In order to experience a part of Marietta history, about 70 women and children walked more than half a mile Saturday to commemorate the forced removal of hundreds of mill workers 150 years ago in the March of the Women and Children.
In 1864, more than 400 women and children — and some men — who worked at the Roswell Mill and Sweetwater Manufacturing Company were arrested for treason and sent north during Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s march through Marietta.
“They were here making goods in these mills for these Confederate soldiers,” said Linda Jones, a Civil War re-enactor from Ball Ground.
“They were trying to provide a way of life and keep their homefront going while their husbands and families were away at war. And they were arrested for that,” Jones added.
When Sherman arrived in the area during his march through the state to Savannah, he discovered the mills were operational and helping the Confederate War effort. He ordered the workers to be arrested and the mills closed and burned.
The women and children who worked in the mills were ordered to march from Roswell and the Lithia Springs area to the Georgia Military Institute, which is now the location of the Hilton Atlanta/Marietta Hotel and Conference Center. Although the distance traveled by the mill workers varied, the distance from the Roswell Square to the Hilton is about 13 miles.
The volunteers’ march Saturday replicated the last stage of the mill workers’ walk from the Georgia Military Institute, which was next door to Brumby Hall on Powder Springs Street, to Atherton Square, which is behind the Marietta Square near the Marietta History Museum.
At Atherton Square, the mill workers were put on trains to be sent north, and many of them were not heard from again.
“We don’t know what happened to them. We have no idea. People speculate, but we really don’t know what happened,” said Jones. “I cannot imagine they settled peacefully in other states, never trying to make contact with their friends and family back home.”
Many of the event’s volunteers said they participated in the march to shed light on a lesser-known episode in the city’s history.
“A lot of the history — and a lot of the press and books — talk about the men and their struggles, but it doesn’t always show what the women went through,” said Katie Peterson, of Marietta, the executive director of the Marietta Visitor’s Bureau. “These women marched — some of them all the way from Roswell — to Marietta to get on the train and then go up north.”
The event began Saturday morning at Brumby Hall, where volunteers gathered to re-enact a portion of the mill workers’ walk. The women and children were flanked by re-enactors in Union military uniforms as they walked to Atherton Square, near the Marietta History Museum behind the Marietta Square.
“Even though we’re only walking six-tenths of a mile, those few footsteps — compared to what they walked — give us an idea of what these women really went through,” said Connie Sutherland, director of the Gone with the Wind Museum and tourism projects coordinator for the city. “Today, we just want to say thanks, and this is a way to do it.”
After the march, the walkers and their supporters gathered at Atherton Square to hear lectures from historian Mike Shaffer, a former professor at Kennesaw State University, and Brad Quinlin, a re-enactor, historian and author. Sutherland also read a letter written in 1864 by a child whose mother was part of the walk.
The event was part of the city’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in Marietta.
“It’s the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and Sherman’s occupation of Marietta. And so a lot of (the commemoration) is just the Civil War to civil rights, and what happened after the Civil War and how that shaped our county,” Peterson said.
The next event in the city’s commemoration program is a candlelight tour of the Marietta Square on Tuesday to discuss the occupation of Marietta.