Ghosts of the Civil War

There is an oft repeated story about a time in the American south purportedly having occurred during a year just following the end of the Civil War. Almost overnight, close to four million former slaves became freedmen, and it seems that they might have had more to deal with than just former slave owners and segregationists. It seems that arising from the thousands and thousands of war dead, there
Graves at the Battlefield of the First Battle of Bull Run, Manassas, VA

Graves at the Battlefield of the First Battle of Bull Run, Manassas, VA

was a massive influx of ghosts spreading across the land that had fought to keep the southern way of life. This particular yarn is said to have taken place in Attakapas Parish, Louisiana, but Attakapas Parish didn’t exist by the time of the Civil War, having been divided up time and again, and by the post-war years, had by then been divided up into St. Martin, St. Mary. Lafayette, Vermillion, and Iberia Parishes. The location is the same, only the names have changed. So, the story goes, late one night a freedman was awakened by a traveler, who asked for a drink of water. The freedman filled a bucket and brought it to the traveler, who quickly drank the entire bucket, and then asked for another. He was brought a second bucket full of water, and again downed the entire contents, and asked for yet a third bucket. After finishing off the third, he remarked how thirsty he had been, and that he had traveled over a thousand miles in the preceding twenty-four hours, and that those buckets of water were the best drink
he had since he was killed at the battle of Shiloh.

The Battle of Shiloh itself also produced the story of the Union drummer boy, who is now said to haunt the former battleground. According to the story, a commending officer had determined that an offensive had turned bad and he called out for a retreat, but that the drummer boy instead played the call for attack, then explaining to his commanding officer that the attack was the only signal he
had learned. It turned out that the accidental offensive was effective and that the Union troops were successful, taking the hill that they had fought for, but that afterward when the officer sought out the drummer boy, he found that the boy had perished in the attack.

One Civil War battleground area from where ghost stories abound is the 165-year-old Sachs Covered Bridge, over which armies traversed to Gettysburg. Stories yet today report the hearing of cannon fire, the sightings of apparitions and plaintive screams from the area of the bridge, from where some legends say confederate spies were hanged, while others say that it was deserters from the confederate army. What is known is that several brigades of the Union
Bermuda Hill Plantation

Bermuda Hill Plantation

Army crossed the bridge on their way to Gettysburg (and also to an establishment called the Black Horse Tavern), and that a short few days later, that what was left of General Lee’s Army of Norther Virginia retreated over the bridge following the Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg. Other stories say that General Lee would stand at the bridge smoking his pipe and that the odor of his pipe
tobacco still remains in the air.

Early in the second half of the nineteenth century, the country was seeing a transition from church cemeteries to the expanding concept of non-church garden cemeteries, and with the coming of the Civil War and the multitude of casualties it brought, there developed a movement for national cemeteries, where the war dead and others who had fought for the country would be laid to rest. There had been, Gettysburg being one of the first, the dedication and use of battlefield cemeteries, but politicians and journalists began the effort to build national cemeteries in an effort to unite the victorious North as well as to honor their dead, and within a short number of years, 74 national
cemeteries were built, where over 300,000 soldiers were buried, all for, in part, the goal of “building a more perfect Union”.

But the fact was that this effort was made to bury the Union dead in places of honor and respect. Not so for the losing south, where the US government had little interest in assisting the states that had started the insurrection and caused the massive numbers of dead
United States soldiers. No, the burial of confederate soldiers was left to individual efforts and fundraising done in individual communities, some more successful than others. A movement did develop, however, largely spurred on by widows and the mothers of dead soldiers, to use the burial of the southern war dead as a means of rejecting the outcome of the war and of the Union itself. Eventually, the US government saw the need to assist such efforts, and in 1900 Congress saw fit to addd a confederate soldiers’ section to Arlington National Cemetery, and a few years later the Commission for Marking Graves of Confederate Dead was also established.

However, it does not take a math genius to see that this process took 40 years, and that
Sachs Covered Bridge

Sachs Covered Bridge

was plenty of time for the ghosts of dead confederate soldiers to roam the south. Stories of ghost sightings through the “old south” abound, many focusing on travelers on the road and others keeping watch on formerly opulent but now dilapidated buildings. In southwest Tennessee, there are stories of a sentinel keeping watch over a once prestige home on a hill and who is said to tell inquiring
passersby that he had been killed at Chickamauga. The still standing remnants of former plantations were fertile grounds to find others standing guard and not hesitant to tell of their deaths at various southern battlefields.

Some tales of the ghosts of confederate soldiers tell about how they threaten and even assault southerners who they feel have given in to the North by paying taxes or by voting for the republican party of Abraham Lincoln. In the great book “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” author Colin Dickey tells the story of how ghosts lashed a South Carolina resident, telling him “You must promise to vote the Democratic ticket, or you go dead before we leave you!”.

The early history and development of the Ku Klux Klan, as demonstrated in part by their white sheets and hoods, is unequivocal that members represented themselves, in the raids and attacks of
hatred and destruction, as being the ghosts of dead confederate soldiers. Numerous stories were related of KKK members who used props such as skeleton hands to put forth that ghostly appearance, and even of having oilskin bags beneath their robes into which to direct water as they pretended to drink massive amounts as such southern ghosts were so prone to do. The aura of the ghost of the confederate soldier became one of the mainstays of the segregationist south in its effort to regain and retain the superiority that the outlawing of slavery and that their defeat in the Civil War had taken away.

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