The Christmas Picket: A Civil War Christmas, Part 12

alarmed-picket-guard-harpers-weekly-feb-1862
Advance picket guard keeping watch against surprise attack.

December 25, 1861. A nineteen year old private in the Confederate army, Valerius Cincinnatus Giles, was on guard detail along the Potomac River this Winter day, pacing back and forth and occasionally staring over at the Yankees of General Sickles’ New York Brigade on the Maryland side.

Private Giles of the 4th Texas, was on picket duty on December 21, 1861, when he had an uncanny encounter.
Private Giles of the 4th Texas was on picket duty on December 21, 1861, when he had an uncanny encounter.

As a picket, his duty was give the alarm of any enemy activity, lest the vile Yankees should decide to leave the comfort of their warm huts and brave the bleak cold outside. Private Giles’ unit, a detachment of the 4th Texas Infantry, had just relieved another unit guarding that sector. The men would rather have been back in camp, enjoying the holiday as best they could; but duty called, and someone needed to be on duty, no matter what.

Private Giles and his two brothers had all answered the call of duty and volunteered for the Confederate army. Giles, still smartly dressed in his long grey frock coat with black waist belt and black strap over his right shoulder, and adorned with a black Hardee hat with one side turned up, looked the model of a military man. One of Giles’s brothers was serving with the Tenth Texas Infantry in Arkansas, while the other, brother Lew, was with Terry’s Rangers (Eighth Texas Cavalry), somewhere in Kentucky.

There was little likelihood of Valerius being in any personal danger that Christmas; the Yankees desired a break from war that day as much as the Rebels. That afternoon there was a brief to-do when a Yankee steamboat came in sight. But it was soon recognized as a hospital ship and not a gunboat, and so was left alone to ply it trade on the opposite shore.

Picket Duty for either side in Winter was an unpleasant task--all the more so on Christmas Day.  Illustration by William Trego
Picket Duty for either side in Winter was an unpleasant task–all the more so on Christmas Day. Illustration by William Trego

More out of boredom than necessity, Private Giles began to walk his post, tramping through snow knee deep in places. The colder clime of northern Virginia was a change of scene for the Texas boy and there in the piney woods in midwinter, when the earth and green branches of the trees were covered with snow, there was no sound of birds singing or crickets chirping. With not a breath of air blowing, the stillness all around him seemed oppressive.

Valerius’s thoughts naturally started to wander, thinking about his home and family members on that Christmas Day. It was at four p.m. that afternoon when he heard it. He remembered that he was not sleepy or drowsy and perfectly wide awake when he heard it. He heard his brother Lew Giles’s voice, clear as day, calling out his name:

“It was then 4 P.M., December 25, 1861. I was not sleeping or dreaming. and firmly believed at the time that I heard my brother calling me, but it must have been a delusion of the imagination.”

Knowing Lew was far away to the west somewhere in either Kentucky or Tennessee, Val thought at first that somehow it was just his homesickness playing on his imagination; that it was some kind of delusion. Yet he knew his brother’s voice and knew that the voice he had heard was his brother’s.

Gallatin, Tennessee, where Valerius' brother Lew was brought after being wounded in Kentucky.
Gallatin, Tennessee, where Valerius’ brother Lew was brought after being wounded in Kentucky.

It was only later that Val learned that Lew had been wounded at the Battle of Mumfordville, in Kentucky, on the seventeenth of December. Seriously injured, he had been taken to Gallatin, Tennessee, to the home of a family friend, where he lingered for several days.

That at about the same time that his brother was dying, Valerius heard his voice cry out was  unbelievable, but in his heart the young soldier knew it to be true

According to information the family later received from their father’s friend in Gallatin, Lew Giles expired at exactly four p.m. on Christmas Day of 1861.

For more true Civil War stories, see: Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.  Now out is my latest Civil War book,  Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife.

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover

Ambrose Bierce is famed as a noted American writer, satirist and cynic. Less well known is Bierce’s military career during the Civil War, where he fought with distinction in many of the major battles of the war. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife chronicles his wartime experiences in depth for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paranormal Presidency cover   suitable for online use 96dpi
The Paranormal Presidency delves into the more esoteric aspects of Abraham Lincoln and his presidency
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War,  uncanny tales of the Civil War.
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Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Sunday is a day of rest, or it should be–all the more so if it is Easter Sunday.  April sixth, 1862 started out that way for the Union troops camped along the Tennessee River in west Tennessee.  At Pittsburg Landing, where most of General Grant’s men were, all seemed placid.  Most men were sleeping in; a few early risers had begun breakfast, others were just lolling about, enjoying their leisure.  There had been some shots in the distance when it was still pitch black, but no one took notice—probably a nervous guard or two, is all.  As men dreamed dreams of home and loved ones, blood-curdling yells broke the peace.

