As Halloween draws nearer and thoughts turn to all things spooky, it seemed a good time to shine my Mythical Monday spotlight on rumored hauntings. Most of you know I live in Central Pennsylvania, which places the battlefield of Gettysburg not far from my doorstep. My husband and I have visited often, soaking up the history of this landmark site that was the turning point of America’s Civil War.
I never really stop to think about it being haunted when I visit, but as a place where an estimated 50,000 Union and Confederate Soldiers met their end in a three-day battle, it stands as one of the most haunted locations in America. I’ve never encountered a ghost there (I don’t think I’d want to) but I do recall feeling significantly “creeped out” during one venture onto Little Round Top.
If you’re unfamiliar with Civil War history, Little Round Top (a large rocky wooded hill on the battlefield) was held by Union forces when the confederates launched repetitive assaults. The day culminated with a grisly downhill bayonet charge by the 20th Maine under Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Union forces—who were out of ammo by that point—took the victory but it was costly to both sides.
The_New_York_Monument_on_Little_Round_Top By DeeFabian (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve hiked Little Round Top numerous times but on the last occasion, I distinctly recall being uneasy as I walked downhill. Usually there are other people around, park visitors taking the trail up and down from the summit. On that day it was just me and my husband, and the surrounding woods felt entirely too still, much too solemn. Even today, I have a vivid memory of anxiously wanting to reach the bottom, imagining some unseen danger lurking in the trees. A presence I couldn’t name. It’s interesting to note I didn’t realize the site was haunted at the time. I’ve since heard there are numerous apparitions that have been spotted at Little Round Top—soldiers moving in formation through the trees, a headless horseman, and even an old private.
According to legend, when the movie Gettysburg was being filmed, many actors, hired as extras, would wander the battlefield in costume between takes. On one such occasion, a small group hiked up Little Round Top to enjoy the sunset. Near the top, they heard a rustling of leaves and turned to spy a haggard-looking old man approaching. Dressed in the uniform of Union private, he was filthy, his clothing reeking of sulfur (sulfur was a key ingredient of the black powder used in 1863). Approaching the group, he extended his hand and passed over a few musket rounds. “Rough one today, eh, boys?” he asked, then vanished while the men were focused on the ammo. No one had ever seen the old private before. When the men took the musket rounds into town they were authenticated as original rounds, 130 years old.
Photo of Devil’s Den on Gettysburg Battlefield By Hal Jespersen at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Devil’s Den, a ridge strewn with large boulders, known as the “slaughter pen” for the inordinate amount of lives lost there, is another hotspot for paranormal activity. It is considered by many to be the most haunted spot on the battlefield. Visitors routinely have issues when trying to use cameras at Devil’s Den. Perhaps the reason can be traced back to Civil War photographer, Alexander Gardner. Controversy has swirled over whether or not Mr. Gardner moved a confederate sniper’s corpse, dragging the body into the Devil’s Den area to create a better shot with more photogenic surroundings. Such callousness didn’t go over well with the men who fought and died there, and as a result visitors frequently complain of their cameras jamming and, on some occasions, even being thrown to the ground by an unseen force.
There is an interesting tale of a woman who was attempting to take a picture one morning when an apparition appeared. The phantom, described as a “scruffy-looking hippie type with ragged clothing, a shirt without buttons, a big hat and no shoes, directed the woman to take a picture of Plum Run instead, saying “What you are looking for is over there.”
Apparently this same phantom, identified as a Texan soldier, has taken a liking to the living and is often mistaken for a Civil War re-enactor. He has posed for photos with visitors, but the space where he was standing is always mysteriously blank when the film is developed. I have to say, I have never taken photos at Devil’s Den, but this has me curious to attempt it. I’ll definitely try it on my next visit.
There are numerous other reportedly haunted sites on the battlefield and in the town proper of Gettysburg. Several locations have been featured on “Ghost Adventures,” and there are numerous ghost tours available for anyone to eager to seek out phantoms. You Tube is loaded with videos of apparitions caught on tape.
An integral part of American history, Gettysburg entertains its share of ghost hunters all year, but probably more so near Halloween.
If you had the chance, would you go ghost hunting?