by Dale Kaczmarek
The Civil War was one of the bloodiest wars ever fought especially since it was waged on American soil. It pitted brother against brother, family against family and nearly split our great Union in two. Approximately one million men were killed or wounded. Those that died and gave their lives for their cause only seemed to strengthen the country after the fighting finally stopped.
Two of the most bloody battles fought were Chickamauga and Stones River, both in Tennessee. Nearly 125,000 men fought at Chickamauga from the morning of September 19th to the 20th of 1863. When it was all over, the combined casualties numbered 37,129. They compare with 23,582 at Sharpsburg (Antietam) known as the "bloodiest day of American history" and 43,454 for the three days of fighting with larger armies at Gettysburg.
Chickamauga is derived from an ancient Cherokee word meaning "River of Death". And death was all around this heavily wooded area occasionally spotted with uncultivated, vine-strewn, thicket- matted stretches of ground sometimes disturbed by outcroppings of limestone rock. In other words, land that no farmer would have bothered with since it would have required a massive amount of work and toil to bring up to minimal farming standards. The real prize that the Union army hoped to gain from this battle was capture of Chattanooga which was the rail center and major city of the Middle South.
It was the greatest Southern victory of the entire war. The confrontation pitted two masterminds against each other, General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee versus General William Rosecran's Army of the Cumberland. It was after nearly two days of very bloody fighting under almost unbearable conditions that Bragg's army pushed Rosecran all the way back to Chattanooga and there they remained until further relief was sent by General Grant.
There were three major reasons why the North lost this battle. One was the mistake of Burnside to properly follow orders given to him to move down from Knoxville, Tennessee to join Rosecran and help shield his left flank. This was the same flank that Bragg was trying to turn to reach Chattanooga.
The second reason was the failure of the War Department to send additional help from Grant's army. Many of these units were sitting by idly immediately after the capture of Vicksburg or were being dispersed.
And the final reason was probably due to Rosecrans' poor tactical performance. Part of this was that the battle was fought in woods and lacking communications, he most likely lost control. His right and center were always in a state of flux with units being sent to aid Thomas. Because of the weakened right center, Longstreet massed his brigades for attacks there, found a weak spot and cut directly through that gap. If the gap had not existed, there is no reason to believe that Longstreet could have overpowered McCook's weaker corps.
Chickamauga National Military Park is the oldest and largest of such military or battlefield parks and is extremely scenic and beautiful. Visitors to the park may take a tape recorded tour of the area with maps and machines (for a nominal fee) and recreate the individual battles which went on within the confines of the park. I personally visited the area in the summer of 1982 not to partake of the Civil War history but because of the rumors that ghosts had been reported from time to time.
Edward Tinney, the supervisory ranger and chief historian at Chickamauga, was very helpful in pointing out many instances of unusual happenings both in the past and present.
Perhaps the most bizarre story concerns "Old Green Eyes". Who or what is Old Green Eyes? There are two legends concerning this. One is that a Confederate soldier's head was severed from his body which was blown to bits by a cannon ball. All that was left to bury was his head and, according to legend, on misty nights he roams the battlefield, moaning mournfully, searching for his body.
Another legend is quoted as saying that Old Green Eyes roamed the area long before the Civil War and was even seen moving among the dead at Snodgrass Hill during a lull in the fighting. Probably the most stubborn phase of the campaign was at Snodgrass Hill which is some of the roughest and hilliest terrain in the entire park area. Longstreet attempted many times to fight to the top of the hill but was repelled over and over again even though he made occasional inroads to the crest.
Many people visiting the park near dusk have seen two big glowing eyes approaching them and have heard an agonizing groaning sound which sent shivers up and down their spine.
Charlie Fisher, another ranger, says that in the early 1970's two different people both wrecked their automobiles against the same tree. They both sworn to have seen Old Green Eyes. Charlie, however, has never seen him.
Ed Tinney did see Old Green Eyes on several occasions. He saw it one foggy night while walking along one of the trails which wind through the park. He said the shape was human-like but wasn't human. When he first saw it, it was less than twenty feet away and passed right by him! He described the hair on the "thing" as long, like a woman's hair, with eyes almost greenish-orange in color. It's teeth were long and pointed like fangs and was wearing a cape which seemed to be flapping in the wind, even though there was no wind! The next thing he knew, it just disappeared right in front of him.
Wherever massive deaths and violent confrontations are mixed, there is always the possibilities that ghosts may roam an area. It seems that the violence associated with death and suddenness of their demise may trap these individuals in an earthbound plane of existence. They might even continue to fight battles in the astral plane even though the war ended a long, long time ago. They may not realize that they have died and will continue to wage battles or whoop and holler for a time.
