Roswell Mills: July 5, 1864

by Ann Malaspina

The mill owners fled last week,
Telling us, upon threat of
Not to leave our posts.

We were already prisoners.
Yoked to our jobs.
Pay gone to the mill store.
Even our beds not our own.

At the looms, we kept working,
Catching the cotton 
In our fingers, coughing at 
the rising smoke,

As the Yankees rampaged, 
Looted, and burned their way
Through Roswell. 
What did they want? Everything.

I remember when the door swung open
And a soldier in blue 
Stood framed in the sunlight
As if he were a hero.

I almost laughed out loud.
What kind of prize 
Did he think he’d won? 
400 terrified women and girls.

The song of the millwheel
drummed to a stop.
The torches blazed
and the fires lit.

Flames whipped skyward,
Cotton swallowed into ashes.
Rafters collapsed, and red bricks
Turned black as death, itself. 

They called us traitors, and worse,
For milling the Confederate gray.
Enemies of President Lincoln. 
War criminals to the Union.

Then they lined us up like sheep, 
Pushing us, grabbing our arms, 
Tearing our skirts. Making many
Of us ashamed. 

I was never ashamed. 
Nor was I blind. 
I saw the train waiting for us. 
Headed North, they said. 

No chance to kiss my husband.
No chance to tell my mama good-bye.
But like my burning broken country,
my story wasn’t over.  

Born in Brooklyn NY, Ann Malaspina holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has published work in Gargoyle, The Tishman Review, Silkworm, The New Verse News and elsewhere. Her YA verse novel KIKI IN THE MIDDLE came out in 2022. You can find out more about her at