Generals and Villains : The Ghosts of Gettysburg
The Civil War was a divisive time in the history of the United States. It was fought over economic philosophies and the rights of states. Nothing was clear in this war and because of this political ambiguity this war literally pitted brother against brother, showing that even within a family the reasons for this war was not a simple one yet people were willing to fight and die for the Northern cause as well as the cause of the South. It was at a small, unassuming Pennsylvania town, on the dates of July 1 through the 4th, in the year 1863, that these emotions and ideological beliefs that divided a Nation caught fire and became a crucible known now as the Battle of Gettysburg. Within this fiery furnace, nearly 57,000 soldiers lost their lives in a battle fueled by hatred, mistrust, and familiarity. The scar left on this country can still be seen to this day, in the cemeteries and monuments that attest to those who served on both sides of this War Between the States. It is out of this volcanic cauldron that took so many lives in such a brief period of time with so much emotions attached that many of the souls lost on that field of war linger still, a haunting reminder of man’s inhumanity against man. Gettysburg’s ghosts are derived from all the qualities of the human heart, both the good and the bad.
Gettysburg is considered by many to be one of the most haunted places certainly in the United States but arguably maybe even the world. There is a sure mythology attached to those who fought in and around the town of Gettysburg. In this mythmaking, mortal men became nearly revered as gods and those who were cast as villains took the shape of veritable demons. But it is this extreme that makes up the hauntings witnessed in and around the town of Gettysburg.
The Ghosts of Soldiers: The Battle Still Rages in the Afterlife
It seems to be true that old soldiers ever die. At least at Gettysburg. Possibly the most haunted location in Gettysburg is a boulder-strewn area known as Devil’s Den, which has a reputation for being one of the most active paranormal hotspots on the battlefield. The fighting in this area was so intense that the entire location surrounding Devil’s Den became known as the Valley of Death.
Possibly due to the geology of this area, Devil’s Den seems to act as a conduit between the world of the dead and that of the living
On the second day of battle, July 2nd, 1863, the area around Devil’s Den saw extreme fighting between approximately 7,900 men. The crevices of the boulders were used by Confederate sharpshooters who fired at the Union Army on top of Little Round Top. By the time the battle ended over 2,600 men had been killed in the area in and around Devil’s Den. So many Confederates were killed in between Devil’s Den and Little Round Top that it was often referred to as the Slaughter Pen. A creek running in between Little Round Top and Devil’s Den became known as Bloody Run because it literally ran red with blood that fateful day. Unfortunately, a heavy rain on July 4th, 1863, caused the creek to flood drowning a few wounded soldiers being taken to the field hospital.
It is at Devil’s Den that many people report batteries being drained of their power or odd noises or even voices recorded as an EVP. But some witnesses have professed other spiritual activity. The ghost of the sharpshooter Alexander Gardner is one of the phantoms often witnessed at this site. Seen sneaking behind rocks, when approached the spirit simply vanishes.
Oddly, a rather frequent sighting in the Devil’s Den area is that of a disheveled young man. Always described as barefoot, wearing shabby clothes, and a floppy hat, he often approaches people and tells them “What you’re looking for is over there” while pointing towards the small creek known as Plum Run. He then promptly disappears leaving those that have encountered him befuddled. This odd ghost has made a name known for himself colloquially as the Helpful Hippy.
But not all haunting at Gettysburg are by foot soldiers of low rank. Indeed, many ghostly generals have been seen throughout the area that comprises Gettysburg. One of these ghosts appear to be that of Samuel Wylie Crawford, who was a United States Army surgeon and a Union general in the Civil War. He served as a surgeon at Fort Sumter, South Carolina during the confederate bombardment in 1861, the birth pangs that would bring to fruition the Battle Between the States. He transferred to the infantry early in the war and led a brigade at Cedar Mountain which routed a division that included Stonewall Jackson’s unit, though it was later driven back. He was severely wounded at Antietam and returned to action at Gettysburg, where his division drove the Confederates out of “the valley of Death” beside Little Round Top, with Crawford dramatically seizing the colors and leading from the front. Although this was a relatively minor engagement, Crawford tried for years to become officially acknowledged as the sole savior of Gettysburg, but without success. The preservation of the battlefield, however, is largely due to his efforts. This may be why his spirit remains, to ensure that this solemn battlefield is respected and revered. Out of respect for this man, the government commissioned a fitting memorial to this man, and in 1988, a statue of Crawford was dedicated at Gettysburg depicting him clutching a bullet-riddled American flag.
