Thursday, October 29, 2009

Haunted 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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Haunted Battlefields

It is said that spirits stay on this earth for two reasons: because they don't know they're dead, or because they died a sudden, tragic, unnatural death. So it only makes sense that the most haunted places are battlefields. The most significant one, of course, is Gettysburg. Sightings occur frequently in the form of marching soldiers. At one of the buildings on the Gettysburg College campus, a reoccurring impression has been seen by many spectators - that of a Civil War hospital, complete with bloody-aproned surgeons, moaning victims, and piles of hacked off limbs.

The most haunted place on the Gettysburg battlefield is said to be Devil's Den. Apparently, a huge Indian battle took place there, called "The Battle of the Crows." After intense fighting during the second day of the Civil War battle on July 2, 1863, many men were killed at this location, and their bodies were left for months afterward, because the rocky formations made it difficult to find and retrieve them. This is where photographer Alexander Gardner took some of his most stunning photographs, four days after the battle ended. Stories of ghosts started almost immediately. A hunter was lost in the area, and an apparition appeared, pointing the way for him to exit. A ghost in tattered Confederate garb appears mysteriously in photographs, or poses with tourists, but is missing from the developed photos! Gunshots, men shouting, and the appearance of a ghostly rider who vanishes also occur at the site.

Another haunted battlefield is Stones River Battlefield near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Near the battlefield is one of the oldest national cemeteries in the country, and the oldest monument of the Civil War stands within the cemetery. Most sightings have occurred around what is known as the Slaughter Pen, where the Federals had been surrounded on three sides. It is here that the air is always still: birds and wildlife avoid the area. Eerie feelings persist, like you are being followed, and the air is 10 to 20 degrees cooler than in other parts of the park. Just like at Devil's Den, a mysterious soldier appears. White lights have been seen bobbing along the edge of woods, even though no headlights or fires are present.

Other battlefields have specific places that are most haunted as well. At Antietam (Sharpsburg), it is Bloody Lane, which became a slaughter pen for Confederate troops. Phantom gunfire, along with the smell of gunpowder and smoke, and ghosts of Rebel soldiers still haunt the location. Burnside Bridge, St. Paul Episcopal Church, which was used as a field hospital, and the Piper House are also reportedly haunted.

The "Hell Hole" in Georgia, near New Hope, is said to have a haunted ravine, and Chickamauga (a Cherokee Indian word meaning "River of Death") Battlefield is reportedly haunted by many ghosts. After the battle, fallen soldiers were buried randomly, with two to three in each unmarked grave. Shouts, screams, moans, horses galloping, and gunfire are some of the phantom sounds that occur at night. A ghostly woman in white appears often, as does "Old Green Eyes," believed to be a Confederate soldier whose head was blown off, or a monster that was there before the battle. The glowing green eyes have been seen on numerous occasions, and was reportedly seen after the battle, wandering amongst the dead.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Great Pictures from Last Weekend's Event

Battle of Collierville Reenactment

Last weekend's book signing event was a big success. Thanks to every one who came out to support this wonderful reenactment. Even though it was a bit muddy, we had a great time!

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Haunted Civil War Places

I have to admit, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Just ask my kids! And even though the ghost stories are spooky and make my skin crawl, I'm still fascinated by them, so I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you about a few other haunted places that were influenced by the War Between the States.

The Peidmont Hotel in Gainesville, Georgia belonged to General James Longstreet, or "Old Pete." After the war, he created controversy by becoming a Republican and holding posts under his former adversary, U. S. Grant. In his later years, he became a colorful eccentric, building terraces outside the hotel that looked like trenches. The locals called it "Little Gettysburg." He died in 1904, and since then, the hotel has gone through a number of changes, and is in the process of being renovated. It is said to host the general's spirit, as well as other unearthly beings. Items turn up missing, only to reappear later in another part of the building, and doors are rumored to open and close on their own.

Cashtown Inn eight miles west of Gettysburg was the site where Confederate officers met, and where the decision was made by General Lee to attack the Federals at Gettysburg. A mortally wounded soldier died on the second floor, and is believed to still wander the halls, dressed in a Confederate uniform. A local doctor claims he treated his comrade's wound, only to return the next day to find their campsite gone without a trace. Footsteps have been heard in the attic, things go missing, and the sounds of horses outside are but phantom imprints. Mysterious knocks on the doors when no one is there, and cold spots in the heat of summer also occur. Room #4 is reportedly the most haunted, and the favorite hangout of the Confederate soldier ghost.

Also at Gettysburg is the Thompson Farm. During the battle, wounded soldiers were taken to this farm on Seminary Ridge, which served as a field hospital. The dead were piled up in the barn's cellar, stacked on top of each other. Unbeknown to the stretcher bearers, a soldier at the bottom was still alive! Four days later, the corpses were slowly removed by the burial crew. They discovered the man on the bottom, who screamed in terror after his horrible ordeal. He died a few days later. In the late 1800's, the barn burned down, and a house was built in its place. The homeowners heard screams coming from the basement, and loud banging behind the cellar door. It wasn't until the house was blessed by a priest that the haunting finally stopped.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Haunted Houses

The list of houses that are supposedly haunted by Civil War ghosts is enormous, and exist in nearly every state, both North and South. The Farnsworth House in Gettysburg is among the top ten most haunted places in the country. But there are other dwellings where phantoms reside as well.

