J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the month “October, 2011”

Happy Halloween!

All Hallows Eve has finally arrived, the night when we celebrate all things unworldly, undead, unholy, and unknown. Or in other words, the night when kids can load up on free candy without fear of repercussions!

So many soldiers died during the Civil War (620,000) that a kind of spiritual revival took place in America. Victorian culture was odd in many respects, but some traditions have remained, like wearing black to funerals, although this tradition is gradually going by the wayside. The Victorians liked to make “wreaths” from their loved ones’ hair, cover their windows with black curtains when someone died, and send out postcards with deceased family members displayed in their coffins. Wearing black for a year after a loved one died was expected. During that time, communicating with the dead became a huge fad, and provided closure. (Many soldiers were MIA’s – their families never knew what happened to them.)

Seances became fashionable, and famous celebrities of the time participated. Ouija boards were popular, as were “spirit tables,” and many shady characters took advantage of mourners. Photographers of the day made a “killing” by experimenting with special effects to make it look like spiritual entities were lurking in the tintypes’ backgrounds. What we now consider to be spooky, Victorians considered seances to be consoling and intimate.

If you dare, you can participate in a Victorian seance at various locations around the country. The most popular place, of course, is in Gettysburg. It won’t take much effort to summon ghosts there.

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Haunted Lincoln

It is said that ghosts are the spirits of people who met traumatic, violent, untimely deaths. Abraham Lincoln, of course, is one, because he was murdered by John Wilkes Booth about a week after General Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops to General Grant at Appomattox, and on Good Friday at that. Before his assassination, the president foresaw his own death in a dream, where he was wandering around the White House, and was told by a soldier that the president had been killed.

Since then, Lincoln’s ghost has been roaming the halls of the White House. Jenna Bush, one of President George W. Bush’s daughters, said that she had heard phantom opera music coming from the fireplace in her bedroom while she was living at the White House. In the same breath, she expressed her disappointment about never seeing the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. It’s common knowledge that Lincoln’s spirit still resides within the Executive Mansion, as the White House was called during the Civil War. Several heads of state have witnessed the ghost of Lincoln, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, President Coolidge’s wife, Grace, President Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Maureen.

The president’s widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, said that her husband’s ghost often visited her. She became an avid believer in the supernatural and regularly attended seances, usually under an assumed name to disguise her identity. In one photograph, an eerie manifestation of Lincoln appears behind her. It could have been a photographer’s trick, but many other witnesses have seen his ghost as well.

Sightings of Lincoln’s ghost have occurred near his grave in Springfield, Illinois, and at his former home there. It has also been seen at the Loudon Cottage in Loudonville, New York, which belonged to one of the women who was sitting in the president’s box at Ford’s Theatre when he was shot. The President’s spectral funeral train has been observed on the anniversary of its journey from Washington D.C. to Springfield, thundering through the darkness to its spooky destination.

Fortress Monroe, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was incarcerated for several years following his capture at the end of the war, is said to be haunted by Lincoln, as is Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot.

Haunted Civil War Graveyards

Cemeteries have always been considered to be the most haunted places anywhere, and reports date back to ancient civilizations. The Celts are credited with beginning Halloween traditions by performing the Pagan rite of lighting up autumn produce (squash, pumpkins, etc.) to illuminate the spirits’ way.

Civil War cemeteries are no exception. So many spectral soldiers have been seen that the list seems endless. Virtually every cemetery that holds the remains of those brave men who fought in the War Between the States is said to be haunted, and of course, some graveyards are more active than others. Below is just a small example of places where paranormal activity has been reported:

Balls Bluff Cemetery – north of Leesburg, VA

Andersonville Cemetery – near the original site of the Andersonville Prison in Georgia

Prospect Hill Cemetery, Virginia

Alexandria National Cemetery, Virginia – Stonewall Jackson is buried here

Green Lawn Cemetery, Columbus, OH

Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA – Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General J.E.B. Stuart are buried here

Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery, OH

Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, TN

Practically every state in the Union has old cemeteries where Civil War soldiers are buried and supposedly still walk to earth. I’ve been to both Hollywood Cemetery and Elmwood Cemetery, and in my opinion, these old graveyards, filled with ornate Victorian headstones, are spooky during the daytime, so I can just imagine how scary they are at night. Dare I say, I wouldn’t be caught dead in them? Kudos to the brave souls who go exploring in these creepy places at night to catch a glimpse of a Civil War specter.

Haunted Civil War Prisons

Since so much death surrounded Civil War prisons, it only makes sense that unsettled spirits still haunt these places. Thousands died, both North and South, from malnutrition, dysentery, and disease. We only have a few old reminders left, but in some places, there are other, more unworldly reminders as well.