The following day, April 7, General Buell's army counter-attacked and drove the Confederates back, saving Grant's army; Grant however, claimed credit for the victory.
The following day, April 7, General Buell’s army counter-attacked and drove the Confederates back, saving Grant’s army; Grant however, claimed credit for the victory.

Men awoke, groggy and disoriented, to suddenly find a bayonet descending on them the next second.

As Ambrose Bierce observed, “many of Grant’s men when spitted on Confederate bayonets were as naked as civilians; but it should not be allowed that this was not because of any defect in their picket line.  Their error was of another sort: they had no pickets.”

The outlying camps were quickly overrun. Federals who heard the commotion ran to grab their guns and rushed to the front, only to find themselves too late, as successive waves of howling Rebels outflanked and overran successive Yankee positions.  By the end of the day the shattered remnants of Grants army were mostly crowded by the edge of the river, like condemned men awaiting their doom.

In the weeks leading up to the battle, Grant had had ample time to build redoubts, entrenchments and other defenses to protect against surprise attack, yet failed to do so.  Grant was not even at Pittsburg Landing, making his headquarters a number of miles away at Savannah, Tennessee.

Nor did Grant’s many regiments of cavalry and infantry do any patrol work outside their own bivouacs as they may easily have done.  Still, one must give credit where credit is due: Grant knew how to write a great after action report, and in it everyone but himself found some blame, save for his flame bearded—and some said crazy—friend General Sherman.  Buell “went slow,” Wallace “went slow;” but apparently the Butternuts of Johnston & Beauregard’s army did not go slow that day.  Luckily, the Confederates failed to overrun the riverboat landing by sunset on the first day–they were too exhausted from their stunning victory.

As fate would have it, during the night a fresh Federal army came across the river under General Don Carlos Buell to save the day—only that day would be April seventh, not the sixth.

Ambrose Bierce First Lt Don Swaim
Ambrose Bierce, at the time only a sergeant in Hazen’s brigade, was eyewitness to the second day’s battle and witnessed how demoralized Grant’s army was. He blamed Grant’s carelessness for their defeat.

If you read any one of the many books on Shiloh, the word that almost always comes to mind is “bloody.”  While there would be many battles that would prove as gory as Shiloh, this was the first fight where the bloodletting proved to be on such a staggering scale for both sides.  Many a young man with a sweetheart at home never got to hold her in his arms ; many a son was never to ever see his mother or sister.  Many who fell that day earned a mass grave with other unnamed souls in unhallowed ground.  Is it any wonder that ever since that awful Sunday those who have traversed the many acres that make up Shiloh battlefield have reported feeling strange feelings, hearing strange sounds and seeing strange sights?

Pittsburg Landing shortly after the battle. It was here, during the night, that most of General Buell's army was ferried over to rescue Grant's men from their leader's incompetence. Proper credit for the victory was never given to Buell.
Pittsburg Landing shortly after the battle. It was here, during the night, that most of General Buell’s army was ferried over to rescue Grant’s men from their leader’s incompetence. Proper credit for the victory was never given to Buell.

There is, for example, the tale of the phantom drummer.  I won’t recite the full story here, for it is told in full in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground; suffice it to say that on more than one occasion visitors to the national park have heard the sound of a distant drum, pounding out the “long roll,” when no re-enactor or musician is present anywhere on the grounds.  Other visitors to Shiloh claim to have heard the sounds of gun-fire, or the moaning and screams of wounded men, desperately crying out for help.

Since most visitors leave the park by sunset, only a select few have actually seen apparitions on the grounds.  A few locals, driving through the terrain at night encounter strange fog and swear it’s filled with the shadows of figures slowly moving through it.  Park rangers I have talked angrily deny any such things ever occur.

Park officials, of course, are always concerned about trespassers and uncanny accounts such as these could lure some folk to go where and when they aren’t allowed.  Far be it from me to add to their concerns.  Still, many folk believe the restless dead of Bloody Shiloh cannot so easily be mollified.  So, if you go, you may only feel an eerie silence as I did; is it just your imagination?  Perhaps; or perhaps there is something more that yet abides on the blood-drenched fields of Shiloh.

Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War for a compendium of true accounts of Civil War ghosts and haunts
Go to Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War for a compendium of true accounts of Civil War apparitions and other paranormal events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more about the restless shades of Shiloh and the Civil War, also see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Show and Tell: the Franklin Civil War Show

Opdycke's Brigade (US) repulses the Confederate Breakthrough near the Carter House.  The Battle of Franklin, (Don Troiani).
Opdycke’s Brigade (US) repulses the Confederate Breakthrough near the Carter House. The Battle of Franklin, (Don Troiani).

Normally I don’t blog about current events and prefer to focus on subjects directly related to the Civil War, especially the more esoteric or unusual aspects of the Late Unpleasantness.  Since there is so much going on in Middle Tennessee regarding the Sesquicentennial, however, I am going to digress a bit this go round.  Hopefully I will be able to get back on track with blog entries before the big Battle of Nashville celebrations coming up next week.

While there has been a number of interesting 150th events going on in the Mid South since September, this author has been distracted putting his latest book “to bed,” dealing with Ambrose Bierce and his Civil War experiences (more of that at another time), so I have been very remiss of late.  However, this weekend I did have a booth at Mike Kent’s venerable Mid South Civil War Show, now named (I think) the Franklin Civil War Show, ever since the powers that be in Music City decided turning their state fair grounds into a quick profit for developers would be a good idea.  That the voters in Nashville did not agree with the politicians and their developer friends has only temporarily delayed them, unfortunately.

The Battle of Nashville has been called "Decisive" by historian  Stanley Horn.   Next week is the 150th Anniversary of it.  Howard Pyle, artist
The Battle of Nashville has been called “Decisive” by historian
Stanley Horn. Next week is the 150th Anniversary of it. Howard Pyle, artist

 

As an aside, any travelers to Nashville for the anniversary of the battle should be aware that the state fairground itself is smack dab in the middle of battlefield.  There is a Confederate “lunette” just down the road on a hill overlooking Nolensville Pike on a small road that leads over a railroad cut and over to Murfreesboro Road.  This is the same part of the Nashville battlefield I blogged about in “Captain Aldrich and the Dance of Death” (July, 2014).

In any case, only fifteen minutes south of Nashville by interstate sits Franklin, which, while it too loves its developers and their bulldozers, has done a great deal to not only preserve its historic heritage, but in recent years been highly pro-active in reclaiming parts of the Battle of Franklin battlefield.  Yes, you can have prosperity and history side by side and the city of Franklin is proving it–which is one good reason why one of the largest Civil War shows in the South moved down the road to Franklin a few years back.

As usual, Mike Kent’s show had an army of people attending, many in mufti, and there were excellent booths of all descriptions lining both levels of the Williamson County Agricultural Center.  In between selling and jabbering about my Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln books, I talked with a number of nice folks on various topics of the War, (many of which are still in dispute) and learned a thing or three I didn’t know about before.  Besides the two main Civil War books, I also had Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground on sale, as well as Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, which also cover a number of Civil War topics and I sold a few of those as well.  I also did a bit of jawboning about my upcoming Bierce book and ran into one Civil War enthusiast from Indiana was quite knowledgeable about the Ninth Indiana Infantry regiment.  Apropos of Civil War ghosts, several of the visitors to my booth told me about their family’s encounters with the supernatural at Civil War sites, which I will relate in a later blog or two.

When time allowed, I also went to the other booths to take a look see at what they had available.  While I did buy one or two items, I wish my budget had been as big as my eyes, as there were quite a few collector’s gems on display there.  Of course, by gems I mean uniforms, bayonets, swords, muskets and the like.  Military Images magazine, a gold mine of pictorial information about the war, also had a booth there and I got to meet Ron Coddington there.  In case you are not familiar with him and his work, he is the go-to expert for Civil War photography, especially cartes de visites and the like, and has written extensively, not only for MI for Civil War News and the New York Times.  If ya’ll have never seen Military Images, I recommend it highly.