On November 30, 1864, The Battle of Franklin took place near Franklin, Tennessee. Sadly, Confederate General Hood's men charged Union General Schofield's troops, and Hood lost 6200 men. The Yankees lost 2300. In other words, it was a bloodbath. In the middle of the mayhem stood the Carter House. The Carter family and neighbors who were staying with them were forced to hide in the dank cellar while Federal troops took over the house, and heard the battle raging outside. One of their sons, Tod Carter, who had been fighting under Hood, was shot, and after the battle, members of the family scoured the battlefield in the dark until they found him only 100 yards from the house. He died two days later. Since the battle took place, the house has been host to many ghosts, one of whom is thought to be of Tod Carter. Staff members have witnessed the sensation that a child is pulling on their sleeves, or have observed objects appear, disappear, and move around. The apparition of a girl has been seen disappearing down steps and hallways, and the voice of a woman has been heard.

Also near Franklin is the Carnton Mansion. During the battle, Caroline McGavok and her husband, John, resided in the house, which ended up serving as a field hospital. Needless to say, many died there, and were moved to the back porch. There were so many dead men stacked up in the back of the house that they stood erect in columns. The dead were buried nearby, and in 1866, more remains were moved from the Carter House to the Carnton grounds. Since that time, heavy footsteps can be heard echoing through the old house, and a restless soldier has been seen many times pacing through the mansion, across the back porch, and around the yard. A former cook supposedly haunts the place, as does Caroline herself. There is also the spirit of a girl residing there, and a specter that is fond of breaking glass.

It's no wonder that many spooky houses stand in New Orleans. One is the Beauregard-Keys House. Confederate General Beauregard lived there after the war, and wrote several books on his battlefield experiences. After the turn of the century, the house was occupied by a wealthy Italian family who saw much violence there, as the Mafia tried to extort them, and several of their members were killed. But not until after WWII did the house become occupied with Civil War ghosts. The phantoms have been seen engaging in battle within the house itself. Horses gallop through, men scream and slash at each other, cannons and other weapons go off, and the general himself has even made an appearance.

The Griffon House outside the French Quarter was abandoned by its owner when Federal troops invaded New Orleans. The first soldiers to enter the house reported hearing chains rattling and moans coming from upstairs. They went to investigate, and found slaves shackled to the walls and near starvation. They were removed to a nearby hospital, and the house was turned into a prison. Two raucous Union soldiers were held captive there, and spent their days drinking, and loudly singing "John Brown's Body." They were actually Confederate deserters disguising themselves as Yankees. Then one day, they bribed a guard to bring them pistols, laid down on the bed, pointed the guns at each other's hearts and pulled the triggers simultaneously. It is said that they still haunt the old house, as their singing can be heard on occasion. Blood has been seen dripping from the ceiling, but upon further inspection, disappears. Marching boots echo upstairs, and pieces of concrete were hurled at previous owners, who went upstairs to find that nothing was amiss. In 1951, a hurricane blasted the town, and after the cleanup, a tunnel was discovered running underneath the house. In it was a chest, chains, trash, and a few uniforms.

The most tragic story revolves around the Lalaurie Mansion. In 1832, the Creole mansion was occupied by Dr. Louis Lalaurie and his wife, Delphine, who were well-respected socialites. Inside, the house was decorated with elaborate furnishings. Delphine was admired and revered, but there was a demonic side to her. She kept many slaves, and treated them with brutal cruelty. The cook was chained to the kitchen fireplace, and servants disappeared without a trace to be replaced frequently. In 1834, a fire tore through the house, and the firefighters made a ghastly discovery. Upstairs in the attic, slaves had been chained to the walls, strapped to operating tables, confined in cages, and tortured. Body parts were strewn across the floor, heads and internal organs were thrown haphazardly into buckets, and grisly souvenirs were stacked on shelves beside a collection of paddles and whips. All the victims were naked, some had their mouths sewn shut, or their hands sewn to their bodies. Others had been disemboweled while still alive. Limbs were cut off, fingernails had been ripped out, brains had been "stirred," eyes were poked out, and privates were sliced off. All this was done by Madame Lalaurie herself under the blind but knowing eye of her husband. This was the most hideous crime to ever happen in the city, but to avoid arrest, the Lalaurie's made a hasty departure. Almost immediately, reports surfaced about strange occurrences within the mansion. The house was left to disrepair, and neighbors said they heard screams and moans, and saw apparitions of slaves walking on the balconies and in the yard. Vagrants who went inside for shelter were never seen again. Over the years, tenants stayed for only brief periods. During the times the house was occupied, strange things happened: a black man in chains attacked tenants and then disappeared, animals were brutally butchered, children were attacked by a whip-wielding ghost, and of course, there were the never ending screams, yells, and cries. When the house was recently renovated, a makeshift graveyard was discovered under the floor, which explains the disappearance of Delphine's slaves. Her victims were many, and apparently some still linger there.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ghosts, Goblins, and Soldiers

