I lived in Roswell for many years and am well versed in its history. Of particular interest to me has always been this story of the Roswell Mills and the deportation of the Roswell Mill women in July 1864. Here is the story.
History of the Roswell Mills
The largest mill in northern Georgia, Ivy Mills and Laurel Mills Manufacturing Co. was founded in the 1850s, by brothers Thomas Edward King and James Roswell King in Roswell. The mills turned out woolen and cotton goods. The company gained fame for a wool blend known as Roswell Grey, which was used to make Confederate uniforms. The Chattahoochee River once flowed directly in front of the mill but sediment deposits now separate the mill ruins from the river.
Gen. Sherman and the mills
The founding families of Roswell were aristocrats. Most of them were owners and stockholders of the Roswell Manufacturing Co. mills. The rest of the citizens were mill workers and their families.
On July 5, 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman wanted to find a way to cross the Chattahoochee River and gain access to Atlanta. As his Union forces approached Atlanta, the founding families and the Roswell Manufacturing stockholders had long since fled to the Georgia coast. The mills continued to operate, manufacturing much needed military supplies such as rope, canvas and tent cloth.
Ivy Mills and Laurel Mills Manufacturing Co. employed 400 women who ran the mills while the men were gone to war. They went to work every day at the mills and took their children with them. Brigadier Gen. Kenner Garrard’s cavalry began the Union’s 12-day occupation of Roswell. The town was undefended.
Theophile Roche, a French citizen, lived in the Roswell Mill village and was employed by the cotton mills, and later the woolen mill. Before the owners fled Roswell for the Georgia coast, they gave Roche temporary ownership of the mills.
He attempted to save the Roswell Manufacturing Co. from the Yankees during the occupation of Roswell by flying the French flag over the mills. He did so in hopes of claiming neutrality. This was critical to saving the town of Roswell and the citizens, because that mill was their only means of support.
Gen. Garrard encountered the French flag flying over the mills and subsequently discovered the letters CSA on the cloth being produced by the Roswell mills. That stood for Confederate States of America.
He reported to Gen. Sherman that the Roswell Mills were not neutral but were Confederate owned, and that he burned the mills. Sherman deemed the women guilty of treason because they assisted the enemy in providing uniforms and tents. So enraged was Sherman, on receipt of Gen. Garrard’s report, he ordered the women arrested for treason.
Deporting the Roswell women
The women, and the men who were either too young or too old to fight, were transported to the Georgia Military Institute in Marietta. The women and children rode to Marietta in military wagons. Those wagons had no seats and no springs. The women’s arrival made the front page of the newspapers in New York City.
The rest of Sherman’s orders were staged at the Georgia Military Institute, which had been abandoned since the beginning of the war. The men, women and children were subsequently loaded into boxcars and transported to Chattanooga, Louisville, Indiana, and Ohio to uncertain fates.
By July 15, having been given nine days’ rations, two whole trainloads of the helpless refugees were sent north — most never to be heard from again.
The tragedy, widely publicized at the time — with outrage expressed in northern as well as southern presses — was virtually forgotten over the next century. The individual identities and fates of the women remained unknown.
When Sherman sent the Roswell Mill women to northern cities, he didn’t care that they had no way of supporting themselves when they arrived. The Roswell Mill women were refugees and they were a burden on those northern cities, and Sherman did not care about that either.
The story of the Roswell women haunts me. I wonder what happened to them and so I am researching this story. Said research will hopefully culminate in locating the women’s descendants and learning what happened to the Roswell Mill women.