An officer orders his men to attention, but their attention is elsewhere.  Civil War "patriotic" envelope.
An officer orders his men to attention, but their attention is elsewhere. Civil War “patriotic” envelope

 

There were some unusual booths as well.  I have blogged about sex and single soldier before and I still have hopes of convincing some publisher to let me do a book just on real romances of the Civil War (yes, folks, grandpa and grandma somehow managed to meet and reproduce, even during the Civil War), but one lady had a booth which was a revelation even to me.  It had a wealth of documents, photos and other memorabilia about the distaff side of the Civil War, especially with regard to the armies of “shady ladies” who served their country in way not often written about.  All of her displays were interesting and some surprisingly risqué for the 1860’s.  Almost all of what her booth on exhibit has never been published before—which goes to show that there is quite a lot still out there about the war all of which have yet to see their way into print.

All in all, the 26th annual show was a success, both for my own books, but for Civil War enthusiasts attending in general.  This year in particular the show occurred at an ideal time, bracketing as it does the sesquicentennials of both the Battle of Franklin and the Battle of Nashville.  Not to be down on my home town, but compared to little Franklin, one would expect Nashville to have done more over the years regarding its Civil War heritage and preservation.  In fairness, there have been some very active people interested in promoting Nashville’s Civil War sites and their preservation; and coming up in mid month there will be a lot going on in Nashville to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the battle one historian called  “decisive.” If anyone out there reading this happens to be traveling through the city for the holidays on their way towards other destinations, be sure to take a day or two to linger and take in one or another of the special events happening for the Battle of Nashville anniversary.  You’ll be glad you did.

On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.
On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.

 

JEFF DAVIS’ FAVORITE HAUNTS

Jefferson Davis, the embattled president of the Confederacy is still thought to haunt many of the places he stayed.
Jefferson Davis, the embattled president of the Confederacy is still thought to haunt many of the places he stayed.

 

In the pantheon of the Lost Cause myth, Jefferson Davis has never figured very large. Lord knows his small but loyal following has tried, but the truth is, compared to Lee, Stuart and Stonewall, old Jeffie has never been a terribly sympathetic figure.  Suspicious of his generals, opinionated, prone to cronyism, holder of grudges and a whole host of other less than noble traits, Confederate sainthood has always been a hard sell for him.  Not that one can’t make a case for Davis as a leader: Jeff Davis had to contend with egotistical generals, petty politicians and innumerable problems with shortages of military supplies, manpower and money, and given the many limitations he faced, one could argue he handled them better than any other Southern leader would have.

Fort Monroe as it looked during the war.  After the war it became Jefferson Davis' Bastille.
Fort Monroe as it looked during the war. After the war it became Jefferson Davis’ Bastille

Then, when the end came for the Confederacy, virtually alone among all Southern leaders—including many who had fomented Secession far more aggressively than he—Davis was thrown in a dungeon to rot for several years, ostensibly to await trial for treason. Davis probably would have loved to have been put on trial; it would have given him a forum to argue that secession was legal and constitutional and that he had done nothing wrong.  This was exactly why the Federal authorities did not bring Davis to trial—not even under a military tribunal.  After spending four years and hundreds of thousands of lives to suppress the rebellion, the last thing anyone in the North wanted was to reopen the whole issue of states rights and secession, even in a show trial.

Jefferson Davis in durance vile.  Casemate No. 2.  Note the shackles.
Jefferson Davis in durance vile. Casemate No. 2. Note the shackles.

Davis remained in a casemate cell in Fort Monroe for several years after his capture.  His devoted wife Lavinia pleaded her husband’s case to whoever would listen, even to the Pope in Rome.  Eventually old Jeffie was set free and he retired to the Gulf Coast to write his memoirs and argue to the world that he was right all along and everyone else wrong.  If he weren’t so unsympathetic a character, one could well regard him as a tragic figure.

As it is, however, while Jefferson Davis was less than successful in life, in death he has succeeded admirably as a first class ghost. Moreover, a number of places where he once resided are widely known to be haunted.

Fort Monroe is technically in Virginia, but all through the war it was securely in Union hands and in fact is still an active army base.  It was here that Davis was confined after his capture, kept in shackles twenty-four hours a day in Casemate No.2.  Oddly, Jefferson Davis’ ghost has not been reported there but on the citadel’s ramparts, called the Terraplain.  On a moonlit night one may see the gaunt figure wandering beneath the flagpole that sits atop the walls, pacing to and fro, wishing to be free.  His wife, Varina, also haunts the old fort, in an apartment provided for her on the fortresses grounds.  The windows in that apartment have been known to rattle all of their own, the spectre of Varina expressing her frustration at her husband’s incarceration no doubt.

The "Confederate White House" in Richmond, where the Davis family resided during the War.  It too is haunted.
The “Confederate White House” in Richmond, where the Davis family resided during the War. It too is haunted.

