Tuesday, June 30, 2009
OHP BOOK REVIEW ON THE WOMEN WILL HOWEL BY MARY DEBORAH PETITE
Non-fiction, pictures, appendix, notes, bibliography, index, 189 pp., 2008. McFarland & Co, Inc., Publishers, Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640. $45 plus shipping and handling.
Mystery and intrigue surround the events that take place in July 1864 in Roswell and New Manchester, Georgia. Innocent mill workers, predominately women and children, go to work as usual, only to be arrested for treason by the Union army as they invade their villages. The mills they are employed by manufacture items for the Confederate Government. In the eyes of Union General Sherman, their way of making a living is considered sedition, so he ordered their arrest and deportation to “north of the Ohio River.” “The Women Will Howell”, The Union Army Capture of Roswell and New Manchester, Georgia, and the Forced Relocation of Mill Workers gives a comprehensive study of this ambiguous subject.
Author Mary Deborah Petite first gives the reader a preview of Roswell King, founder of Roswell, and the “Roswell royalty,” who help create the colony from the wilderness to a thriving mill town. The creation of Roswell Mills brings in people from South Georgia and South Carolina to hone out a living for their families. Ms. Petite provides the background for Roswell to help the reader better understand the dynamics of the situation and people.
On the eve of Sherman’s march, inhabitants of Georgia are preparing for the worse. “Time after time we had been told of the severity of General Sherman, until we came to dread his approach as (one) would that of a mighty hurricane which sweeps all before it caring naught for justice or humanity,” sates Mary Rawlson of Atlanta. “It is sad to witness the fearful suffering of the people, particularly the women and children, in those parts of Georgia through which we (the Union) campaigned… I am sorry to say that our men often wantonly burned down the houses, destroyed the contents, and drove forth their inmates, houseless, homeless, starving outcasts, to perish of cold and hunger,” per David Conyngham, Sherman’s aide-de-camp. Even with all of this, the residents of Roswell, especially the poor, working class, did not expect what was about to happen next.
In a play by play account, Ms. Petite gives a report of what takes place when the Union army enters Roswell to the burning of the mills. She includes actual orders when available, but also relies on personal accounts. At this point, the facts are detailed and abundant. However, once the mills are burned, Sherman claims that the mill workers were “tainted with treason,” and orders the arrest of “all people, male and female, connected with those factories.” The morning after the mills are torched, General Kenner Garrand’s troops begin gathering the employees of the mill.
At this point the information trail gets vague and elusive. The number of women and children that were apprehended is unclear. The most common number is 400, but it is unsure if this is accurate. With only the items they can carry, the women are placed into holding to be transported by supply wagons to Marietta. It is uncertain how long it took to move the prisoners, but it is certain that some females were present that night when allegedly Union soldiers took advantage of them. “The hideousness of war breeds atrocities and tales of atrocities. The strength with which these stories persist through the years in the county necessitates mention of them,” writes Ms. Petite.
Within days of each other, Sweetwater Mills in New Manchester received similar treatment as the mills in Roswell. The main difference is that many of the prisoners had to walk to Marietta due of the lack of supply wagons to carry them. It is estimated that the number of captives was between 150 and 200. Again it is unsure how exact these figures are.
Once the captives arrived in Marietta, they are sent by rail to Nashville, Tennessee in the middle of July. From there they are transported to Louisville, Kentucky, which was already at capacity with refugees. “Although Sherman ordered the arrest of the women, formal charges were never issued, and no evidence has been found that any official record was made of their transportation or of their confinement at any point from Marietta to Louisville. The women and children were confined against their will and held under guard but appear to have been treated much the same as refugees in all other respects,” asserts Ms. Petite.
A hospital in Louisville was converted into a refugee prison for the detainees; however, it lacked heat, water and other necessities to house such large numbers. The living conditions deteriorated day by day. “Old men, women and children huddled together in barracks with no provision for comfort. While many were sick and filled with despair, large numbers were dying and hurried to ‘rude unknown graves,’” depicts Ms. Petite. The Sisterhood of Nuns of Nazareth in Bardstown, Kentucky, took some of the children, and others were given to families throughout the country side.
Sherman’s goal was to have all prisoners sent “north of the Ohio River.” While some were able to find employment in Louisville, there were those that were too infirmed to travel or had died. “History has recorded but a few of the names of the women and children who arrived in Indiana from Roswell and New Manchester.” With no written record, it is hard to research and ascertain which women remained where. Those who did arrive across the border of Indiana faced hardships as bad if not worse than that in Louisville.
Without a way to provide for themselves, the women and children improvised by making shacks in the woods or got permission from the locals to live in old stables, barns or other structures to shelter them from the cold of a Northern winter. “In one or two instances, children have been found dead in the woods, actually starved or frozen to death,” reports The New Albany Ledger. Other tragic deaths are reported by this newspaper, revealing the horrors that these displaced women and children faced daily.
It is unknown how many people survived these travesties. Only a few accounts can be found of women who remained up north or traveled back to Georgia, mainly due to the fact that these women were illiterate. Sadly, the “Roswell Royalty” returned to their homes and were not concerned about “those people” who were beneath them. They blamed their ransacked homes on them, and looked at them with disgust, forgetting that the Union army was to blamet. Had the women made their way back to their home, it was certain that there would be no jobs for them.
The title of this publication is taken from a correspondence from Sherman to Garrand, “The women will howl.” Unfortunately, his words came true. Ms. Petite uses primary sources, even though they were hard to obtain. She gives as detailed account as possible, exploring possible clues from family oral histories. It is important to note that majority of the manuscript focuses on Roswell. This moving book investigates the atrocities committed on women and children by the Union army are likely the best comprehensive study of this subject matter.
Written by Cassie A. Barrow