Since Halloween is nearly upon us, I decided to write on my blog about hauntings that have taken place in various parts of the country in regard to the Civil War. 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 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 saw its share during the War Between the States. 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 guestrooms are decorated in beautiful Victorian style. Guests and staff have witnessed strange occurrences on several occasions. Some of the servers have had mysterious encounters in that someone or something yanks 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 recently added a seance room in the spooky basement to replicate the Victorian notion of communicating with the dead. When my husband and I stayed at the Inn a few years ago, we didn't experience any ghostly encounters, although the room we stayed in was decorated with strange paintings. One was of Jennie Wade herself, looking straight at us from beyond. Another was a creepy Victorian angel, and a third was that of a weirdly-dressed monkey playing a mandolin. You would think the paintings would be enough to summon ghosts, but alas, I never did encounter any, even though I sat outside late at night waiting for an apparition!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Witness Trees

At various battlefields and historical buildings 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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Discoveries of Old Things

Since the invention of metal detectors, amazing discoveries have been made, giving us insight into the past. Recently, at a golf course in Franklin, Tennessee, Civil War relics were discovered on what is believed to be a tract the Confederates traveled en route to the Battle of Franklin in 1864. The property was purchased by Franklin's Charge Preservation Coalition for $5 million in 2005 to prevent the land's development when a country club was put up for sale.

Franklin's Alderman Mike Skinner wants the land to be surveyed in order to prevent further development on the site. So far, a U.S. belt buckle, several minie balls, grape shot, a small button, and a 6-pounder cannon ball have all been discovered.

To know that live ammunition still lies beneath the surface is startling. Last year, an amateur historian sadly met his demise while cleaning a cannon ball he had discovered. Relics hunters need to use precaution, and obey the law where applicable. In Gettysburg, two men are being investigated for metal detecting in the park. Because they were confronted by park rangers, they will no doubt be facing hefty fines, thanks to the Archaeological Resource Protection Act.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Modern Medicine or Medieval Practices?

One of the saddest facts about the War Between the States is that technological warfare far outweighed medical advances. Many soldiers, after being shot by a minie ball, had to succumb to amputation or die from gangrene. There was no known remedy for infection at the time.

Some medical practices were downright barbaric, although bleeding had become obsolete by the mid 19th century. Leeches are used for this purpose now, interestingly. Halfway during the Civil War, it was discovered that maggots actually did good in that they devoured infected flesh, so they were intentionally placed on the soldiers for that reason.

Doctors considered infection a good sign, and referred to it as "laudible puss." They had no idea that viruses could be spread between people, or that insects carried diseases. People during the time thought that the air or the ground was contaminated, and that is how illnesses were spread. They were vaguely aware of germs and sanitation.

Many Civil War reenactments across the country are now including medical demonstrations, so that school groups and visitors can experience what a soldier's life was like, including the suffering they endured at the hands of physicians. I highly recommend that you attend one if you get the chance. Please check out for a list of reenactments. You can also find an extensive list at

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Civil War Artifacts - The Strange and Unusual

Victorians had a peculiar way of cherishing their mementos. I'm sure you've seen wreaths made out of human hair, as well as toys and clothing made from animal hides, bird's feathers, and horse hair. But some of the relics that have survived the test of time are truly bizarre in nature.

Case in point: at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., there is a museum in the basement that houses interesting artifacts from the Civil War and President Lincoln's assassination. Strange as it seems now, the President's coat, encased in glass, still has his dried blood visible. People tore blood-stained pieces from the coat and saved them as souvenirs, so parts of the coat are missing.

Horses have been stuffed and preserved, like General Philip Sheridan's horse, Winchester, which is on display at the Smithsonian American History Museum. Stranger still is the head of General George Meade's horse, Old Baldy, which is stuffed and hung on a plaque, waiting to be displayed after the Civil War Museum in Philadelphia is completed.

But the oddest item of all is the leg of General Daniel E. Sickles, who lost the appendage during the Battle of Gettysburg, and donated it to science. The leg is still on display at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. General Sickles was one strange character who would often visit his leg after the war ended. So the next time your grandma wants to show you her gall stones in a jar, don't think it too bizarre. At least it's not her leg!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Captured Confederate Flag Still in Wisconsin

I recently learned that a First National Flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars, is being held captive in Boscobel, Wisconsin. The flag was captured during the first day of battle near Gettysburg in 1863 by Private Richard Huftil, and has since been known as the “Huftil Flag.”

During the course of one hundred and forty-six years, the flag has been passed from the Grand Army of the Republic, to the Women’s Relief Corp, to the Grant County Historical Society. It has been on display at Boscobel’s G.A.R. Hall, one of only three that still remain in the upper Midwest.

There has been controversy surrounding the flag for many years. The Preservationist Society is concerned that if the flag is returned to its rightful owners, i.e. the Sons of Confederate Veterans, harm will come to the county’s historical preservation in the way of their “heritage, traditions, and tourism.” Although I see their point and understand their concern, the bottom line still is this: the flag belongs to the SCV, so give it back! (We are finding out about more flags that are still up North as well, so I’ll keep you posted.)