The Siege of Roswell

Roswell Mills Machine Shop

It only took thirteen hot July days in 1864 to drastically change life in Roswell.  By this time in the Civil War, most of the men who were of a fighting age were serving in the Confederate army and those families who could afford to had fled to safer locations, taking their valuables with them.

To hasten the end of the war by cutting the Confederacy in two, General William Tecumseh Sherman launched the Atlanta Campaign.  Working his way down from Chattanooga, the two armies faced off at Kennesaw Mountain.  Sherman found that the Confederate forces were too well entrenched so he opted to cut his losses and proceed to Atlanta.  The Chattahoochee River stood between his troops and his target.    Looking for the best place to cross the river, Sherman sent Brigadier General Kenner Garrard and his advance Calvary unit to Roswell to secure the bridge for a river crossing.

Before Garrard’s troops made it to Roswell, the Roswell Guard had burned the bridge over the Chattahoochee to slow down the Union troops.  In addition to that surprise, they found not one but three mills still in operation.  There were two cotton mills making sheeting and rope plus a woolen mill producing “Roswell Grey” – a wool/cotton blend used for Confederate uniforms.

Theophile Roche, a French citizen, had one more surprise for the Union troops.  He hoisted the French flag over the woolen mill and declared it neutral territory.  For two days, the claim of neutrality worked until Union troops entered the mill and inspected the cloth.  Finding “C. S. A.” (Confederate States of America) woven into the border, they knew that his claim wasn’t true.

Sherman ordered Garrard to burn the mills, arrest the 400 mill operatives, mainly women and children, and charge them with treason.  He wrote, “I repeat my orders that you arrest all people, male and female, connected with those factories, no matter what the clamor, and let them foot it, under guard, to Marietta, which I will send them by cars to the North…The poor women will make a howl.”

After serving as housing for upwards of 45,000 Union troops, 6000 horses, and 1000 wagons, there wasn’t much left in the way of food at the end of the occupation.  Mill workers and the mills, themselves, were gone.  The church had been transformed into a field hospital and many of the grand homes housed officers and soldiers during the occupation.  Roswell was changed but not destroyed like many other places along Sherman’s march.

Stay tuned for more blog posts to share other interesting stories about the Civil War and Roswell.

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