There are other strange things which have been heard like people moaning, bushes moving when there is no wind and the sound of distant gunshots, even though there is no hunting allowed in the park. Perhaps these "psychic sounds" date back to the bloody battle fought there 127 years ago? Psychic sounds are by far the most reported phenomena in all cases of haunted areas. Footsteps, rapping sounds and mumbled voices have been detected for hundreds of years. Could these strange noises be ghostly reenactments of past events? Could the fabric of space around these battlefields actually trap these psychic sounds, only to be replayed when weather and atmospheric conditions are just right?
An occasional apparition of a beautiful lady in a lovely white gown has also been reported floating around the grounds by numerous people. Legend has it that she is looking for her lost sweetheart who was killed in the war. To this day, she hasn't given up hope of finding him. Love is a very strong emotion and often is the reason a ghost will make a series of return visits to a particular locale. In fact, any vibrant emotion can cause the appearance of ghosts.
One of the weirdest tales was related by Jeffrey Leathers, a ranger from Stones River who occasionally helps out rangers here at Chickamauga. It concerns the Wilder Tower.
This stone structure is eighty-five feet high and overlooks the entire area. It was built in 1903 by the men who served under Colonel John T. Wilder.
Apparently when the tower was being constructed, many souvenirs of the war were sealed inside the cornerstone to be opened at a later time. In 1976, during the bicentennial activities, officials opened up the cornerstone which was undisturbed until now and found the inside completely empty! There were no apparent marks which might have indicated that it had been broken into or tampered with in any way.
Ranger Fisher related a very interesting encounter which occurred in either 1969 or 1970. A group of young boys had broken into the tower by scaling a lightning rod which is attached to the back side. One of the boys crawled through the first gun slot, which is about fourteen feet above the ground, and then ran up the remaining stairs to the observation deck on top.
He called down to his friends who were drinking beer about fifty feet from the tower. All at once they heard a blood- curdling scream come from inside the tower. The next thing they saw was the boy diving out of one of the gun slots. Unfortunate for the youth, it wasn't the same one that he had climbed through earlier. He fell some twenty-five feet to the ground and hit the solid concrete. To this day he is completely paralyzed and could never explain what it was that had terrified him so.
I was able to examine all of these areas mentioned and while I felt nothing unusual at the Wilder Tower which was closed for repairs at the time, I did feel very queer at Snodgrass Hill. Perhaps it was that so many brave souls had lost their lives there fighting for what they thought was right. I did not spend a lot of time on the hill because of this overpowering feeling.
Stones River Battlefield National Park near Murfreesboro, Tennessee also has it's share of ghostly occurrences. Established in 1927 some rangers and Park Service employees have not only heard but have seen them as well. Today the park contains approximately 350 acres.
On December 26, 1862, General Rosecrans lead a Union army out of Nashville to capture middle Tennessee. General Braxton Bragg prepared to meet him on the banks of the Stones River.
After the clash near the town of Murfreesboro, 2800 Americans were dead, 15,000 wounded and almost 4,000 more became prisoners of war. This battle would eventually split the Confederate army in two all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
General Hardee, one of Bragg's principal subordinates wrote, "The field of battle offered no peculiar advantages for defense. The country on every side was entirely open and accessible to the enemy."
There are a number of tourist stops that tell exactly what went on as far as battles, action, casualties, etc. Stop Number Four is a rocky, wooded area with a number of sinkholes. Normally an area like this would be abound with birds and other fauna, but, even while I was there, not a single bird could be heard chirping in the trees. The area was totally devoid of life. The temperature was well into the nineties, however, upon entering the glade, it was a good ten to twenty degrees cooler.
The area was known as "The Slaughter Pens". The skirmish fought here most likely saved the Union army from destruction and gave them a chance to regroup again. Sheridan entered into battle with 4,154 officers and men of which 1,633 became casualties. Four of his brigade commanders were killed. Later, Sheridan was promoted to Major General.
Many visitors have complained that sometimes, particularly after ten at night, one can hear someone or something following oneself even though there is nothing behind you.
While visiting this stop where a great loss of life occurred including that of nearby grazing cattle, sheep, dogs and horses which were caught in the crossfire, I felt extremely paranoid as though I wasn't alone. I envisioned a large group of people watching me as I walked among the sweating cannons and limestone outcroppings. Many of the dead were not found and buried for days after the conclusion of the battle here. Many more wounded died because of not receiving proper medical aid in time.
If any area should be haunted by ghosts, this one surely should be. I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder as though expecting to see somebody there. I was perfectly alone as there were no other tourists at that stop. I haven't encountered this feeling often but here it was very strong!
Jeffrey Leathers, a park ranger, related a strange incident that happened to him and a group of friends while camping out near Stop Number Six.
