I can attest to the fact that pages of historic novels are literally and certainly stained with tear drops. Who hasn't shed tears with the sadness of generations past as presented by gifted writers who set their characters in times and places and situations that were left out of history textbooks?
A few years ago, I discovered a piece of local history by-way-of two novels that told an unbelievable story set in Roswell during the Civil War. I grew up in Dalton amidst battlegrounds and statues. The folly of youth left me in ignorance of the significance of all that had happened in my hometown during "The Great Sadness." I must have assumed that all towns had statues of generals. I was slow in coming to a realization of the magnitude of it all.
Years later, when a close friend told me about her great-grandfather's hanging on the lawn of the Whitfield County Courthouse, I was dumbfounded that her family had felt shame and did not willingly pass along the story. Later, I shed a few tears upon seeing a copy of my own ancestor's application for a Confederate veteran pension. The questions on the form were blatantly degrading. My heart broke for him in his despair.
But the Roswell story is quite another matter. In a news item from July 2000, Editorial Page Editor Joe Kirby announced the planned dedication of a monument in Roswell commemorating the female mill workers who met a heart-wrenching fate at the hands of Union General Sherman in July of 1864.
Kirby writes that Sherman, in looking for a way to get his army across the Chattahoochee and thus into Atlanta, sent General Garrard back upstream with orders to capture Roswell, which he did. Garrard's July 6 report to Sherman, as told by Atlanta historian Webb Garrison, confirmed, "there were fine factories here. I had the building burnt, all were burnt. The cotton factory was working up to the time of its destruction, some 400 women being employed."
The gory story continues through Sherman's messages. He ordered Garrard to arrest all employees of the factory and "let them foot it, under guard, to Marietta. Then I will send them by (rail) cars to the North... The poor women will make a howl. Let them take along their children and clothing." He informed his superiors in Washington of his actions: "I have ordered General Garrard to arrest for treason all owners and employees, foreign and native (of the Roswell Mills), and send them under guard to Marietta, whence I will send them North."
He further 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."
Northern newspapers reported the deportation. Even they were in sympathy. The nightmare of so many penniless young women, uprooted from their families, loaded in boxcars, given nine day's food rations, and shipped north, never to be heard from again, seemed as tragic as the deaths of their men-folk on the battle fields. To Sherman, it must have seemed necessary to halt production of the cotton tent cloth and the Roswell gray wool for Confederate uniforms. After all, it was war. But to accuse the women of treason and capture them as prisoners of war? Unfathomable.
The whole story begs to be told. So in 1987, Georgia author Frances Patton Statham gave us a fictionalized account of the event, telling the story through the eyes of four women who band together for survival after being uprooted from their homes and families. "The Roswell Women" was followed by a sequel, "The Roswell Legacy." Both books have been reissued, and the author is planning a visit to Woodstock on Saturday. She will be the speaker at the monthly Main Street Sessions program, and will have the books to be purchased and signed.
She talks of the tragedy in a press release. "The disappearance of the Roswell women is cloaked in mystery. Old military diaries with conflicting stories, orders written by Gen. Sherman in the field, newspaper reports by Northern war correspondents... and advertisements sanctioned by a provost marshal, offering them as bond servants, are only bits of a puzzle waiting for completion. The women's voices are still silent, for history has turned up no personal accounts written by the women themselves."
Ms. Statham was present at the dedication of the monument, a 10-foot-tall Corinthian column of Georgia granite, a permanent memorial to the mill workers' legacy. "It is my hope," she says, "that by telling this story of one little-known event of 1864, I have made readers aware of a continuing tragedy throughout history - of countless numbers of women and children caught in the corridors of war."
Don't miss this program. Ms. Statham is an award-winning author, musician, artist, and lecturer. Her works include 15 historical novels and one nonfiction book. She continues to write, and is active in the Atlanta Branch of the National League of American Pen Women.
Main Street Sessions are held each third Saturday at 1 p.m. at Dean's Store, 8588 Main St., Woodstock. For more information, call the store at (770) 924-0406.
Juanita Hughes is the retired manager of the Woodstock Public Library.