During the Civil War a little girl is taken prisoner, she may never see her family again.
|Mrs. Olivia Chapman is now ninety-five years old and difficult to understand due to her ill fitting dentures. I am hoping to help her recall a frightening time of her life during the Civil War. Mrs.Chapman is still very sharp, considering her age, but she tends to fall asleep in the middle of a vivid recollection of the past. Her body has betrayed her with advanced osteoarthritis, resulting in a failed hip replacement, so she is now wheelchair dependent. She is neatly groomed with soft combed white hair, with plastic pink clips, a touch of coral lipstick that has crawled into the wrinkles around her mouth, and a "housecoat" with large purple flowers. She tells me she loves bright colors. Her smile is quick and genuine and her faded blue eyes twinkle with happy memories.
The long term care home has the basics; safety features are in place with adaptive grab bars, emergency buzzers in the halls and bathrooms. The only things that remind one of home are family photos, a soft blue recliner with a lift in the seat, a flowered bedspread and a vase of fresh flowers that are on life support. There is also a bulletin board with staff pictures and activities for each day. She has a roommate that isn't in the room right now and a curtain on ceiling tracks is there for privacy. There is a window that looks out on a grassy area with a concrete walkway. A lovely old oak tree gives shade but there isn't much color except for nature's turn of season.
Olivia Dunning was nine years old when Sherman made her a prisoner of war. The heat was at her back, flames chasing her heels as she ran to catch up with her Ma.
Her Pa was fighting the Yankees and they hadn't heard from him in months. Olivia worked with her sister, Amy and their Ma at the textile mill where Confederate uniforms and tents were made. The mill had about one hundred workers and was five stories tall. The women were helping their husbands for little pay yet hoping to keep them dressed warmly and covered for Yankee winters.
Then Sherman had came to Atlanta and Olivia was feeling his destruction first hand. When he saw the mill was full of women and children, he decided to take them all prisoner. There were many Union soldiers but twice as many women, so the men descended like locusts. Covering the mill, company store and bridge, they stole and then set fire to the remains.
Olivia was scared, her whole body shook as tears ran down her dirty face. Her big cornflower blue eyes were wide open with fright. She looked around and didn't see her mother.or sister.
She didn't dare make a sound. Her Ma had always said, "Do not say a word if we're ever captured! The Yankees might cut your tongue out!"
So, she did what the soldiers told her to do. They mostly demanded, "Stay out of the way!"
The women were being rounded up like cattle and Olivia still could not find her Ma or Amy. How she longed to scream out. She had heard many horror stories of what soldiers in blue did to women and girls. Olivia felt her bladder go as she thought about one of those big men putting his huge hands on her.
Eventually, al the women and children were herded on train cars and sent to Louisville. Then they were given a choice; to remain as prisoners or swear allegiance to the Union. The were told if they took the Oath, they would be set free to find work at a mill across the Ohio River in Indiana.
Olivia still had not seen her Ma or sister. She asked several different women to say, "This is my child."
No one would. They all said they "didn't believe Yankees and knew those rifles would kill them all soon enough".
Olivia, feeling very brave, said she would take the Oath. A soldier said they had no use for a child. Finally, Rose Stewart took Olivia by the hand. She had a kindly face and a large warm hand. But Rose wouldn't pledge her allegiance to the Union. They remained prisoners but Olivia had Rose now. Poor Rose didn't know where her own family was.
The prisoners were sent to work at a farm, picking different kinds of berries, fruits they didn't know much about. The strawberries were taken back to Atlanta. People that had profitted off of the war paid for this sweet fruit grown in black rich dirt not red clay.
When the war was over, the Stewarts settled where the berries were and made a decent living at it. Rose was fortunate that her husband had survived and found her. They had two children eventually and treated Olivia as if she was their own.
Olivia stayed with them until she was sixteen. Then she gathered clothes, money and food to find her folks. She loved them but they weren't her kin.
It took a lot of courage to be a woman(white or dark) alone on the roads of the North and the South.
Olivia had a burning desire to find out what became of her family. She tried not to dwell on it but felt if they were alive, they would have found her.
She made it back to Roswell, near Atlanta, where they had lived. Their small farmhouse was ashes. She sat down on the chimney hearth and cried as good memories of games played with Amy, her Mom's sweet voice and kisses, and being Daddy's "little princess".
She spoke to people around town and found out her father had fallen at Kennesaw Mountain. That was very close to where the mill had been.
She discovered Ma came back to Atlanta also but was sick with consumption by the time she arrived there. The woman that had nursed her said she cried out for both girls constantly. She sang a song about a mouse named "General Tom" that was afraid to sleep without his golden spun blanket. Olivia's eyes spilled over with tears. That was the song Ma sung in her sweet voice each night before sleep.
She never did find out anything about Amy and prayed she had escaped and had a good life somewhere.
That bloody war, like all wars, rips families apart, changing lives forever.
When she speaks of it, Olivia says she "carries the scars of a broken heart but bitterness is a seed that gets in your soul and then no joy can come in".
Happiness came with a good man, Lindsey Chapman, that promised love and security. He had built a small cabin on twenty-five acres of Georgia land. They grew vegetable crops year after year and took them to the farmers market and Olivia was a beautiful seamstress that even made wedding gowns for church members. They were fertile, out of six children, five survived to have families of their own. Her whole demeanor changes when she speaks about her husband and each of her children. Her memories are like rays of sun on a cloudy day. She recalls all the milestones in their life together. "The tough times always were followed by prosperity and happiness".
A strong woman, she outlived four of her children. Her husband had died from a heart attack in his sleep twenty years ago. She says she managed to save some money, "probably a few thousand under her mattress". After her beloved man died, she continued to cook and take care of herself. Then she became more crippled with arthritis and her daughter, Althea, came to help out from Atlanta. An orthopedic surgeon assured the two of them that a new and easy operation would have her back up and around. The surgery went well and she went to "Shady Rest" to complete rebabilitation and never healed well enough to come home.
It's amazing she doesn't have any resentments. She is the first to say many died on both sides and war is never a good answer. She says she is a Christian and tells you she is a blessed woman to live all these years and it's due to the good Lord. Her King James Bible, worn and stained, is on the table by her bed.
By Kathie Stehr
The facts are: There was a mill at Sweetwater Creek in Atlanta during the Civil War.
The women and children that worked there were taken North as POW's.
The characters in the preceding are fiction.