“Gettysburg isn’t the only battlefield that’s believed to be haunted by the ghosts of the fallen. In honour of Halloween, MHN has compiled this list of others.”
ONE OF THE COUNTLESS HUMAN TRAGEDIES to unfold during the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg took place on the northwestern edge of the field at a spot known as Oak Ridge.
There, in the opening hours of the bloody three-day engagement, Confederate general Alfred Iverson Jr. ordered his 1,350-man brigade into action in support of a larger Rebel attack on the Union right flank.
As Iverson’s men surged towards the enemy, a line of Yankee troops concealed behind a nearby stone wall suddenly rose to their feet and poured volley after volley of musket fire into the attackers’ ranks at almost point-blank range. Within moments of the ambush, more than 900 Southerners lay dying in the grass. Those still standing fled in terror leaving their wounded comrades behind. Iverson suffered a nervous breakdown following the massacre and had to be removed from command. Days later, the mangled corpses were collected by the victors and tossed into a hastily dug mass grave — one of many that dotted the Pennsylvania landscape.
Locals dubbed the grim spot Iverson’s Pits. Many have since claimed that the site is haunted. Over the years, witnesses have reported seeing spectral figures stalking the area, while unexplained lights have also been visible. And unlike the legion of tall tales promulgated by local ghost tour operators, the stories about Iverson’s Pits seem more genuine. In fact, according to battlefield preservation foundation the Civil War Trust, reports of otherworldly encounters near the site of the slaughter date back to the 19th Century.
Of course Gettysburg isn’t the only battlefield that’s believed to be haunted by the ghosts of the fallen. In honour of Halloween, MHN has compiled this list of others. Enjoy!
Today, not much of anything happens in Adamsville, a rural backwater in the southwest corner of Tennessee. But during the first year of the Civil War, Union and Confederate armies transformed the entire region into a bloody war zone. In April of 1862, more than 100,000 soldiers collided on a field two miles south of the sleepy town at a place called Pittsburg Landing — better known today as Shiloh. An estimated 10,000 men on both sides perished in the two-day fight. The lost souls of many of them supposedly inhabit the grounds to this day. Over the years, some have reported seeing ghostly apparitions silently refighting the battle in the gloomy twilight.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s own official historian, a lighthouse at Point Lookout, Maryland may very well be haunted by the wayward spirits of Confederate prisoners-of-war who perished there 150 years ago. Between 1863 and 1865, more than 50,000 Rebels were detained at the site, known then as Camp Hoffman. Conditions in the sprawling compound were horrendous; nearly 4,000 prisoners died of starvation, disease and exposure to the elements. Union jailers used the lighthouse building itself to interrogate (and possibly torture) internees. The structure also contained holding cells for female Confederate sympathizers. According to legend, for years after the war occupants of the dwelling reported an overpowering stench of rotting bodies coming from certain rooms, while others told of mournful disembodied voices drifting up from the cellar. Doors inexplicably opened and closed and phantom footsteps could be heard throughout the house as well. Some even claimed to have seen a wraithlike female figure dressed in a white gown standing at the top of the main staircase. It’s because of incidents like these that Point Lookout is known today as one of America’s most haunted lighthouses.
The headless spirit of an 18th Century French army officer supposedly haunts the three-story “castle” of Youngstown, New York’s Old Fort Niagara. According to site historians, the ill-fated soldier was murdered by a comrade. Legend holds that the unnamed assailant later lopped off his victim’s head and tossed it into nearby Lake Ontario. He then threw what was left of the body into the well inside the imposing stone bastion. Locals believe that on nights with full moons, the spirit rises from the depths to search for his missing skull.
The Olde Angel Inn
Just across the river from Fort Niagara sits The Olde Angel Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada. According to popular folklore, the historic watering hole is home to the ghost of a murdered British army officer by the name of Colin Swayze. After the village’s capture by the Americans during the War of 1812, the young captain remained in town to safeguard a stash of booze hidden in the cellar. Others say he lingered because of a lover. U.S. troops caught up with Swayze and murdered him in the building’s dank basement. His ghost reportedly still wanders the inn moving furniture, making noise and frightening staff and guests.
The Plains of Abraham
Canada’s most haunted battlefield is the Plains of Abraham. The famous patch of ground just south of the fortress city of Quebec was the site of France’s worst defeat in the New World. On Sept. 13, 1759, an army of red coats under the command of James Wolfe tempted the Marquis de Montcalm out from behind the formidable city walls and into a pitched battle. The French general took the bait and within 15 minutes, his army was cut to pieces by the disciplined fire of the British regulars. Ironically, both commanders were fatally wounded in the brief struggle. According to Readers Digest, witnesses have claimed to see phantoms of 18th century soldiers on the plains as well as within the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city’s walls.
The Tunnels of Dover
Speaking of tunnels, Dover Castle’s three-mile network of underground fortifications is supposedly inhabited by a number of unhappy spirits. Tour groups visiting the Second World War-era passageways have reported hearing blood-curdling screams and strange disembodied voices. The grounds and keep of the clifftop citadel are home to even more tortured souls. The headless phantom of a drummer boy who is believed to have been murdered over a handful of coins still stalks ramparts, while both a 17th century English soldier and an unidentified woman in a red dress have been seen at various points within the castle.
England’s other haunted castles and battlefields are too numerous to count, yet some stand out. On the eastern edge of Leeds sits Towton, the site of the single bloodiest battle ever fought on British soil. One snowy day in 1461, armies from the houses of York and Lancaster fell upon each other resulting in a 10-hour slaughter. More than 28,000 died in the deadly melee — a staggering 1 percent of England’s total population at the time. Local legend holds that spirits of the fallen still wander the region, while a pub that sits on the southwestern edge of Towton field is supposedly haunted by an ill-behaved poltergeist that past owners dubbed “Nancy”.
Just 15 miles to the north of Towton is one of Britain’s other famous haunted battlefields, Marston Moor. The decisive English Civil War clash between Royalist and Parliamentarian forces began late in the afternoon on July 2, 1644 and continued well into the night. Before the bloodletting subsided, more than 4,000 pro-king Cavaliers were hacked to ribbons, impaled on pikes or holed by musket fire. Since then, area residents have reported eerie encounters with the battle’s long since dead combatants. In one more recent incident, a driver narrowly avoided hitting what he believed was a battlefield re-enactor in period costume that had carelessly stepped out into the middle of the road. As the enraged motorist leapt from his car to unleash a verbal tirade, the solider up and vanished.
The USS Hornet
And finally, not all wartime ghosts wander battlefields and castles; some can be found aboard some of history’s famous fighting ships. Consider the USS Hornet. According to one group of California ghost hunters, the World War Two-era American aircraft carrier, which is presently moored in San Francisco Bay, shelters a number of spirits from the vessel’s troubled past. In 2013, the team known as The Chill Seekers boarded the Hornet in hopes of making contact with the phantoms that lurk deep in her hull. According to the Daily Mail, the crew managed to capture audio of at least one restless wraith and even engaged the ghost in conversation.
Sadly, space and time prevented MHN from digging deeper into this always-fun topic. If we missed your favourite haunted fort, castle, ship or battlefield, please let us know about it in the comments section below. Keep your submissions short and feel free to include links where possible. Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween.
(Originally published on MilitaryHistoryNow.com on Oct. 29, 2014)