The Civil War equivalents of World War II's "Rosie the Riveters" will be honored here with the dedication of a monument July 8 to the memory of "The Roswell Millworkers."
Unlike their World War II counterparts, however, who mostly returned to home and hearth at war's end, Roswell's mill women were deported en masse from their city after it fell to Sherman's army, and after that they disappeared into the mists of history.
The memorial cost about $6,000 and features a 10-foot-tall Corinthian column of Georgia granite. At its top is an uneven break, meant to symbolize the suffering of the women. On its sides will be inscriptions honoring the men and units from the community that served the Confederacy. A chronology of the women's tribulations also will be included.
The dedication will take place at 10 a.m. in Old Mill Park in Roswell in suburban Atlanta. The public is invited.
The memorial is being funded by donations from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, descendants of the millworkers, civic groups, private citizens, Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes' discretionary fund and the North Fulton Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
"This will be a permanent memorial to the millworkers' legacy," said Phillip Cochran of the Roswell Mills Camp of the SCV.
The story of the Roswell mill women, little known outside Georgia, took place between the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and the battles for Atlanta. The army of Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston had fallen back across the Chattahoochee River, and Sherman was looking for a way to get his army across. He sent the cavalry division of Brig. Gen. Kenner Garrard sweeping eastward back upstream with orders to capture Roswell, which sits on the river's northern bank and was lightly defended by home guardsmen and a few Rebel horsemen.
Despite its tiny size, the town which until the war was known primarily as an upland escape for the aristocracy's elite from coastal Georgia's brutal summers 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.
After easily capturing the town, Garrard turned his attention to the town's woolen mill and cotton mill. He was startled to find a French flag flying atop the woolen mill in what turned out to be a ploy by its Confederate owner to keep it from being destroyed.
The ploy failed.
Garrard, noting no U.S. flag atop the French one, ordered both mills burned to the protests of a French millhand who had been granted temporary ownership of the factory by its Confederate owner a day or two earlier.
Apprised of the situation, Sherman wrote Garrard that "should you, under the impulse of anger, natural at contemplating such perfidy, hang the wretch, I approve the act beforehand."
The millhand, a Frenchman named Theophile Roche, survived.
Sherman then ordered Garrard to arrest all employees of the factory and "let them foot it, under guard" the 10 miles or so to Marietta from where he said he would have them sent north via boxcar to Indiana. Added Sherman, "The poor women will make a howl. Let them take along their children and clothing.
To Gen. Henry Halleck in Washington, Sherman noted that 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 manufacturies, but I will destroy every one of them."
He added the next day, "Whenever the people are in the way, ship them to a new country north and west."
Within days Garrard had transported as many as 700 people, nearly all of them women and children, by wagon to Marietta. Their arrival there made the front pages of the New York newspapers.
By July 15, two whole trainloads of the refugees had been given nine days' rations and sent north.
According to author Webb Garrison, whose book Atlanta and the War is quoted in a brochure printed about the monument by the SCV, "Had the Roswell incident not been followed immediately by major military developments, it might have made a lasting impact upon opinion. In this century, few analysts have given it the emphasis it deserves."
The ultimate fate of the Roswell Women has been a matter of great local conjecture ever since. Some remained in the North, though many others made their way back to Georgia.
At least two SCV members working to establish the monument can trace their ancestry to the mill women.
Wayne Bagley of the Roswell Mills Camp is descended from Adeline Bagley Buice, whose husband was in the Rebel army. Though pregnant, she was sent to Chicago and was unable to return to Georgia with her daughter for five years. By that time, her husband, who thought her dead, had remarried.
Wayne Shelly of the Nathan B. Forrest Camp in Rome, Ga., is the grandson of a millworker. Her mother and grandmother also worked in the Roswell mill and all three were deported. The woman's mother died aboard a train in Tennessee, and her death was followed shortly by that of the grandmother while the group was being transported via steamship up the Ohio River. The old woman had been so feeble that she was carried on board the boat in a rocking chair, according to the SCV's monument brochure.
Interestingly, the female millworkers in the little factory town of New Manchester met a fate similar to that of the Roswell women. New Manchester was on the banks of Sweetwater Creek just across the Chattahoochee due west of Atlanta. But because that town was burned along with the mill and never rebuilt, the tribulations of its women have been generally forgotten.
The Roswell mills were rebuilt, but are no longer in use. Despite its rich Civil War history (Confederate naval agent James Bulloch, uncle of President Teddy Roosevelt, was raised just off the town square) and the presence of antebellum mansions and churches, the memorial to the Roswell Women will be the city's first monument commemorating the war.
Tax-deductible contributions to the monument can be sent to The Roswell Mills Monument Fund, c/o George Thurmond, 120 Cannonade Dr., Alpharetta, GA 30004-4096. For more information about the event, go to: