The Lost Women of Mill Street, Guest Post by Kinley Bryan

1864: As Sherman’s army marches toward Atlanta, a cotton mill commandeered by the Confederacy lies in its path. Inside the mill, Clara Douglas weaves cloth and watches over her sister Kitty, waiting for the day her fiancé returns from the West.

When Sherman’s troops destroy the mill, Clara’s plans to start a new life in Nebraska are threatened. Branded as traitors by the Federals, Clara, Kitty, and countless others are exiled to a desolate refugee prison hundreds of miles from home.

Cut off from all they’ve ever known, Clara clings to hope while grappling with doubts about her fiancé’s ambitions and the unsettling truths surrounding his absence. As the days pass, the sisters find themselves thrust onto the foreign streets of Cincinnati, a city teeming with uncertainty and hostility. She must summon reserves of courage, ingenuity, and strength she didn’t know she had if they are to survive in an unfamiliar, unwelcoming land.

Inspired by true events of the Civil War, The Lost Women of Mill Street is a vividly drawn novel about the bonds of sisterhood, the strength of women, and the repercussions of war on individual lives.

A Cotton Mill, a Bridge, and Sherman’s March to Atlanta

In the opening chapter of The Lost Women of Mill Street, sisters Clara and Kitty Douglas, weavers in a Roswell, Georgia, cotton mill, have just heard the distressing news that Marietta—only sixteen miles away—has fallen to the Federals. The mill workers have good reason to believe Union troops might soon arrive in their town, for they have something of immense value to its army.

Several months earlier, in May 1864, Union General William T. Sherman had begun leading more than 110,000 troops south from Chattanooga, Tennessee. His goal: Capture Atlanta and destroy the Confederate Army of the Tennessee under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston.

Source: Wikipedia

General Sherman made his way toward Atlanta that spring, fighting a series of battles in northwest Georgia, an area that contains the Appalachian Mountains’ southernmost portion. A significant battle was at Kennesaw Mountain—the “one last mountain” standing between Sherman and Atlanta. While it was a Confederate victory, Sherman subsequently outflanked Johnston’s army, forcing the Confederates to retreat once again closer to Atlanta.

The next natural barrier separating Sherman’s troops from Atlanta was the 430-foot-long Chattahoochee River, which originates in the southern Appalachian Mountains and flows southwesterly across Georgia. To confuse the Confederates as to where Union troops might make their main river crossing, Sherman had his forces spanning 30 miles along the Chattahoochee.

One such crossing was at Roswell, where my novel begins.

General Sherman sent troops to Roswell under the command of General Kenner Garrard, whose mission was to secure a crossing point over the river by capturing the bridge. Garrard’s troops raided Roswell in early July 1864; as the Confederates retreated south over the Chattahoochee River, they burned the covered bridge.

When General Garrard discovered that the Roswell mills were producing cloth, tent canvas, rope, and sheeting for the Confederate army, he ordered the mills destroyed. In a shocking move, the mill workers were arrested and sent north to a refugee prison. My fictional characters, Clara and Kitty, along with hundreds of other mill workers, are sent to Marietta to await transportation north.

Meanwhile in Roswell, the Union Army needed a new bridge. In just three days, Union General Dodge built a 700-foot two-tracked trestle over the Chattahoochee at Roswell. Concerned about violating international law by using materials from a local building that flew a French flag, Dodge had first telegraphed General Sherman. “I know the bridge at Roswell is important,” Sherman replied, “and you may destroy all Georgia to make it good and strong.”

Atlanta was now just twenty miles away.

A little over two months later, in September 1864, General Sherman forced the surrender of Atlanta—a railroad hub and the industrial center of the Confederacy, as well as a symbol of Confederate pride and strength. Atlanta’s surrender ensured President Lincoln would be reelected and that the war would continue until the South was defeated.

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Meet Kinley Bryan

Kinley Bryan’s debut novel, Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury, inspired by the Great Lakes Storm of 1913 and her own family history, won the 2022 Publishers Weekly Selfies Award for adult fiction. An Ohio native, she lives in South Carolina with her husband and three children. The Lost Women of Mill Street is her second novel.

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