The Davis’ previous residence in Richmond, sometimes called “The Confederate White House,” has also been reported haunted.  While one can never be entirely sure about these things, the haunting is thought to relate to the death of one of their children, who died in an accident during the war.

Yet another favorite haunt of the Rebel President is Beauvoir, overlooking Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.  It was here he and his wife retreated to after Davis was let loose in 1867 and where he wrote his lengthy and tendentious memoirs of his years heading the Secessionist government.  While some have seen apparitions here, the ghosts are mostly unseen, with occasional manifestations, such as a bust crying tears, or the eerie sense someone is following behind you as you tour the house.  There are also some ghosts in gray, who may be the shades of Confederate veterans who lived here in the years after Davis died.  Whatever one may say about Jefferson Davis, he has one virtue which a few more modern residents of his state may profitably emulate; at least he eventually stopped fighting the war.

Beauvoir, where Jefferson lived out his remaining years and where his spirit still abides.
Beauvoir, where Jefferson lived out his remaining years and where his spirit still abides.

Although it suffered greatly from Hurricane Katrina, Beauvoir has been restored and is again open to visitors and even if one has little sympathy for the Lost Cause, one should visit this token of another era, for here resided the last prisoner of the Late Unpleasantness. May he rest in peace—but I doubt it.

For more about the hauntings of Jefferson Davis and his wife, as well as other true supernatural doings regarding the Civil War, go to Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; for documented paranormal phenomena regarding Lincoln, see The Paranormal Presidency.  For authentic accounts of Civil War ghosts in the Mid South, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

 

 

BEHOLD A PALE RIDER: A CIVIL WAR GHOST TALE

Fact or Fiction? 

BIERCE’S TALE OF A “BAFFLED” AMBUSH

"Near the side of the road, in a little open space and hardly ten paces away, stood the figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless as he."
“Near the side of the road, in a little open space and hardly ten paces away, stood the figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless as he.”

After lengthy and arduous research into the wartime career of Ambrose Bierce, famed short story writer, Civil War soldier, satirist, curmudgeon and aficionado of the bizarre and supernatural, readers will forgive me if, from time to time I discuss one or another of his tales as they relate to the Civil War.

As with many of Bierce’s pieces this tale is short—or, more properly, as long as it needs to be.  One reason why Ambrose Bierce is less appreciated today than formerly is that he did not like to write rambling, pointless character pieces drawn out into hundreds of pages—what passes for “literary fiction” these days—and the novel format of writing in general left him cold.  That he often compressed a book’s worth of writing into a short story has not been generally been appreciated by modern critics, although it certainly was by the likes of H. L. Mencken and Earnest Hemingway.

This particular story, “A Baffled Ambuscade,” is generally classed as a short story and feel free to appreciate it as such.

Yet, all the details are factual.  At the time this story takes place–after Stones River but before the Tullahoma Campaign–the Third Ohio Volunteer Cavalry was indeed posted to Readyville, Tennessee.  The Official Records contain numerous reports of patrol actions by thid regiment, especially along the ReadyvilleWoodbury turnpike.  Even the commander mentioned in the story–Major Seidel–was a real person.  This much can be verified.

But, did the ghost of Trooper Dunning actually appear as described?  Here the official record falls silent and we must rely solely on the word on one who was there, but is no more.

For more true Civil War ghost stories, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

For the best and most complete anthology of Bierce’s short fiction, I recommend, S. T. Joshi’s, The Short Fiction of Ambrose Bierce, (three volume set) put out by the University of Tennessee Press.  Joshi et al, have done much primary research on Bierce and his writings, and S. T. Joshi is currently busy compiling a definite collection of H. P. Lovecraft’s writings.

 

A Baffled Ambuscade

Ambrose Gwinnet Bierce

 

Connecting Readyville and Woodbury was a good, hard turnpike nine or ten miles long. Readyville was an outpost of the Federal army at Murfreesboro; Woodbury had the same relation to the Confederate army at Tullahoma. For months after the big battle at Stone River these outposts were in constant quarrel, most of the trouble occurring, naturally, on the turnpike mentioned, between detachments of cavalry. Sometimes the infantry and artillery took a hand in the game by way of showing their goodwill.

One night a squadron of Federal horse commanded by Major Seidel, a gallant and skillful officer, moved out from Readyville on an uncommonly hazardous enterprise requiring secrecy, caution and silence.

Passing the infantry pickets, the detachment soon afterward approached two cavalry videttes staring hard into the darkness ahead. There should have been three.

“Where is your other man?” said the major. “I ordered Dunning to be here tonight.”

“He rode forward, sir,” the man replied. “There was a little firing afterward, but it was a long way to the front.”

“It was against orders and against sense for Dunning to do that,” said the officer, obviously vexed. “Why did he ride forward?”

“Don’t know, sir; he seemed mighty restless. Guess he was skeered.”

When this remarkable reasoner and his companion had been absorbed into the expeditionary force, it resumed its advance. Conversation was forbidden; arms and accoutrements were denied the right to rattle. The horses tramping was all that could be heard and the movement was slow in order to have as little as possible of that. It was after midnight and pretty dark, although there was a bit of moon somewhere behind the masses of cloud.

Two or three miles along, the head of the column approached a dense forest of cedars bordering the road on both sides. The major commanded a halt by merely halting, and, evidently himself a bit “skeered,” rode on alone to reconnoiter. He was followed, however, by his adjutant and three troopers, who remained a little distance behind and, unseen by him, saw all that occurred.

After riding about a hundred yards toward the forest, the major suddenly and sharply reined in his horse and sat motionless in the saddle. Near the side of the road, in a little open space and hardly ten paces away, stood the figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless as he. The major’s first feeling was that of satisfaction in having left his cavalcade behind; if this were an enemy and should escape he would have little to report. The expedition was as yet undetected.

Some dark object was dimly discernible at the man’s feet; the officer could not make it out. With the instinct of the true cavalryman and a particular indisposition to the discharge of firearms, he drew his saber. The man on foot made no movement in answer to the challenge. The situation was tense and a bit dramatic. Suddenly the moon burst through a rift in the clouds and, himself in the shadow of a group of great oaks, the horseman saw the footman clearly, in a patch of white light. It was Trooper Dunning, unarmed and bareheaded. The object at his feet resolved itself into a dead horse, and at a right angle across the animal’s neck lay a dead man, face upward in the moonlight.

“Dunning has had the fight of his life,” thought the major, and was about to ride forward. Dunning raised his hand, motioning him back with a gesture of warning; then, lowering the arm, he pointed to the place where the road lost itself in the blackness of the cedar forest.

The major understood, and turning his horse rode back to the little group that had followed him and was already moving to the rear in fear of his displeasure, and so returned to the head of his command.

“Dunning is just ahead there,” he said to the captain of his leading company. “He has killed his man and will have something to report.”

Right patiently they waited, sabers drawn, but Dunning did not come. In an hour the day broke and the whole force moved cautiously forward, its commander not altogether satisfied with his faith in Private Dunning. The expedition had failed, but something remained to be done.

In the little open space off the road they found the fallen horse. At a right angle across the animal’s neck face upward, a bullet in the brain, lay the body of Trooper Dunning, stiff as a statue, hours dead.

Examination disclosed abundant evidence that within a half hour the cedar forest had been occupied by a strong force of Confederate infantry–an ambuscade.

 

Library of Congress original source
Equine casualty of war, dead on battlefield

 

For more Civil War ghost tales, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War  while one can learn the truth about Ambrose Bierce’s war career in Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife:

 

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover
Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, published by University of Tennessee Press and available at better bookstores everywhere.

 

THE JINGLING HOLE: Uncivil War in Appalachia

Confederates hunting down Union men with bloodhounds.  Torture and death was often the fate of Southerners loyal to the Union.
Confederates hunting down Union men with bloodhounds. Torture and death was often the fate of Southerners loyal to the Union.

 

With Halloween fast approaching, our Civil War tales will be leaning more heavily to the supernatural side than normal, not that any time of the year isn’t a good time for a ghost story. Some years back, I published the tale of the Jingling Hole and now seems a good time to renew our acquaintance with that offering.  The full story, of course, you can read in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Those readers from “up nawth” may be unfamiliar with the fact that there was actually a civil war within the Civil War in the South.  After the Late Unpleasantness, the former Confederates who became spinners of the Lost Cause myth managed to bury the fact that there were many Southerners vehemently opposed to Secession in 1861 and that they resisted it, often at extreme peril to themselves and their families.