Jeffrey had went to the administration building to refill his canteen which had gone empty. Coming around a bend, he noticed what he thought looked like a man standing behind some bushes. Immediately, thinking it was one of his friends attempting to play a trick on him, he called for him to come out.
The figure started towards him and slowly raised one hand. At that moment, Jeffrey told him to stop but the figure continued and raised the other hand. Mr. Leathers always carried a few live rounds in his gun and threatened to shoot if the figure didn't stop at once!
Just as he uttered this, the form fell to the ground and disappeared in the blackness. He quickly ran to the spot but could find no body, footprints and not a single broken twig. He is at a loss to explain this.
Perhaps this episode could be explained as a reenactment of a soldier trying to surrender himself as a prisoner but before he could do so was shot and killed. It does seem to fit the scenario given and it was reported near an area known to have had a great many soldiers killed and wounded.
Lt. Colonel William P. Garshey was Rosecrans chief of staff. While they were riding along together near the railroad surveying the battle, they attracted the attention of an Alabama artillery battery across Stones River over a mile distance. The artillery soldier fired a shot at the group and the cannon ball struck Garshey in the face, spattering so much blood and gore that at first it was thought that Rosecrans was hit.
Garshey's headless corpse remained mounted for a few moments until the horse jerked and it tumbled off. He'd had a premonition that he would be killed in his first battle and was seen kneeling in a small grove with a prayer book in his hand. About ten minutes later, the omen came true!
These are true accounts which have been told as they happened to various visitors and employees to the area. However, these are not the only battlefields that have been touched by supernatural occurrences.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania has its share of brushes with the paranormal. During this gruesome battle, the apparition of George Washington appeared to the Confederate troops, caused a major retreat and perhaps gave the Union troops a victory. Edward Stanton, Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln even went as far as conducting an official investigation of the incident.
On that July day of 1863, General Oliver Hunt recalled the event as the impetus that gave his men the victory at Gettysburg. He was attempting to defend a hill called Little Roundtop and his men were holding their ground even though sheets of bullets and gunfire were constantly cutting down wave after wave of the enemy.
Suddenly the Union men ran out of ammunition and General Hunt was sure he would have to retreat. A tall figure astride a white horse suddenly appeared in the midst of the battle. The rider was dressed in the era of the Revolutionary War. Hunt swears that the man's face was that of George Washington, "The Father of Our Country"!
At that point, the figure simply raised his hand and lead a charge down the hill at the Rebels, who were taken off guard at such a bold maneuver. Raising their bayonets, the men swooped down on the Rebels who turned and fled.
Even to this very day, strange reports still surface of a man mounted on a magnificent white stallion that gallops through the battlefields. He is often described as having a luminous aura or hazy white glow around him. He appears to be wearing a tricorn hat and while some people have attempted to flag him down, he never hears them and just rides away and disappears.
Shiloh Battlefield is yet another area that boasts of ghostly encounters and strange tales told by rangers and visitors to the area. A man by the name of Mr. Young (not his real name) used to attempt to find Civil War relics, coins, bullets and other memorabilia with the use of a metal detector which is illegal since there are many graves throughout the park, some that were never marked. This would be the same as grave robbing or desecration. He was caught a number of times and told not to return with the metal detector.
Then one evening a ranger was patrolling the area and found a smashed metal detector laying on the ground. Immediately surmising that this was Mr. Young's instrument, a thorough search of the surrounding area was instituted whereby they came across Mr. Young sitting nearby in his car in an apparent state of shock.
He was taken to a nearby hospital where he either refused to talk or was simply unable to about the incident in question. He eventually needed some psychiatric help and then related what had happened to him.
Apparently he had come across an unmarked grave and was attempting to remove some buttons from a corpse when "a bony hand" reached up from the grave, snatched the buttons away from Mr. Young and then disappeared back into the ground. He doesn't remember who or what smashed his metal detector. Perhaps it became damaged when he dropped it in his hurry to return to his car and leave the area.
The latter was told by a park ranger who rambles on now and then and tends to become very fanciful when it comes to ghost stories. But it does keep with the nature of other ghost stories that have been reported by visitors, and surely grave robbing is something to be avoided! Perhaps it just might be true that the deceased can protect their own final resting place in some way. Let us hope so!
Are these stories too farfetched to believe? They were all experienced and witnessed by reliable employees of the U.S. Government and ordinary people visiting the areas who had no prior knowledge that these areas were haunted.
Perhaps the next time one visits any of the many dozens of battlefields across this great nation of ours, we should keep one eye straight ahead and the other constantly looking over our shoulders. You never can tell when one might run into a ghost or perhaps Old Green Eyes himself! Because if any battlefields are haunted, surely our Civil War sites are prime candidates.
Ghost Research Society (www.ghostresearch.org)
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