One such place is, of course, Andersonville, Georgia, the site of the infamous prison camp. The suffering that took place within the barracks was immeasurable: men virtually starved to death, or died a slow, rotting death brought on by scurvy. They were forced to live in their own filth, eat raw birds and rats if they were lucky enough to catch any, and tolerate weather and overcrowded conditions. After the prison was finally closed, hauntings in the area began. It is said that some of the prison’s former inmates still wander the grounds, as does the ghost of Henry Wirz, Andersonville’s commandant. Some think that Wirz was wrongly accused and executed, so therefore, he still walks the road in search of retribution.

Another haunted prison is the Old Brick Capitol Prison. The prison was torn down in the 1920’s, and the U.S. Supreme Court building was erected on the site. But the ghosts still remain, although they were more prevalent when the Old Brick Capitol still stood. Ghosts that haunted the place included Henry Wirz, who was executed there, as was Mary Surratt, who some believe was innocent of conspiring in Lincoln’s assassination. She has appeared on the anniversary of her hanging. Moaning, weeping, and sighing echoed within its walls, as well as screams, cries, and phantom footsteps. Laughter and the sound of cell doors slamming, although the doors had been removed, also permeated the building.

Just outside of St. Louis in Alton, Illinois, strange sights and sounds occur where a Confederate penitentiary once stood. As in many prisons of the time, a small pox epidemic spread through the camp, killing thousands. A small portion of the prison’s wall amazingly still remains, as does an old building known as the “Blaske building.” Reportedly, strange things have occurred there, from apparitions appearing to doors slamming to things moving on their own inside the building. An eerie essence surrounds the area. Residual impressions have been seen by locals that resemble tattered Confederate prisoners.

Point Lookout, Maryland is also a famous prison that is said to be haunted. By the end of the war, over 4,000 prisoners had died there. Although the location is now a welcoming state park and recreation area, several buildings that housed the prison remain, and ghosts of Confederate soldiers still frequent it. Many visitors to the park have witnessed apparitions, as have the park rangers. Sounds of ghostly footsteps, slamming doors, and even snoring have been heard. Creepy voices have been recorded within the park, and it is a favorite place for seances and ghost hunters, because strange phenomena happens so frequently. Remarkably, the rangers keep a record of all the bizarre happenings that take place in the park, and hold a ghost tour every October.

Haunted Houses and the Civil War

I previously mentioned a famous haunted house in Gettysburg known as the Farnsworth House, which stood witness to the battle in July, 1863, and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address the following November. So many other houses are reportedly haunted that the list is virtually endless, but a few host more Civil War ghosts than others.

One other house in Gettysburg is supposedly haunted by Jennie Wade, who resided there and was killed by a stray sharpshooter’s bullet during the battle. The Carter House and the Carnton House, both in Franklin, Tennessee, are still visited by ghosts who witnessed the horrible Battle of Franklin in 1864. The McRaven House in Vicksburg, Mississippi, as well as the Lee-Custis House in Arlington, Virginia, are also ghostly dwellings.

New Orleans entertains its share of Civil War ghosts, along with many other spiritual entities. The Beauregard-Keyes house is said to play host to its former owner, General P.G.T. Beauregard. On several occasions, witnesses have heard and/or seen Beauregard’s Confederates charge through the dining room, complete with yelling, screaming, gunfire, and cannonade.

I met a nice young man last weekend who, once he found out I was a Civil War author, proceeded to tell me about the house he grew up in near Nashville. When I asked if it was haunted, he nearly turned white as a ghost, and told me that he had witnessed strange, scary, unexplainable things. I can’t wait to hear more about what happened. Another friend lives in an old plantation house in Hernando, Mississippi. This house is haunted, too. Not long ago, he and another friend, (both Civil War reenactors) were sitting in the parlor area when a candlestick on the mantle rose up, floated over to the center of the room, and fell to the floor with a crash on its own accord. Skeptics once, they believe in the supernatural now!

Haunted Battlefields

It seems that every battlefield, whether significant or minor, seems to inhabit its share of Civil War ghosts. Experts of the supernatural say that people who die sudden, unexpected, violent deaths are the ones whose souls get caught in limbo. Common occurrances are the sounds of gunfire, men yelling and marching, and ghostly apparitions of soldiers roaming around.

