In honor of Pvt. Nathan R. Oakes, CSA

150 years ago, my great grandfather, Nathan Richardson Oakes, served as a private in Company D of the distinguished 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in the Army of Tennessee. He participated in the great Civil War campaigns, including the battles of Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, and Bentonville. I am writing about his engagements as well as some details about fighting for the Lost Cause. I hope to honor him and commemorate the events and individuals that contributed to making this a renowned unit in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The other Roswell incident | The tragedy of the Roswell Mill Women

Having suffered a defeat at the hands of the Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864, Union Gen. William T. Sherman renewed his pursuit of the Confederate army to the banks of the Chattahoochee River. Rather than attacking Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's strong position there, he sought another way to take Atlanta. By July 5th, Sherman took Roswell, an important crossing to the north of Johnston's position. He was surprised to find that he had also captured several textiles mills which were operating in support of the Confederate nation. These he ordered burned.

But he wasn't satisfied with destroying property only. On today's date in 1864, Sherman ordered everyone connected with the Roswell mills to be charged with treason against the United States. Among the civilian captives were over 400 women and their children. These were rounded up on the square where they were held for a day before being sent to the Georgia Military Institute in Marietta, recently captured by Sherman's invading army. 

There, the victims were housed with others rounded up from other mills in the area. What Sherman ordered next was one of his great war atrocities. However, it is one which is often overlooked in the history of that conflict. In Sherman's own words recorded in the Official Records:
I repeat my orders that you will 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 a means of hauling or you can spare them."
From Marietta, Sherman ordered the captives—mostly women with some children and a few men either too old or young to be soldiers—to be herded onto boxcars bound for Northern states. Given only a few days' rations, the heartbroken women were shipped through Chattanooga, and after a stopover in Nashville, they were transported to Louisville, the final destination for many of them. The rest were sent further to Indiana and put off the train just north of the Ohio River.

The victims in Louisville were first housed in a refugee camp. Later they took what menial jobs and living arrangements that could be found. Those who were abandoned in Indiana struggled to survive. Many settled near the river where eventually they found familiar work in the mills. Unless husbands had been transported with the women or had been imprisoned nearby, few had any hope of ever returning to Georgia. Eventually, many of the surviving deportees married local men and raised families, never reuniting with loved ones back home. Deprived of financial support, few ever made it back to Roswell. For most, their fate remains a mystery.

Sherman's detestable treatment of these women shocked decent people on both sides of the war. If it were not for a series of quick successes in the Atlanta Campaign, public opinion may well have gone entirely against him. As it happened, Atlanta fell by Summer's end, and the tragic exile of the Roswell Women was forgotten.

Source: Civil War Women
Until 1988. That year the Roswell Mills Camp No. 1547, Sons of the Confederate Veterans, began a project to identify the victims and locate their descendants. Intensive advertising and research led to the location of many of the progeny, and most of the mill workers were finally identified.

Today, a monument stands near the Roswell Town Square dedicated to the memory of the 400 exiled Roswell Mill Workers.


The Roswell Mill Workers Monument is a 10-foot Corinthian column, shattered at the top to symbolize the lives torn apart by Sherman's spiteful order of July 7, 1864. It was dedicated in 2000, by the Roswell Mills Camp 1547, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia; Civil War Women; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 5

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