Wife, Mother, Prisoner, Survivor
Lizzie Stewart was an ordinary woman who happened to get caught up in the maelstrom of the enormous conflict known as the Civil War. The wife of a millworker, she was left alone to raise five children when her husband volunteered to fight for the Confederacy. Charged with treason by Union soldiers for working in the mill, she nevertheless became a pillar of strength for her children, keeping them together and alive against incredible odds.
Born December 3, 1835, Charlotte Elizabeth "Lizzie" Russell married Walter Washington Stewart on August 10, 1851. A decade later, Walter had risen to the position of boss at the New Manchester Manufacturing Company mill, and the couple had welcomed five children ? three girls and two boys ? into the world. The Stewart family was firmly settled and content in the little town of New Manchester, Ga., located along the banks of Sweetwater Creek in Campbell (now Douglas) County, until war disrupted their lives.
Georgia was the fifth state to secede from the Union, and Walter enlisted in Company K of the 41st Georgia Infantry. The superintendents at the mill made the fateful decision to convert operations from civilian to military and began producing uniforms and tents from high-quality osnaburg for the Southern army. Made from Sea Island cotton, osnaburg is a fabric that is lighter than canvas, but heavier than linen.
As the war dragged into the summer of 1864, Walter had survived the pitched battles of Perryville, Chickasaw Bayou, Champion?s Hill, Missionary Ridge, Rocky Face Ridge, and Resaca and New Hope Church plus the sieges of Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Meanwhile, Lizzie had taken a job as bookkeeper at the mill. She was now an official employee of the Confederate government.
On the morning of July 2, 1864, a scant six weeks after the youngest Stewart child had died, Union cavalry under the command of Brigadier General George Stoneman arrived in New Manchester. With orders from Major General William T. Sherman, they charged the entire town, mainly women, children and men exempt from military service due to their specialized manufacturing skills, with treason for producing cloth for the Confederacy. The next day, they were loaded onto springless and seatless wagons and sent to Marietta to await rail shipment to Louisville, Ky. When they arrived at that location, the men and women were housed in separate prisons with the children being allowed to stay with their mothers.
Walter was captured while on picket duty outside Atlanta on August 3, 1864, and ironically sent north to Louisville on the same Western & Atlantic rail line the rest of his family had traversed a month earlier. One of the Stewart daughters recognized her father as he and about a dozen other Southern soldiers were being unceremoniously paraded around town as "fresh fish" ? a derogatory phrase for new captives. Lizzie and the four surviving children were granted a brief family reunion with him before he was sent on to Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio.
Fearing disease, Lizzie signed the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. She and the children were released from prison, and they were able to rent a room in a boarding house with money Lizzie earned by once again being employed as a bookkeeper. She also enrolled the children in school.
Walter did not return to Louisville until the summer of 1865, and it was autumn before the Stewart family made their way back to Georgia. On the train ride home, daughter Synthia Catherine showed Walter her Bible a Union cavalryman had tried to steal from her. Her loud and vehement protest had caused an officer to retrieve it and give it back to her. Walter let the Holy Word fall open on his lap and read aloud from Deuteronomy 3 about how God had provided manna for the Israelites when they sojourned in the desert. He and Lizzie assured the children that, even though they were going through many trials, the Lord would also care for them.
When the Stewarts got to their house, they needed every ounce of their faith. It had been ransacked, and even the shade trees and bushes had been cut down. Nevertheless, Lizzie had been wise enough to carefully conceal a suit of Walter?s clothes, the family silverware and other valuables in a hollow tree and stump before the family had been forcibly removed. A quick scavenger hunt into the woods behind the house produced the valuables, and the Stewarts had received their first miracle.
Still, with no work available nearby, Walter had to walk 25 miles to Atlanta to find employment. Once again Lizzie was left alone for weeks at a time to deal with chores and raising the children. On top of that, the weather was miserable. But, in the spring of 1866, a bigger miracle occurred. After an especially dreary winter, little green shoots began to spring up all over the Stewart property. It was strawberries ? thousands of them. Strawberry manna!
The Stewarts were able to sell the produce, and that money, coupled with what Walter was earning, allowed them to get back on their feet. The family moved to Atlanta, and eventually settled in the Colbran community atop Lookout Mountain in DeKalb County.
Lizzie died July 20, 1887, at the age of 51. For 125 years, her grave was marked with only a small sandstone rock. However, on May 5, 2012, several historians and preservationists from Alabama and Georgia, along with Stewart family descendants, gathered at Mount Vernon Cemetery and unveiled a beautiful, six-foot-tall granite monument at the head of her grave. The incredible story of Lizzie?s strength and survival is inscribed on the front. It is the first of its kind in the world to commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of a female refugee prisoner of war from New Manchester, Ga.
Sources of information:
"North Across The River" by Ruth Beaumont Cook
"Georgia Confederate 7000" by Gary Ray Goodson, Sr.
Time Life Books "Echoes of Glory"
"New Manchester Girl" ? audio recording by Cathy Kaemmerlen
Stewart Family File at Sweetwater Creek Conservation Park
Greg Starnes is a freelance writer from Fort Payne.