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05.13.01 Cook, Ruth Beaumont, North Across the River: A Civil War Trail of Tears, published in 1999

Notes Concerning Author

Ruth Beaumont Cook is a native of Bedford, Ohio and a graduate of The Ohio State University (German and English Education). Since 1970, she has made her home in the Birmingham, Alabama area. In addition to her work as an author and historian, Ruth maintains an active consulting business. She provides outsource editing services and teaches workshops in business communication skills.

Our Review

North Across the River: A Civil War Trail of Tears is a detailed account of the tribulations forced upon the mill workers of Roswell and Sweetwater, Georgia by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1864. Beginning with the history of the two communities and the cotton mills established along the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta, Ms. Cook’s narrative describes the economic opportunities provided by the weaving and manufacturing of cotton cloth. In Southern industry, as well as Southern agriculture, cotton was indeed king during the early decades of the nineteenth century.

Georgia seceded from the Federal Union in January, 1861 and the mills were considered crucially important to the state’s military efforts. A short time later, the Confederate government reiterated the significance of the mills and many of the employees were granted exemptions from military service. Nonetheless, a substantial number of mill workers and factory managers joined the Confederate Army or Georgia militia units and, to a large extent, their places were taken by the women of Roswell and Sweetwater. Cloth for uniforms, civilian clothing, tents, bandages, and other items were produced in abundance as the War Between the States raged.

In early 1864, the Union Army, under Sherman, launched a full-scale invasion of Georgia. Sherman was a cruel advocate of “total war” and, as Ms. Cook points out, he had declared that all Southerners were “a class of people, men, women, and children, who must be killed or banished before we can hope for peace and order….” When the Yankees took the north bank of the Chattahoochee, Union commanders placed all mill workers in Roswell and Sweetwater under arrest. Numerous homes and businesses were burned and food and personal property were stolen by the bluecoats in keeping with their normal policy of pillage and destruction. General Sherman specifically ordered the mill workers—men, women, and children—to be forcibly deported to the North.

In an episode Ms. Cook compares to the “Trail of Tears” endured by the Five Civilized Tribes when they were brutally exiled to the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, in the 1830s, the mill workers of Roswell and Sweetwater were placed in boxcars and shipped to Nashville and then to Louisville. The exiles were next taken over the Ohio River into Indiana where they were abandoned to survive as best they could. Some of the Southerners were able to find work in Northern cotton mills or in other factories while others were simply destitute and found early graves. Many of the men, women, and children of Roswell and Sweetwater never saw Georgia again.

North Across the River: A Civil War Trail of Tears is a fascinating account of a little known atrocity. It suffers somewhat from an over-emphasis on family histories and genealogical trivia but it is a truly valuable description of the hardship and misery inflicted on Southern families by the cold-blooded Sherman and others of his ilk.

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