This was true, not only in East Tennessee, but western Virginia, North Carolina, and in several pockets of Unionism in West Tennessee, northern Alabama and Mississippi.  While most of these Southern Unionists had no love for Abolitionism, they did have a strong patriotic devotion to the nation.  For example, during the second vote on secession Johnson County in East Tennessee was 787 to 111 against. Their stories have largely been overlooked, although in recent years some have finally been coming to light.

This civil war within the Civil War was often vicious; both sides often gave no quarter in fighting and contrary to the fallacy of the Chivalrous South, the Confederate government also made war on women and children in its efforts to suppress the Loyalists who resisted them.  In fairness, the Unionist often retaliated in kind.  It was a very, very ugly time, especially in Appalachia, where this particular ghost story occurs.

In one district of East Tennessee, the guerilla war by Unionists against the Confederates became so bitter that the district became known as “The Bloody Third.”  The killing didn’t stop with the end of the war either; the memory of wartime atrocities led to enduring feuds between neighbors for decades after the war.

There was a particular spot in this district that had a vertical cave opening, a “bottomless pit” as it were.  Whether it was the Unionist guerillas or their Confederate opponents who first thought of putting an iron bar across the opening isn’t known; apparently both sides used the pit—called the Jingling Hole.

A captured enemy would be taken to the hole and then at gunpoint forced into it, with only the iron bar to hold onto until his strength gave out and he fell to his death.  As time went on, the combatants improved on the sport and would stomp or shoot at the condemned man’s hands, forcing him to shift back and forth to avoid the attacker.  In the process the prisoner’s spurs would make a jingling sound as he squirmed to avoid the assault—hence the nickname “The Jingling Hole.”

After the war, the use of this pit as a place of torture and execution stopped; the jingling didn’t.  For years afterwards, anyone passing by on a dark night might hear an uncanny sound, like jingling spurs, coming from the direction of the pit.  If you were brave enough to go investigate, there was inevitably nothing to see.

To the best of my knowledge, the Jingling Hole is still there near Mountain City and maybe some locals could take you to the exact spot.  But I doubt you will convince them to go.

For more Civil War stories, go to Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, while for more tales of Tennessee haints and hauntings read Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground or Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

A sketch by A W Waud of a Southern Guerilla.  Presumably it is of a Rebel Guerilla but it could equally be a Unionist one as well.
A sketch by A W Waud of a Southern Guerilla. Presumably it is of a Rebel Guerilla but it could equally be a Unionist one as well.

Captain Aldrich and the “Dance of Death”

Statue to Negro Soldiers NV Cemetary by Roy Butler
Statue to USCT troops in the Battle of Nashville by sculptor Roy Butler

The Battle of Nashville was notable in a number of regards, not least for the extensive use of United States Colored Troops (or USCT) in an active combat role and for their part in the overwhelming Union victory. In the Western Theater, Blacks were recruited in large numbers, but they were rarely allowed to participate in frontline combat missions. This was not accidental but a conscious decision on the part of General William Tecumseh Sherman, whose animosity towards Blacks–and conversely his sympathy towards slavery and slave owners–was no secret. 

Before he war, Sherman had been headmaster of a Southern military school and had no problem with the institution of slavery, nor with its most militant advocates.  While he Sherman believed in reforming some of its worst aspects, he was as comfortable with the institution as any Southerner.  Braxton Bragg and P. G. T. Beauregard, soon to become Confederate generals, were both close friends.  Sherman, however, was loyal to the Union and on that account fought in the war for the Federal side.  Under his command, however, the USCT troops were relegated to rear echelon duties and stationed to posts where they were unlikely to see combat.

The 17th Infantry, United States Colored Troops, was initially organized in the city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee in the fall of 1863, soon after the Battle of Chickamauga. It began by recruiting a combination of local “contrabands,” some 300 like minded Blacks from Alabama, plus additional free Negro volunteers from Ohio. Despite the need for fresh troops at the front, however, the 17th remained in the Middle Tennessee region, serving as garrison troops and then on duty with the quartermaster in Nashville. Throughout most of 1864 they were mostly employed on rear echelon duty, guarding the commissary warehouses in Nashville and likely also used for manual labor by the Federal Quartermaster.  Despite being assigned minor duties, everything indicates that the regiment was well trained and was both willing and able to perform combat duties.
As autumn edged towards winter, however, the need for combat troops to defend Nashville grew.

Sherman embarked on his pillaging expedition through Georgia, leaving General George Thomas, in charge of the Army of the Cumberland, to fend off the Confederate Army of Tennessee with whatever troops Uncle Billy deemed unfit for the march. The 17th was soon brigaded with other Negro troops into the 1st Colored Brigade under Colonel Thomas J. Morgan, who described the regiment as “an excellent regiment…under a brave and gallant officer.”

