"They [Roswell mills] were very valuable and were burned by my
order. They have been engaged almost exclusively in manufacturing
cloth for the Confederate Army, and you will observe they were transferred
to the English and French flags for safety, but such nonsense cannot
deceive me. They were tainted with treason, and such fictitious transfer
was an aggravation. I will send all the owners, agents and employees
up to Indiana to get rid of them there. . . . "
-Gen. William T. Sherman in a July 1864 letter to Maj. Gen. H.H.
Halleck in Washington.
Thus began Roswell's most enduring mystery, the fate of some
400 millworkers - mostly women and children - who were charged with
treason and shipped North by Union Gen. William T. Sherman's forces
as they advanced on Atlanta.
"They kind of dropped off the face of the Earth," said Sue Lewis
of the Roswell Historical Society. "All I know is what I've heard,
and that is that nobody knows what became of them."
So intriguing is the legend that author Frances Statham based
her book, "Roswell Women," loosely on events surrounding the disappearance
of the millworkers. The fictionalized account tells what could have
happened to some after they boarded trains in Marietta under heavy
Local historian Michael Hitt, not satisfied with fiction, set
out eight years ago to unravel the myth.
He followed the train's route through Chattanooga, Nashville
and to its destination, Louisville, Ky., where he dug into historical
records, government documents, libraries, diaries and newspaper articles
of the period.
About 17 workers made it back to Roswell to resume work in the
rebuilt mills after the war. Others likely returned to the area but
don't show up on the 1870 Roswell census.
A few never boarded the trains in Marietta but were hired by
local families. Most were detained in a Louisville hospital converted
into a women's prison and eventually found employment, some as servants
and seamstresses to replace freed slaves.
Mr. Hitt's just-published book, "Charged With Treason," tells
of a visit from a reporter with the Elk Horn Independent to Roswell
Mill employees at the Louisville prison.
He wrote: "Were they less arrogant and brazen-faced, I should
pity them. They uttered loud and bitter curses on General Sherman."
Some of the workers migrated to Indianapolis and other points
north of the Ohio River to work in mills.
Because they were uneducated and illiterate, the millworkers
wrote no letters home and left few clues as to their whereabouts.
"Who would they write to? No one was left. The men had joined
the Roswell Battalion and had left town to battle Sherman's forces,
" Mr. Hitt said.
Because they were millworkers and their fates were deemed of
little importance in the war, few government records tracked their
"These weren't members of Roswell's upper crust who might have
formed a club or society for the survivors of the ordeal after their
return," said Mr. Hitt, a Roswell police officer. "Most of their stories
were handed down in their families and eventually died out."
Copyright 1992, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, All rights reserved.
By Diane R. Stepp STAFF WRITER, Roswell Civil War mystery unraveled in book about missing millworkers., 01-23-1992, pp E/06.