Tuesday 14 May 2024

Inspired by true events of the Civil War, The Lost Women of Mill Street is a vividly drawn novel about the bonds of sisterhood, the strength of women, and the repercussions of war on individual lives.


The Lost Women of Mill Street
By Kinley Bryan

Publication Date: 7th May 2024
Publisher: Blue Mug Press
Page Count: 300 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

1864: As Sherman’s army marches toward Atlanta, a cotton mill commandeered by the Confederacy lies in its path. Inside the mill, Clara Douglas weaves cloth and watches over her sister Kitty, waiting for the day her fiancé returns from the West.

When Sherman’s troops destroy the mill, Clara’s plans to start a new life in Nebraska are threatened. Branded as traitors by the Federals, Clara, Kitty, and countless others are exiled to a desolate refugee prison hundreds of miles from home.

Cut off from all they've ever known, Clara clings to hope while grappling with doubts about her fiancé’s ambitions and the unsettling truths surrounding his absence. As the days pass, the sisters find themselves thrust onto the foreign streets of Cincinnati, a city teeming with uncertainty and hostility. She must summon reserves of courage, ingenuity, and strength she didn’t know she had if they are to survive in an unfamiliar, unwelcoming land.

Inspired by true events of the Civil War, The Lost Women of Mill Street is a vividly drawn novel about the bonds of sisterhood, the strength of women, and the repercussions of war on individual lives.


A wisp of cotton blew over loom number two and landed on Clara’s brow. The lint, one of countless pieces that fluttered about the mill in a sweltering snowfall, stuck to her damp skin. She brushed it away absentmindedly, keeping the fibers from her nose and mouth, haunted by the news that had spread through the factory that morning fast as a cotton fire: Marietta had fallen. Not that any of the mill hands could claim surprise. Sherman’s advance through North Georgia had been steady as a heartbeat, certain as one day turns into the next. And now Johnston’s army would retreat again, this time leaving but sixteen miles of roadway between Sherman’s troops and the weave room where Clara and her sister Kitty tended their looms.

Most townspeople with the means to leave had done so weeks earlier. When the Federals reached Cassville, thirty miles to the northwest, the “Roswell Royalty” had fled, their wagons piled high with furniture and trunks, cooking utensils and linens. But for a house slave left to stand watch, their grand homes now stood empty: Barrington Hall, Dunwoody Hall, Primrose Cottage (which was a cottage in the same way the last three years was a “neighborly spat”).

It had been unnerving, watching them all leave. Clara had been reassured when the Roswell Manufacturing Company president boldly declared he would remain in town until the Yankees set a torch to his home. Despite his bravado, he, too, had left for locations further from Federal gunfire, leaving the mill workers to defend his property from the Yankee torch. He’d emptied the company store of its provisions, about two months’ worth, and parceled them out among the workers. An act of charity toward his laborers or a means to keep food from the Federals, depending on whom you asked. Either way, Clara, Kitty, and four hundred others, mostly women and children with neither the means to leave nor a place to go, remained. Paid in company scrip, what wages they’d saved after rent and food were useless beyond town limits.

Clara shook the advancing army from her thoughts. Tried to, at least. There was nothing to be done. And losing your focus near the machines could be tragic, deadly even. The oppressive July heat, combined with the fetid broth of oil, sweat, and lint, seldom failed to make her lightheaded.
She stopped one of her power looms to remove the shuttle and replace the bobbin, which had run out of weft. Within seconds she’d threaded the new bobbin through the hole in the shuttle, putting her mouth to it to suck the thread through, and placed the shuttle in the box. From there, the shuttle would speed back and forth between the warp threads, simultaneously over and under the lengthwise strands of yarn. She’d made it into a game for herself, how fast she could replace the bobbin.

Her homespun dress clung to her sweaty skin, errant strawberry-blond curls to her temples. Though it was summer, she saw little more of the sun than she did in winter. Like all the mill workers but the slave men in the pickers room, her skin was pale as parchment year-round from working twelve-hour days, six days a week. But the sun’s summer rays baked them all inside that factory, the mill like a giant brick oven, and they loaves of bread. The glazed windows remained closed lest any breeze break delicate threads.

A stocky figure appeared in the doorway a few feet from Clara. The Frenchman. He surveyed the weave room as if taking a measure of its activity. One hundred twenty power looms beat a frenetic, deafening rhythm. There were twenty rows of looms, three pairs of looms per row, each mill hand working a pair. An aisle between each pair of looms stretched the room’s length.
Clara, in the first row, faced the door as she worked. She regarded the Frenchman, the temporary superintendent. This was a rare appearance, and no doubt had something to do with Marietta. Mr. Roche walked down her aisle, his chest puffed and his lips pressed together as if he were holding his breath, which he most likely was; you could get all stopped up from the lint if you weren’t used to breathing it.

Clara exchanged a glance with her younger sister, who worked two looms across the aisle. Kitty playfully puffed out her chest and pursed her lips, mimicking the temporary superintendent. Clara smiled indulgently at her sister but shook her head. They had to be careful. Though their work was drudgery and the conditions poor, there were no better options for two unmarried women in Roswell, Georgia, three years into the war.

Kitty hunched over, barking out a deep cough. Clara’s stomach pitted. When Benjamin returned, he would take them far from here. In the West, they would work on their own, better land and breathe fresh air. Kitty wouldn’t suffer noxious mill fumes, they wouldn’t be baked alive in these brick factories, and they would be free. Clara imagined cool autumns, and summers that didn’t bring crushing heat. In the winter, when the fields lay quiet, she might make hats to sell in town in the spring.

She glanced over her shoulder. At the far end of the expansive weave room, Orton, the overseer, sat at his elevated desk. He rose as Mr. Roche approached. The temporary superintendent said something, and Orton nodded subserviently. Then he frowned. The superintendent gestured toward the front of the weave room and wagged a finger. Yes, sir, Orton said. She could tell by the movement of his lips.

No one knew how many days they had left at the mill. No one knew if the Federals would raid the town. It was the not knowing that kept Clara up at night.

Pick up your copy of
The Lost Women of Mill Street

Kinley Bryan

Kinley Bryan's debut novel, Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury, inspired by the Great Lakes Storm of 1913 and her own family history, won the 2022 Publishers Weekly Selfies Award for adult fiction. An Ohio native, she lives in South Carolina with her husband and three children. The Lost Women of Mill Street is her second novel.

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  1. What a pretty cover. Your book sounds brilliant.

  2. Thanks so much for hosting Kinley Bryan today on your fabulous blog.

    Take care,
    Cathie xx
    The Coffee Pot Book Club

  3. I have added The Lost Women of Mill Street to my to-read list.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx