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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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.

Bloody Antietam: the Phantom Carolers and other Battlefield Haunts

"Raise the Colors and Follow Me!" Mort Kunstler Painting of the Irish Brigade at Antietam.
“Raise the Colors and Follow Me!” Mort Kunstler Painting of the Irish Brigade at Antietam.

The Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862 was the bloodiest single day in American History. The casualties on that day exceeded the casualties of all of America’s previous wars combined. That such awful butchery would leave its mark on the field of battle is therefore not too surprising.

Visitors to Antietam have had many spectral encounters over the years at Antietam, but one of the more curious incidents is the one I documented in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War. In Ghosts and Haunts I relate how a whole class of students from a private boys school report hearing unseen voices singing Christmas carols on the battlefield. On reading their class reports about their field trip, their history teacher, an expert on the Civil War, was perplexed. The young scholars had penned their reports on the bus ride back from the battlefield and did not have time to engage in any collusion or organize a practical joke.

The Bloody Lane, where you could walk on the dead its length without touching the ground.
After butchering the Irish Brigade in the open fields, it was the Rebel turn to be slaughtered in the Bloody Lane. This painting, by Captain James Hope, based on a field sketch, captures the awful carnage.

On quizzing the students, the majority told him they heard the caroling near the sunken road now called Bloody Lane, a place made famous by the Union Irish Brigade, who suffered terrible losses in their charge there. When asked exactly what Christmas song they heard, they were united in saying “Deck the Halls” with its chorus of “fall-a-lalla-la.” It was then a light suddenly went on in the teacher’s brain: “Faugh a Ballagh!” was the war cry of the Irish Brigade—yet none of the students could have known that!

The Federal attack over Burnside Bridge was a bloody and senseless incident, but one which has left spectral reminders
The Federal attack over Burnside Bridge was a bloody and senseless incident, but one which has left spectral reminders

The Bloody Lane is not the sole spot at Antietam with a haunted reputation. Burnside Bridge, where Yankee troops tried to force a crossing over Antietam Creek and paid dearly for it, has had numerous visitors give reports of spectral encounters. Many report seeing ghostly figures, strange blue balls of light and the sounds of a phantom drummer drumming.

This small country church, called The Dunker Church, was used as a field hospital and is a hotspot of paranormal activity
This small country church, called The Dunker Church, was used as a field hospital and is a hotspot of paranormal activity

Dunker Church, another local landmark that figured in the battle, has had reports of people seeing spectral soldiers haunting its environs. It is a small country church which during and after the battle was used as a field hospital. Soldier’s limbs were hacked off by the score without anesthesia and many the man it was who died in agony there. Besides the phantoms said to roam its bloodied floorboards, eerie lights have been spied there at night.

The Pry House, used as McClellan’s headquarters, is now The Pry House Field Hospital Museum, and is open daily June-October. It served as a Union field hospital and visitors to it have also had uncanny encounters in and around it.

This photo, taken by a tourist of the Pry House, also used as a field hospital, may have captured a spectral presence.  The house itself has had many reports of ghosts haunting it.
This photo, taken by a tourist of the Pry House, also used as a field hospital, may have captured a spectral presence. The house itself has had many reports of ghosts haunting it.

There are enough re-enactors and tourists who have experienced things at Antietam that cannot be explained, that you do not need some hokey TV ghost hunter running around with a flashlight to his face for one to know that Antietam is a most seriously haunted piece of Civil War real estate.

For more about Antietam’s spectral encounters, see Chapter 13, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War. If you want to learn of Lincoln’s paranormal relationship with the battle, see Chapter 10, The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Happy haunting!

"Faugh a Ballagh" the Irish Brigade's War Cry means "clear the way," the title of this painting by Don Troiani.  The dead still chant it on the battlefield to this day.
“Faugh a Ballagh” the Irish Brigade’s War Cry means “clear the way,” the title of this painting by Don Troiani. The dead still chant it on the battlefield to this day.

Mary and the Mediums: Fact or Fallacy?

Abraham Lincoln's association ante-dates his wife's, although both attended séances, separately and together.

Ever since President Lincoln’s murder–some would say martyrdom– there have been those who have wanted to re-cast Abraham Lincoln in their image, especially when it cam to his spiritual beliefs. No soon was the President’s body cold, than herds of fundamentalist bible-thumpers came out of the woodwork trying to make him into a devout Christian in their own likeness, applying thick layers of plaster to his alleged sainthood and disguising the real man beneath.

Conversely, post-war Spiritualists, who tried to turn the secular movement into a religion—and thereby drawing the animosity of mainstream Christianity—tried to claim the dead President as one of their own. These efforts continue even today, with modern Spiritualists not only certain that Lincoln was one of them, but that he continues to speak to them through one or another modern oracle.

Historians—especially that influential group who idealize the Sixteenth President—even if they haven’t always sided with the bible-thumpers, have generally denied any connection between Lincoln and the Spiritualists. Whenever the facts rear their ugly heads, these historians lay it all at the feet of Mary Todd Lincoln—an admittedly easy target. Generally they characterize Mary as neurotic, bitchy and vain—if not outright crazy—and the entire crowd of Washington Spiritualists as all “charlatans.”

That some mediums were indeed phonies and fakes is undeniable; but there were many involved in the movement, especially in wartime D.C., who were sincere in their beliefs. Whether they were actually in touch with the spirit world is a moot issue and clearly outside the realm of history.

What is the truth about Lincoln, Mary and the mediums? In my book, The Paranormal Presidency, I go into some depth on the subject, based on extensive research into the primary sources, and come up with a great deal new information. While there is no doubt much more yet to be uncovered, I have come up with contemporary evidence proving Lincoln’s active involvement with the movement and its individuals. For one thing, I did what previous historians apparently neglected to do—researched contemporary newspapers and the Library of Congress holdings to uncover corroborating evidence.

As a result of this original research, there is now substantial evidence that Lincoln frequented the company of mediums and psychics before Mary did. This is supported by newspaper accounts, documents in the Library of Congress and postwar testimony.

After the death of their middle son Willie in 1862, both Abraham and Mary had visions and dreams about Willie and were both motivated to attend séances more often. This too is substantiated.

Seances were commonplace in America before the war, both to get in touch with loved ones and also as a form of parlor entertainment. The Lincolns were not unusual in this regard.
Seances were commonplace in America before the war, both to get in touch with loved ones and also as a form of parlor entertainment. The Lincolns were not unusual in this regard.

Abraham and Mary were by no means unique or peculiar in attending séances or seeking out the advice of mediums. Many parents lost young children to disease in the 1840’s and 1850’s and went to séances to get in contact with them; the war added to the number of grieving families who resorted to mediums for solace.  Moreover, Washington D.C. was a very unhealthy place to be, having built over a malarial swamp and with a sewer system that was beyond abysmal.  Willie was not the only child to die there due to Washington’s unhealthy environment

Abraham Lincoln attended one session at the Laurie household where the Laurie's adopted daughter, a physical medium, allegedly caused a grand piano to
Abraham Lincoln attended one session at the Laurie household where the Laurie’s adopted daughter, a physical medium, allegedly caused a grand piano to “dance” with Lincoln and other eyewitnesses on it.

There is not sufficient space here to go into greater detail about the Lincoln’s involvement in séances; for more documentation, including the footnotes and bibliography, see chapters 14 and 15 of the Paranormal Presidency, which also goes into far greater depth regarding the political ramifications of Spiritualism and its relationship to various reform movements before the Civil War.

While we can document what Lincoln did with regard to séances and mediums, divining what he actually believed is much harder. Lincoln was a notoriously close-mouthed man and as one of the greatest politicians in American history, he had an extraordinary knack of making people think he believed as they did, without actually committing to anything.

What we can say for sure is that both Lincoln and Mary frequented séances and sought out the services of mediums—and that is fact.  Moreover, many of Lincoln’s political associates and their wives also attended séances and while many of the mediums they went too may have been on the con, many were sincere believers in the movement, a movement which overlapped with Abolitionism, Feminism and other social and political reform movements of the era.  So Mary, whatever her faults (and they were many) was neither crazy, not neurotic, nor the gullible shrew her political enemies, North and South, portrayed her to be.

Moreover, regarding the her well documented consorting with Spiritualists after the war, I think we may cut her some slack on this score too.  If, after losing half your family and seeing your husband murdered before your very eyes, you resort to séances to assuage your grief, perhaps that is not such a bad thing.  Mary Todd Lincoln had her flaws, but she had many virtues too.  It is a pity she has never been given her due.

There were many in the North unhappy with Lincoln's involvement with Spiritualism and blamed the war on these
There were many in the North unhappy with Lincoln’s involvement with Spiritualism and blamed the war on these “Satanic” connections.
“Interior Causes of the War” was anti-Lincoln propaganda written during the war, claiming he President was a puppet of the Spiritualists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.
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.

Gettysburg: Civil War Ghost Central

In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays.
Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger,
to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.”

Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, 20th Maine

For Civil War buffs in general, and those interested in the paranormal aspects of the Late Unpleasantness in particular, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is something akin to Mecca. The site of the most famous battle of the Civil War.  For generations it has attracted both Civil War enthusiasts and average tourists by the millions. Compounded by its fame as a battlefield is its connection with Abraham Lincoln and his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address.

Certainly, just for the history alone, Gettysburg is worth visiting, especially in this sesquicentennial—and even more this year, the 150th anniversary of both the battle and Lincoln’s speech. Having written about both Gettysburg’s restless dead and Abraham Lincoln’s own fascination with the paranormal, I would be remiss if I did not devote at least one blog entry to this holy grail of re-enactors, ghost hunters, and mainstream Civil War historians alike.

Col. Chamberlain leads the charge of the 20th Maine at Little Round Top on July 2, 1863 by Mort Kunstler
Col. Chamberlain and the 20th Maine charging the enemy at Little Round Top. Did they have an assist from the ghost of George Washington?

In Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War I chronicled a few of Gettysburg’s haunted locations; one is connected with Colonel Chamberlain and his famous defense of Little Round Top and another section deals with the phantoms of Farnsworth House. Farnsworth House is on most top ten lists of haunted hotels and what it lacks in size it makes up for in sheer volume of paranormal activity. They offer ghost tours and have even added a re-enactment of a Civil War era séance–of the sort which both President and Mrs. Lincoln attended. For more on the Lincolns and Spiritualism, see Chapters 14 and 15 of The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

Fayette Hall Lincoln on Dancing Piano fac 34a
Both President and Mrs. Lincoln attended séances while in the White House. At Farnsworth House they re-enact that sort of nineteenth century session.

I could easily have filled the whole book with other Gettysburg spirits and encounters, but to be honest that field has been amply plowed by Alan Nesbitt and his series of pamphlets covering them. Alan was a tour guide at Gettysburg for years and collected a number of first hand accounts, as well as being knowledgeable about the battle itself. Greystone Productions, with whom I collaborated on the production of their video Ghosts of Music City, has also produced some a nice series of documentary videos on the subject as well; in fact they too have a store in Gettysburg. So why add to the congestion?

The Farnsworth Inn and B&B generally makes the top 10 lists of most haunted hotels.  See Chapter 15 of Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.
The Farnsworth Inn and B&B generally makes the top 10 lists of most haunted hotels. See Chapter 15 of Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Well, it just so happens my daughter visited there last summer, while en route to attend a friend’s wedding. Like many visitors, she snapped several photos of her visit. Surprisingly, (or perhaps not so surprisingly) when she viewed a few of them later she saw some weird things had appeared on the digital shots. In one photo, taken at night but without a flash, she caught what definitely appears to be a gray apparition looking out of an upstairs window in the town. Unfortunately, whenever we have tried to enlarge it to make it more distinct, the autocorrect function in the digital camera kept trying to erase the image: so much for the wonders of technology. The image remains on the original, however.

She also took a series of shots looking out over the battlefield in the dark. Standing in one place, she took an overlapping sequence of them to form a panorama. To be honest, in nighttime there is little of the battlefield to see; what was interesting, however was that in several of the shots there appeared a cluster of white “orbs.” Now anyone familiar with both the paranormal and photography is familiar with this phenomena; orbs are thought to be a particular form of ghostly energy not normally visible to the naked eye; debunkers claim it is just dust reflecting back the light of a flash at night. Well, these photos were taken with low level light-sensitive camera; more importantly they were all taken from the same identical position, yet some photos had orbs, yet others didn’t. If it had simply been dust in front of the lens then all the photos should have come out exactly the same: they didn’t.

Many, many other visitors to Gettysburg report similar strange encounters, some far more dramatic than my daughter’s.

As Colonel Chamberlain said, “bodies disappear, but spirits linger.”

Far more about Gettysburg ghosts, see chapters 15 & 16 of Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; on Lincoln and the paranormal, see my brand new book, The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Chronicles unexplained phenomena connected with the Late Unpleasantness in the battlefields and houses where the conflict to take place.

 

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
The Paranormal Presidency documents for the first time many of the reports about Lincoln’s belief and practice regarding the Unexplained and Uncanny.

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The Day Lincoln Was Assassinated: The Final Premonition

PP Lincoln and his Prophetic Dreams Ridiculed
Lincoln’s belief in prophetic dreams were well known during his lifetime and were ridiculed by his political enemies.

“Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies; and so are
signs; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity has
not yet found the key”  Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre 

As every school child knows–or should know–Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President, was assassinated on April 14, 1865, breathing his last in the early morning hours of the following day, April 15.  Less well known is that, on the very morning of his assassination, Lincoln revealed to his cabinet a premonition—a presentiment some would call it—of his very own death.

The incident has been a favorite anecdote of Lincoln biographers for generations, although academic historians have tended to dismiss or ignore it.  In researching The Paranormal Presidency, however, I went back into the primary sources, to people who worked with Lincoln or were his friends, to verify the story. Often times an anecdote, especially one about Lincoln, makes for a good story and is repeated over and over, yet has no basis in fact. At first glance, this premonition of Lincoln’s might seem to fit that category.

pp Lincoln and Cabinet Emancipation Proc.
Lincoln and his Cabinet earlier in the war. Their last meeting was on the day he died, when he told them of his “usual dream.”

While I give Lincoln’s final premonition in full in Chapter 17 of the Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, for those poor deprived souls who have not yet had the opportunity to read it, a brief synopsis is warranted.

During the cabinet meeting on the morning of April 14, while waiting for the meeting to begin in earnest, Lincoln related a strange dream he had had the night before. It was about a ship sailing to an indefinite shore. What was peculiar about the dream was, he told his cabinet (which included General Grant on that day) that he had had this very same dream before every major event of the war. As Lincoln was hourly expecting news from the Carolinas from Sherman, that the last major Confederate army had surrendered, Lincoln assumed it would be good news from that front.

Doubtless at the time of the meeting, it was regarded as yet another of Lincoln’s little anecdotes that his cabinet had to suffer through.  It was only after he was assassinated that night that everyone present realized that Lincoln had actually foretold his own death.

As noted above, this incident has been told and retold by many folks over the years. Charles Dickens gave a dramatic version of the story, obviously with added Dickensian touches.  Lincoln’s close friend and sometime bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, likewise ornamented the story a bit. Moreover, as time went on, many other writers further elaborated on it. So, for the professional debunkers out there, it has been easy to dismiss the story as fiction, something invented long after the fact.

Ward Hill Lamon was Lincoln's close friend and sometime bodyguard and also wrote about Lincoln's final premonition.
Ward Hill Lamon was Lincoln’s close friend and sometime bodyguard and also wrote about Lincoln’s final premonition.

The trouble with professional cynics is that, starting from a priori assumptions, they rarely look at the facts objectively.  More often than not they skip over primary sources that are inconvenient to their already formed thesis. Certainly, a healthy skepticism is a good thing: cynicism in not. Neither is shoddy scholarship.

In fact, there were at least two men present during the Cabinet meeting in question who reported Lincoln’s prophetic dream.  There are slight variations in quoting Lincoln’s exact words, as there are with Lamon’s account. However, any researcher who has dealt extensively with eyewitness accounts knows that such things are to be expected, especially concerning famous or traumatic events.

Within days of his death news of the incident had spread far and wide. When Lincoln’s body was being returned by train to Springfield, Illinois stopped in Philadelphia, on April 22, his body put on display for mourners to view. Among the many memorial wreaths beside the body was one which stood out. It had a banner emblazoned across it which read:

“Before every great national event I
have always had the same dream.
I had it the other night. It is of a
ship sailing rapidly….”

The crowd in Philadelphia that April 22, needed no explanation as to the meaning of that quote. Remarkably, word of Lincoln’s last prophetic dream had already become common knowledge throughout the Northern states. This is not prima facie evidence, it is true; but is proof that the story was no later invention by some fevered hack writer.

Lincoln’s last premonition is a historic fact. That is incontrovertible and true. One can choose to dismiss it as mere “coincidence” if one wishes.  Many have, and that is always a convenient rationalization for an inconvenient truth one wishes not to believe.  Folks are free to believe what they want. But it did happen.

Walt Whitman, who was in Washington during the war years, was so inspired by Lincoln’s prophetic dream that he turned it into one of his most famous poems, O Captain! My Captain! When I was a boy, in fact, we were required to memorize it, along with other famous pieces of American poetry. I doubt they do that any more; and I doubt that many folks who are familiar with the poem really know the true background behind it.

PP  Walt Whitman wrote a poem based on Lincoln's  final prophetic dream
Walt Whitman wrote his famous poem “O Captain! My Captain!” based on Lincoln’s last prophetic dream.

Clearly, Lincoln dreamed of his ship approaching that “indefinite shore,” and while soon after, “The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,”
Lincoln, its captain, did not live to see the ship of state safe in port.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more on this last, best documented, of Lincoln’s many presentiments, prophetic dreams and premonitions, as well as the full text of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” read The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

Oh yes, and be sure to memorize the poem for class next Monday!  Class dismissed.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.

 

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor.  But Bierce also 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 this famous authors life.