While Atlanta has been my home most of my life, I wasn’t born here. When we arrived, that was immediately apparent to others from the way we spoke and my ignorance about certain important historic events. To be more precise, I mean the Civil War. Also known as the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression. Take your pick.
At the tender age of five, I knew nothing about Sherman’s famous March to the Sea, the Stars and Bars or even Gone With the Wind. But when kids would ask me where I was from and I said Ohio, there would be a pause before they nodded and said, “Oh, you’re a Yankee.” They were kind enough to leave out the “d” word that often goes with it.
The only Yankee I knew about at the time was Yankee Doodle Dandy. But I soon learned that while the folks where I came from had moved on after the Civil War, many in the South had not. And some still haven’t.
I can happily report that my family was warmly accepted by our Southern neighbors, despite our Yankee origins. I grew to love living here, the kindness of the people and more relaxed way of life. Now that Atlanta is made up of more transplants than natives, newcomers are not a curiosity like we were back then. But Atlanta’s Civil War history still lingers in the background.
A few weeks ago, my friend Sherri and I were hunting for graves at a church cemetery in Forsyth County. It was hot, humid and the bugs were driving us crazy. But when we found a small headstone tucked away on the hillside, we forgot all about that.
The simple monument for Adeline Bagley Buice has a powerful inscription: “Roswell Mill Worker Caught and Exiled to Chicago by Yankee Army 1864 – Returned on Foot 1869″.
Needless to say, we were stunned. And the story just got better from there.
Adeline Bagley Buice was one of about 400 women working in the Roswell mills (two for cotton, one for woolens) in 1864. Her husband, Joshua Buice, was away serving in the Confederate Army. Despite the fact most of the more well-to-do residents of Roswell had fled in fear of the Union Army’s impending arrival, these women remained at their jobs. You can visit the ruins of those mills even today.
On July 5, 1864, seeking a way to cross the Chattahoochee River and get access to Atlanta, Brigadier General Kenner Garrard’s cavalry began the Union’s 12-day occupation of Roswell, which was undefended. Garrard reported to Major General William T. Sherman that he had discovered the mills in full operation and proceeded to destroy them because the cloth was being used to make Confederate uniforms. Sherman replied that the destruction of the mills “meets my entire approval.”
Sherman then ordered that the mill owners and employees be arrested and charged with treason, an action that puzzles historians to this day. He said, “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, whence I will send them by [railroad] cars, to the North. . . . Let them [the women] take along their children and clothing, providing they have a means of hauling or you can spare them.”
The women, their children, and the few men, most either too young or too old to fight, were sent by wagon to Marietta and imprisoned in the abandoned Georgia Military Institute. Soon after, with several days’ rations, they were loaded into boxcars that proceeded through Chattanooga, Tenn., and after a stopover in Nashville, headed to Louisville, Ky., the final destination for many of the mill workers. Others were sent across the Ohio River to Indiana.
First housed and fed in a Louisville refugee hospital, the women later took what menial jobs and living arrangements they could find. Those in Indiana struggled to survive, many settling near the river, where eventually mills provided employment. Penniless, some of them resorted to prostitution. Unless husbands had been transported with the women or had been imprisoned nearby, there was little probability of a return to Roswell. Some of the remaining women began to marry and bear children.
Adeline, who was heavily pregnant when she and her co-workers were arrested, was among those shipped North. She made her way to Chicago and in August, she gave birth to a daughter she named Mary Ann. Over the next five years, Adeline and Mary made their way home to Georgia, mostly on foot. It’s a journey I cannot fathom. Many of her fellow mill workers never made it back.
Adeline and Mary’s return was quite a shock to her husband, Joshua, who had long since come back from the battlefield. Thinking Adeline was dead, he reportedly remarried. I don’t know how that delicate situation played itself out. In 1867, Adeline had given birth to a son, John Henry. Someone wrote to me recently who said this must have happened during her journey home. While John Henry only lived to the age of 15, his tenacious sister Mary Ann lived to be 88. My guess is that Joshua accepted John Henry as his own and the reunited family went on from there.
In 1998, the Roswell Mills Camp No. 1547 chapter of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans began a project to honor the deported mill workers. While some descendants were found, most of their deported ancestors had settled in the North. In July 2000, the project culminated in a ceremonial event highlighted by the unveiling of a memorial monument in Roswell’s mill village park to commemorate the sacrifices of the mill workers and to honor the 400 women.
It’s hard for me to reconcile the atrocity of slavery practiced by wealthy Southern plantation owners with the equally heinous treatment by Union forces of these innocent women taken from their homes, and sent North for no good reason. It serves as a lesson to us even now, both sides in a war can commit great wrongs.
I like to think Adeline’s determination to return home to her husband transcends North and South, and is a testament to what a person can do when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds.
Even a Yankee like me can salute that kind of courage.