Sweetwater Manufacturing Company, New Manchester, Georgia 1849-1857.
Sold and re-named New Manchester Manufacturing Company, 1857-1864.
Slave labor made all the bricks, dug the millrace and built the mill.
Of the many photographs on record, none picture any person of color.
The mill was burned to the ground July 9, 1864 under George Stoneman’s
command and General William T. Sherman’s march to the sea.
riding the brink of sweetwater creek, along a heavily oak cloaked memorial
trail, hunter green ivy blankets her terracotta palm. red brick fingers rise,
staggering above a first course of metagraywacke, pitch and bone. remains
of ivory black timbers, resembling brows above vacated eyes where windows
once opened, frame a landscape ripe for a Robert Duncanson painting. an
american tragedy; ruins, where gladiators razed the grave to free lions.
sweetwater creek, a rill of tears roll your stony spine, bearing witness to
heinous deeds. charred blocks remain to testify on behalf of bludgeoned men
who lay them to rest. questions stream through my mind like water pouring
through millraces powering mighty wheels. conjured images of gruesome
acts flood my senses. how many men tumbled dizzying heights to freedoms
call? how many drowned while crossing your belly? was this sweet water
ever bitter for the bodies she swept to sea? where are stories and images of
bronze bricklayers, carpenters and stonemasons? where were historical
photographers, the likes of Silas Holmes, Matthew Brady or Southworth and
Hawes, to credit rather than debit this account? where are pictures recording
broken families, sorrowful faces, robbed spirits and the emptiness of not knowing
from whence you came or where you are going? where are pictures of limbs
from which dreams hang? where are pictures of the barkers, docents and
curiosity seekers? where are pictures of the whips, shackles, chain, rope, guns
and bibles to fill this family album? colorless spinsters, pubescent boys and
virgin girls are captured carding cotton, spinning and weaving canvas tents, gray
army uniforms, off white sheets and the fabric of war while black magicians
having built castle walls five stories high have vanished. sweetwater has washed
her hands and blood trails run cold. pale fingers wove motives for satan’s stand;
blue coat devils obliged, firing the kiln. photos appear cut and pasted to soothe a
conscience disposed to fairytale endings and an honorable past. deficiency shrouds
this topography. letters, photos, census records, clothing, artifacts and memorabilia
halve the portrait. questions loom of sweetwater’s past and the fabric of her story.
winds have scattered her ashes yet the acrid scent of her spray remains.
Copyright © 2008 by F. Geoffrey Johnson All rights reserved
First published in Black Magnolias, A Literary Journal, 2010