Samuel Wylie Crawford
One of the many generals who may still be haunting Gettysburg, Samuel Wylie Crawford still appears to stand guard over this field of battle
Crawford, however, survived the Battle of Gettysburg. One person who did not yet is seen still is John Fulton Reynolds, a man who was a career United States Army officer and a general in the Civil War. One of the Union Army’s most respected senior commanders, he played a key role in committing the Army of the Potomac to the Battle of Gettysburg and was killed at the start of the battle. On the morning of July 1, 1863, Reynolds was commanding the “left wing” of the Army of the Potomac, a sniper fired from the woods and the general fell from his horse with a wound in the back of the upper neck, or lower head, and died almost instantly. Today there are the witness reports of the ghost of a horse and rider whom many consider to be the spiritual residue of the souls of Reynolds and his trusty steed.
James Johnston Pettigrew was mortally wounded at Gettysburg
It appears several Confederate generals still dwell within the confines of Gettysburg as well. James Johnston Pettigrew was an American author, lawyer, and soldier. He served in the army of the Confederate States of America, fighting in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and played a prominent role in the Battle of Gettysburg. Despite starting the Gettysburg Campaign commanding a brigade, Pettigrew took over command of his division after the division’s original commander Henry Heth was wounded. In this role, Pettigrew was one of three division commanders in the disastrous assault known as Pickett’s Charge on the final day of Gettysburg. He was badly wounded during the assault and was later mortally wounded during a Union attack while the Confederates retreated to Virginia near Falling Waters, West Virginia, dying several days later. Yet, his spirit did not peacefully transition to eternal rest, nor did he choose to return to his beloved South. Instead, his ghost is said o remain in the North, at the field of Gettysburg, where so much of his attention in this life was focused.
William Dorsey Pender, a general who was killed at Gettysburg and whose ghost is still claimed to roam the fields
William Dorsey Pender was a General in the Confederacy in the American Civil War serving as a Brigade and Divisional commander. Pender was mortally wounded on the second day of Gettysburg. On July 1, 1863, his division moved in support of Maj. Gen. Henry Heth’s division. When Heth’s men became engaged in the violence of war, uncharacteristically for the normally aggressive Pender, he did not immediately charge in to assist Heth, but took up positions on Herr Ridge and awaited developments. In Heth’s second assault of the day, Pender was ordered to support Heth, but Heth declined the assistance and Pender once again kept his division in the rear. For the second time in the day, Heth got more than he bargained for in his assault on the Union troops. He was wounded in action and could not request the assistance from Pender he had earlier refused. Pender was ordered to attack the new Union position on Seminary Ridge. The 30-minute assault by three of his brigades was very bloody and barbaric. In the end, Pender’s men forced the Union troops back in and through Gettysburg. On July 2, Pender was posted near the Lutheran Seminary. During a Union attack, Pender was wounded in the thigh by a shell fragment fired from Cemetery Hill. Pender was evacuated to Staunton, Virginia, where an artery in his leg ruptured on July 18. Surgeons amputated his leg in an attempt to save him, but he died a few hours later. Many tourists have seen a ghostly figure of a Confederate General, propped up on a crutch and missing a leg, surveying the field from Seminary Ridge. Could this be the ghost of General Pender, reevaluating his offense move that cost so many men their lives?
Collateral Damage: Civilian Heros
War claims more than just combatants as victims. Too often civilians are caught in the crossfire and are casualties of a war they were not part of. This is illustrated most startling in the figure of the young Jennie Wade.
Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed at Gettysburg and who is still seen in ghostly form. This statue is situated outside the Jennie Wade House
Mary Virginia Wade was born in Gettysburg in 1843. She was called Jennie. In 1863, just 20 years of age, she found herself in a no man’s land between Union and Confederate troops. Even though this was a perilous situation, Jennie served her country by providing water and food to weary Union Soldiers and well as tending to those who were wounded in battle. During the first two days of the battle, a cannon ball landed in the dividing wall in the attic, but it didn’t explode. While many bullets hit the outside of the house, none came inside. However, sometime during the third day of the battle, a stray bullet that was shot by a confederate soldier, holding his position in the Farnsworth House attic across the street, came through two wooden doors of their home, striking poor Jennie in the back as she was baking bread in the kitchen for the famished troops. Jennie was the only civilian killed in this bloody 3-day battle, and she was remembered as a martyr to the cause, an example of courage and patriotism. Her ghost, witnessed both in the house now referred to appropriately enough as the Jennie Wade House and in the battlefields around her home, possibly an environmental residual replay of her care for those wounded in battle, is a testament to this young lady who served her country by providing for those who were hungry and thirsty as well as nursing others who were injured. In war, all give some. Jennie gave all. When soldiers came to take her body, her mother insisted in having Jennie put in the cellar, until it was safe to move her. Soldiers stayed with the body until she could be buried in a temporary burial spot. Finally, Jennie’s remains were buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery with honor. Her grave is commemorated by a lovely statue and an American flag.
Elizabeth Thorn, although pregnant, still took compassion for the unburied dead
Another hero of the Civil War is also a woman. Although she wasn’t killed in this War, her spirit still resides, presiding over the graves of those whom she helped bury. Her name was Elizabeth Thorn. When the shadow of war befell Gettysburg she was 6 months pregnant, and her husband was off fighting in another campaign. She was alone and vulnerable, but she thought of others before she thought of herself. Her vocation in this conflict was respect and the burial of the dead. With a war that took nearly 57,000 lives, death and burial was a too common theme. Ms. Thorn’s husband was caretaker of the Evergreen Cemetery. While he served his country, his wife took in upon herself to serve in his stead. Soon the cemetery itself would become a battle ground. No ground in this town was safe from the ravages of this inundating war, not even the final resting place of loved ones who had passed many years before this bloody conflict that pitted brother against brother.
It must be noted that the task to give proper burial of the battle’s dead fell largely on the shoulders of this pregnant woman. Elizabeth Thorn found herself with the daunting mission of burying Gettysburg’s dead, burying nearly 100 Union soldiers’ remains in the Evergreen Cemetery. Today, there is a statue of a pregnant Elizabeth, which serves as a memorial to her and all women who offered service and support during the battle and its aftermath. It may be her ghost that is still seen moving about this cemetery, going from headstone to headstone, often times carrying a lantern that appears like a ghost light in the foggy nights. It has been said, too, that the cry of a newborn baby is sometimes heard within the confines of this cemetery. Even in death, Ms. Thorn still maintains the role as caretaker of the cemetery and mother.
Whether stranger or friend, the students at this college came to the aid of all in need
Gettysburg College was founded 31 years before the Battle of Gettysburg was waged and sits just adjacent to the infamous battlefield. Since the college stood directly in the midst of the Battle of Gettysburg, it was only logical to use this massive structure as a make-shift hospital in order to care for wounded soldiers. This such hospital was unique in that it cared for troops of both the North and South. It is interesting to note that upon forces taking control of the college, students rushed to the aid of soldiers wounded in battle. Every hallway and room within the college was occupied by an estimated 700 Confederate Soldiers.
For a month after the Battle of Gettysburg, the college continued to serve as a Confederate hospital and prison camp for captured Union soldiers and officials. Surgeries also continued well after the war, taking place in Penn Hall and the surrounding fields, while the dead remained scattered outside, hurriedly buried to avoid the spread of disease.
While the sounds of cries of anguish still abound in and around this school, Gettysburg College stands as a testament to the decency that remains even at a time when inhumanity rages around you.
