Most were never heard from again. It is known that many died on the trip, how many are known only to God. Fifteen-year-old Lucinda Elizabeth Wood Shelly, was among them with her mother and grandmother.

All of them worked at the mill and were sent by wagon to Marietta, by train to Tennessee and by boat to Louisville, Kentucky. Only Lucinda survived the trip. Eventually, she made it back to relatives in Kentucky, where she met an ex-Confederate from Roswell who married her and took her back to Georgia.

The sacrifice of the mill workers is memorialized today with the monument in Sloan Street Park in Roswell's Historic District erected at a cost of $20,000 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Roswell Mills Camp 1547, who also honor those lost women with their camp name.

The Georgia Civil War Commission is marking the historical events as they occurred during Georgia's 4-year sesquicentennial remembrance of the of the Civil War. In Roswell there were no great battles fought there. There is only the remembrance of the misery visited even unto the civilians during the war.

So next weekend, July 12 and 13, Roswell will remember them Saturday and Sunday with re-enactors serving as Union soldiers who occupy Roswell in an encampment Barrington Hall at the corner of Atlanta Street and Marietta Highway (Ga. 9 and Ga. 120). Then they will re-enact the arrest of the women to deny the South their service.

Each day the re-enactments are from 1 to 3 p.m.

There was no glory in Roswell, only misery. The mills were left burned by the Yankees, and bridge over the Chattahoochee burned by the Rebs to deny the Federals its use and keep them on the wrong side of the Chattahoochee.

It being a warm July summer, the Federals simply waded through a shallow Chattahoochee later.

So why then should we take note and attend? Because this is our history – not Northern, not Southern but American. It settled the question of are we one country or a federation of states. It settled the question of whether we are truly a free country or one of slavery.

We attend this recreation of those days to remember the price paid during that civil war.

So I will be there to pay tribute to that sacrifice and to ponder the folly of all wars.

What: The Federal Occupation of Roswell re-enactment

When: 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sat.-Sun. July 12 and 13

Where: Barrington Hall and Roswell Town Square, 535 Barrington Drive, Roswell, GA 30075

Info: www.southerntrilogy.com

RN 07-09-14