The regimental commander in question was Colonel Shafter, who was described as, “cool, brave, and a good disciplinarian.” One of the regiment’s company commanders was Captain Job Aldrich and Colonel Shafter’s brother-in-law. Although the Confederates had besieged Nashville for nearly two weeks, everyone in The Army of the Cumberland knew it was merely a matter of time before General Thomas would give the order to attack and raise the siege. That moment came on December 14, 1864. At last the Negro Volunteers, long relegated to backwater assignments and menial jobs, would be given their chance to fight for freedom.

Battle of Nashville, Negro troops assaulting Rebel defences
USCT troops during the Battle of Nashville. Attacking a Rebel strongpoint at Peach Orchard Hill, the USCT troops succeeded but suffered heavy losses doing so.

While many faced the coming fight with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, Captain Aldrich’s mood was entirely different from the rest. Something had come over him: a realization that in the coming fight he would most certainly die. His feeling was not unique. During the war, many men on both sides experienced what they called a presentiment—an intuitive awareness of their forthcoming death. Comrades could argue till they were blue in the face, but when a man had such a presentiment, nothing could be done—and such intuitions inevitably proved true.

So it was with Captain Aldrich on the eve of the Battle of Nashville. His sister in law happened to be in the city at the time and handed her his personal effects, to give to his wife after his death. Then Job sat down and wrote a farewell letter to his beloved wife Ann.

Colonel Shafter, on reading it was both disturbed and moved; “it was the most affecting I ever read.” Colonel Shafter, on reading it was both disturbed and moved; “it was the most affecting I ever read.” After expressing his love and reflecting on the happiness they had shared, Aldrich closed, saying:

“The clock strikes one, goodnight. At five the dance of death begins around Nashville. Who shall be partners in the dance? God only knows. Echo alone answers who? Farewell.”

General Thomas planned to launch what today would be called in football a “Hail Mary” strategy: he put overwhelming force into an attack on the Confederate’s left flank, an attack which would steamroller the enemy and roll up their entire left flank, a line bristling with fortifications.

In the battle, the 17th USCT was given an important but hazardous assignment. They and the fellow regiments of the 1st Colored Brigade were placed on the far right flank of the Confederate line to launch a diversionary attack. If all went as planned, the Rebels would draw off their best troops from the left to deal with this threat to their right. At the very least, it would divert attention away from the main assault on their lines.

On December 15, 1864, despite an early morning fog, the big guns of Fort Negley and the other Union emplacements boomed out, signaling the beginning of the battle. The First Brigade began from a point close to the river, advancing across a cornfield towards the Rebel lines. The night before Colonel Morgan had scouted the area and believed they faced nothing more serious than a line of rifle pits.

They swept over the Rebel rifle pits with little trouble, but as they moved south of the Murfreesboro Pike and approached the railroad cut of the Nashville & Chattanooga RR, they suddenly encountered heavy resistance. Morgan and his men did not know it, but they had come up against Cleburne’s Division, one of the most experienced and toughest units of the Confederate army. General Cleburne had died at the Battle of Franklin, but his men were still full of fight. Screened by a line of woods, parts of several brigades of the division were lying in ambush, supported by a battery of four cannon in a lunette emplacement.

The disciplined men of the 17th advanced in broad lines, as if on parade. They began crossing the tracks of the cut, thinking the enemy had fled.  Suddenly the Rebels opened up as the Federals came within 30 yards of them. The Johnnies poured round after round of canister from Granbury’s Lunette into the Colored Volunteers at virtually point blank range, while withering rifle volleys exploded in the Federals faces. In a matter of minutes, 825 Union soldiers lay dead in or near the railroad cut. They had succeeded in diverting the enemy, but at a terrible price.

Captain Aldrich was leading his men across the tracks when Cleburne’s elite troops opened fire.  A bullet struck Aldrich in the head and he fell dead. As Aldrich had forewarned, the Dance of Death had found its chosen partner.

Pride_Over_Prejudice Reeves B of Nashville
Rick Reeves painting, Pride Over Prejudice, showing USCT troops guarding captured Rebels after the Battle of Nashville

For more uncanny events of the Civil War, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife chronicles the wartime career of the famous American author with the Army of the Cumberland including the Battle of Nashville.

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor, served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.