Gettysburg is the most famous haunted battlefield. It is believed that this is because it lies on a lei line (mineral deposits under the soil that criss-cross). These places attract apparitions because the electrical current caused by the lei lines coaxes spirits like moths to a flame. Voted “America’s Most Haunted,” Devil’s Den on the battlefield is so charged with energy from ghosts that people have difficulty taking pictures. The spirits drain the charge from their batteries within minutes. Besides the battlefield, numerous structures in town are also rumored to be haunted.

Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi has plenty of supernatural inhabitants as well. It is no wonder, since the citizens and Confederate army were under siege for weeks, forced to live in caves along the riverbank and eat vermin, dogs, etc. in order to survive. The town is filled with old abandoned buildings, but it is rumored that many are not completely empty. Spirits have been seen wandering the streets at night, along with frequenting local establishments, including old antebellum homes that have been converted into bed-and-breakfasts.

The Battle of Chickamauga was the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War (Gettysburg being the first). Besides sightings of the usual soldier-ghosts, an entity that has come to be known as “Old Green Eyes,” and over the years, has been sighted by thousands of people. The creature sounds like something straight of a Grimm fairytale. With a hairy body, fang-like teeth, and glowing green eyes, it walks upright on two legs and wears a cloak. Besides Old Green Eyes, a woman in a wedding dress roams the area, as does a creepy soldier who stares at visitors until they leave.

Haunted Gettysburg and the Farnsworth House

 It should come as no surprise that hauntings have taken place in various parts of the country in regard to the Civil War since the war ended. In fact, stories and folklore have been passed down about ghosts appearing even before the War Between the States was over.
Disputably, the most haunted place is Gettysburg. This is because the town rests on what is known as a “lei line,” where two intersecting fractures in the earth’s crust meet. It has something to do with energy fields beneath the earth’s surface.
Within Gettysburg, probably the most haunted place is the Farnsworth House. Now an inn, the Farnsworth House has seen its share of violence. Confederate sharpshooters used the garret (attic) as a vantage point to fire upon Union troops positioned on Cemetery Hill. One bullet fired by a sharpshooter supposedly traveled down the street, hitting Jennie Wade, who was the only civilian killed during the battle. Afterward, the house was used as a Federal headquarters.

There are over 100 bullet holes visible on the south side of the house, and some of the bullets that were lodged in the brickwork are on display inside. The house boasts a fabulous restaurant, a cozy tavern decorated with memorabilia from the movie, “Gettysburg,” and the guest rooms are decorated in beautiful Victorian style. Guests and staff have witnessed strange occurrences on several occasions. Some of the servers have had mysterious encounters, claiming that someone or something yanks on their aprons. Others have seen apparitions in the forms of women in period dress and soldiers, or have been tapped on the shoulder. Phantom footsteps echo through the two-story house, and strange, eerie shadows abound. The Farnsworth House sponsors ghost tours, and has a seance room in the spooky basement to replicate the Victorian notion of communicating with the dead.

Haunted Civil War

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. While my kids were growing up, I enjoyed wearing costumes and going trick-or-treating as much as they did. My house was decked out in black and orange (my high school colors, BTW), rivaling Christmas in the decorations I displayed. For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the macabre, mysterious, and melancholy. Maybe that’s why I’m a Civil War author!

During the next few weeks, in honor of the month of October and Halloween, I’m dedicating my blog to unexplained, ghostly incidents in relation to the War Between the States. From Gettysburg to Andersonville and Chickamauga to Shiloh, tales of Civil War ghosts who never found their way home abound. Not only do these apparitions still walk the battlefields where they fell, but also dwell in their previous residences and “haunts,” so to speak.

I believe you’ll find these spectral sightings to be nothing less than spellbinding. Although many claim ghosts don’t exist, it’s hard to deny their presence, since many (living) people have witnessed sightings over the years. Reports of ghostly appearances started soon after the bloody battles ended, and still happen to this day. So enter the haunted dwellings of the Civil War soldiers, civilians, and casualties. (Feel free to tell us about your experiences as well!)

Witness Trees

At various Civil War battlefields and historical landmarks across the country, old trees still survive that were living during the Civil War. There are two enormous, craggy old catalpa trees that still thrive on the property of the Ellwood Plantation in Fredericksburg. And even though it’s dead, an old tree stump still stands at Vicksburg National Military Park, riddled with bullets.

These trees would tell quite a story if they could talk. Unfortunately, they just can’t live forever. One such casualty is a tree at Gettysburg National Military Park that recently died, estimated to have lived 147 years.

The good thing is that they can live on as reminders of our precious past. The wood has been donated to the Gettysburg Foundation for use in preservation, just as bricks from old historic buildings have been auctioned off for fund raising purposes.

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