Rosa Carmichael: The Evil of Gettysburg
War is indeed an inhuman condition that brings out the bestial in men. But these men, for the most part, are not evil, they are simply doing their duty in a cause for which they are serving. Sometimes evil does exist and is chased from the darkness until it is brought to light. With all of the violence and hostility that transpired on the bloody fields of Gettysburg, there may not be a more wicked person found than in the guise of a woman by the name of Rosa Carmichael. She was to care for children left without family after the Civil War. She was to shelter and protect these innocent lives who were torn from their families by the terrors of this conflict. Instead, she became a bad dream to these children. Located on the edge of the original battlefield, the Children’s Orphanage should be seen as a tribute to those who suffered after the war and well after, even if they were too young to take part in the tragedy that struck our nation. The wages of war are often paid out to the most innocent, collateral damage in a war between the States.
After the Civil War, there were children left without families, homes, and necessities. Children were taken in by relatives, neighbors, or left on the street. After a local petition, the Children’s Orphanage was opened in 1868 and housed 22 displaced children. A year later, the count grew to 60 children, overcrowding the two-story building. Accommodations were made and a new wing was added, but by 1870 nearly all funding was depleted. With the number of children in the building, a disciplinarian was hired. Her name was Rosa Carmichael.
Just six years into her appointment, Carmichael was charged with numerous accounts of cruelty and aggravated assault inflicted on her innocent orphans. The abuse was the main action that led to her indictment. The original file was based on a 16-year-old boy’s escape from the orphanage, in tattered clothing, no shoes, and missing part of his arm. This boy also told the story of two girls who were forced to wear boys’ clothing while being locked in shackles in a veritable dungeon. You see, the dream of the orphanage had become a nightmare for those who had lost parents in the war, confined in a building that no longer sheltered and protected them but was a place of torture. Some children, denied food and water, found that by drinking the drainage of sewage that flowed thought the basement they could at least stay alive.
As Carmichael’s trial continued, the revelation of her punishments were dragged out into the light, and her abuse allegations grew crueler and more regular against the children she was commissioned to serve. She even hired an older teenager to beat the children who misbehaved. Carmichael reportedly even locked a 4-year-old boy out in the cold of winter in an outhouse. He was released when neighbors heard his tormented screams. Carmichael was also said to have had girls stand on desks in one position until they passed out from exhaustion. Indeed, it was proven that Carmichael had a 5’ x 8’ dungeon built in the basement of the orphanage, equipped with shackles and torture devices which lead to an unknown number of children’s’ deaths.
Although adamantly claiming slander & falsehoods, Rosa Carmichael was charged and removed from her position, as well as being banished from the town. The orphanage eventually closed in 1878. The orphanage was ultimately turned into a Civil War Museum. It is claimed that many visitors to the old orphanage hear the crying and footsteps of children echoing in the halls. Laughter has also been heard within these walls, while some guests have felt tugs on their clothing. Spectral children in worn clothing have been spotted throughout the building when no children had been on the premises. It is rumored that the infamous Rosa Carmichael has been seen peering out of windows and walking the grounds behind the house. The shackles have been heard rattling when no breeze is active in the basement. The overall ambiance of the building is said to be an overwhelming sadness and a feeling of despair. If the ghost of Carmichael still remains in this world, unable to pass over, this limbo of the museum in which her soul resides may be the purgatory needed for her to overcome her transgressions on this life in order to cross over to the next.
Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts And Haunts Of The Civil War: Authentic
Accounts Of The Strange And Unexplained. Barnes and Noble, 2003.
Murphy, Jr. Ronald L. On Ghosts. Camonica Books, 2016.
O’Neil, Bill. The Great Book of Pennsylvania. Independent, 2019.
Reardon, Carol and Vossler, Tom. A Field Guide to Gettysburg. University of
North Carolina Press, 2017.
Roberts, Nancy. Civil War Ghost Stories and Legends. Independent, 2016.
Rowland, Tim. Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War. Skyhorse, 2011.
Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Mariner Books, 2004.Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage. Harper Perennial, 2003.