Ruined lives 

Gen. Sherman and the mystery of the Roswell Mill women

Page 2 of 3

To Garrard himself, Sherman was more explicit: "Arrest all people, male and female connected with these factories, no matter what the clamor, and let them foot it, under guard, to Marietta, then I will send them by (railroad) cars to the North."

Whereupon hundreds of female mill hands, as well as children whose fathers were off fighting the war, made a harsh nine-day trek by rail to the Ohio River, thence across by boat into Kentucky and Indiana. Several died along the way. Most made a new life up North. A few came back South after the war, including Adeline Bagley Buice.

Pregnant at the time Sherman's men arrived in Roswell, her husband fighting with the Confederate army, she was a mill seamstress who made her way to Chicago after the deportations. Five years later, she returned, on foot, to Roswell with her daughter, only to find that her husband, also back but believing her dead, had remarried.

Buice's woeful history is documented, and her Forsyth County grave is tended by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. But the majority of mill women were never heard from again. The mystery of their fate persists to this day, although researchers still labor to locate descendants.

Sherman on the couch
Why was Sherman so particularly vindictive in the Roswell Mills case?

"Had the usual attitudes prevailed, the destruction of the industrial complex would have ended the matter," observes Webb Garrison, former associate dean of Emory University, in his book Atlanta and the War. "That it did not was due to the temperament and inclination of the man."

The persona of that man, Sherman, had been sharply etched in childhood by the death of his father and separation from his mother. The dual Freudian calamities bred what one Sherman biographer has termed a "passion for order" and a fierce hatred for disunity -- the kind wrought on the American Union, the American family, by secession.

Strange to relate, Sherman had strong and emotional ties to the South. Before the war, he served as superintendent of the Louisiana Military Seminary. He counted as personal friends P.G.T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg, both of whom would lead Confederate armies, and wept as he took his leave of the cadets.

What's more, Sherman was pro-slavery, or at least not terribly troubled about the South's "peculiar institution." Preserving the Union set him against the region for which he professed so much affection.

But, as the songwriter said, you always hurt the one you love.

An evolving strategy
As Southern states left the Union, Sherman, predicting "civil war, anarchy and ruin," went back North. Throughout the secession winter of 1860-61, and after South Carolina's attack on Fort Sumter that April, he despaired of Federal resolve.

"You politicians have got things in a hell of a fix," he grumbled to his brother John, U.S. senator from their native Ohio. "And you may get them out as best you can."

By late 1861 Sherman, now an Army general, was said to be on the verge of a breakdown. Successive Federal losses had severely unnerved him. "Our government is destroyed," he lamented. "And no human power can restore it."

Sherman called for hundreds of thousands of additional troops to suppress the rebellion, this at a time when cocksure Yankees were still confidently predicting swift Confederate defeat. Northern newspapers declared Sherman insane, and he was temporarily relieved of command.

But as the Union cause saw bloody reality and dug in for the long haul, Sherman's foresight -- plus his skill at soldiering -- saw him back in command. He prosecuted the war to the utmost, believing that Southern civilian morale, as well as Confederate military strength, had to be broken if the war was ever to end.

"We are not only fighting hostile armies," he wrote, "but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hand of war ... The entire South, man, woman and child, is against us, armed and determined."

In the summer of 1864, Union forces were stalemated on several fronts, so Sherman's natural impatience was exacerbated further by the time his forces neared Atlanta. The fighting had been particularly hard at Kennesaw Mountain, where 3,000 Federal casualties (versus 800 Confederate) dissuaded him from further frontal assaults.

In view of all that, the "total war" tactics he practiced in Georgia were entirely in keeping with his Hobbesian ideas about armed conflict. The more nasty and brutish the struggle, the shorter the war.

So Sherman's men burned houses, reduced grand pianos to kindling and stripped Southern mansions of their Old World finery. His troops were "a power, and I intended to utilize it ... to humble [Southerners'] pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and to make them fear and dread us."


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