Ghosts of Gettysburg, A Bit of History:
The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest of those fought in the American Civil War. On July 3, 1863 the Union defeated Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army; after a 3 day battle. The number of deaths and injuries at Gettysburg is estimated to range from 46,000 to 51,000. Of those, nearly 8,000 died on the battlefield; thousands more died later as a result of injuries received in the battle. About 6,000 soldiers’ remains—mostly from the Union side—are buried at Gettysburg National Cemetery in marked graves; countless others were buried in unmarked battlefield mass graves, or left unburied to decompose in place.
The town of Gettysburg, which had a population of about 1300 in 1860, was faced with the overwhelming task of burying thousands of dead men and horses, and caring for thousands more wounded soldiers. Medicine in the 1860s was quite primitive by modern standards; the treatment for a shattered limb was to amputate it and then hope the patient didn’t die from blood loss or infection afterward. Anesthetics existed, but were scarce; antibiotics hadn’t been discovered yet.
Where so many unfortunate souls suffered and perished amid such violence, it’s not surprising that some of them do not rest in peace. Gettysburg is considered by paranormal researchers to be one of the most-haunted places in the United States. The cries of agony and pain from the injured and dead can still be heard today, and the souls of more than a few are occasionally seen.
Several companies in Gettysburg offer guided Ghost Tours of haunted sites, but an intrepid tourist can make a do-it-yourself tour of a few sites, especially those in the Gettysburg Battlefield National Historical Park, though the park closes at sundown. Many of the sites within the town of Gettysburg are private homes or businesses such as bed-and-breakfast inns, and can only be toured with permission or payment of a fee. A few sites were believed to be haunted even before the battle, and several are unrelated to the battle.
Here are a few sites that are open to the public:
Within the Town
• General Lee’s Headquarters Museum/Thompson House, 401 Buford Avenue—Lee planned Pickett’s Charge here, and General Longstreet argued with him over its advisability. Their argument can sometimes be heard today.
• Gettysburg College/Pennsylvania Hall—Was used as a Union signal corps station & field hospital until it was captured by the Rebels. Its cupola is home to a soldier on guard, who occasionally makes eye contact with passersby and aims his rifle at them.
• Gettysburg College/ Brua Hall—The campus theater is home to a Civil War era man who often appears backstage and on the catwalk at night, and has been seen watching rehearsals. His favorite seat in the auditorium is left vacant at all performances.
• Gettysburg College/Stevens Hall—The Blue Boy appears as if frozen in this women’s dormitory. Legend holds that a boy who was abused at the Soldiers’ Orphanage sought refuge there on a cold night.
• Gettysburg Best Western Hotel, One Lincoln Square—Built in 1797, the McClellan House, as it was known in 1863, was used as a hospital. Modern hotel guests often bump into a Civil War nurse named Rachel who rummages through drawers in search of material to use as bandages.
• Tillie Pierce House, 301/303 Baltimore St., corner of Breckenridge—Now a bed & breakfast inn. Tillie was a 15-year-old girl who volunteered as a field nurse and later wrote a memoir of her experiences. Guests hear footsteps and report feelings of being watched. At times The air inexplicably becomes cold, and cameras and other electronic devices malfunction.
• The Farnsworth House Inn, 415 Baltimore St.—Possibly the most-haunted inn in the U.S.; as many as 14 ghosts have been identified, some of whom pre-date or follow the Civil War. One such is Jeremy, a young boy trampled under a buggy and carried there, wrapped in a blanket, by his sobbing father. Guests have seen the father carrying Jeremy, and Jeremy often rearranges objects in guest rooms. During the battle, a Rebel sniper nest in its attic is thought to be the source of the musket ball that killed Jennie Wade. The footsteps and hushed voices of the sharpshooters can still be heard.
• The Jennie Wade House, 528 Baltimore St.—Jennie Wade, a 20-year-old seamstress, was the only civilian killed during the battle. While she stood in her kitchen kneading bread dough, a musket ball penetrated the kitchen door and hit her. Jennie’s ghost and that of her grieving father linger, and the bullet hole is still visible.
• Dobbin House Tavern/Gettysburg Inn, 89 Steinwehr Ave.—Built in 1776 by Rev. Alexander Dobbin, whose ghost still visits. After the battle it was a hospital, and ghostly nurses are seen mingling with soldiers taking refreshment.
• Soldiers National Museum/Soldiers Orphanage Cellar, 777 Baltimore St.—Orphanage was founded in honor of a Union soldier whose body was found clutching a photo of his children, and initially run by his widow. When she remarried & left Gettysburg it was taken over by Rosa Carmichael, who was cruel and abusive to the 130 children in her charge. She and some of the children linger in the cellar.
• Herr Tavern—Built in 1815, it was the site of some of the earliest fighting of the battle. The Rebels used it as a hospital, and the cries of wounded men are sometimes heard. A soldier often seeks beer in the bar, and a young woman sings to a crying baby in her arms.
• Iverson’s Pits/Forney Farm—About 300 Confederate soldiers met their deaths at this Oak Ridge site after being lured into a Union trap. They were buried in trenched mass graves or pits, and their spirits linger.
• Daniel Lady Farm—Used as a Confederate billet and hospital, actual soldiers’ graffiti still visible. The ghosts of Rebel soldiers linger, and cause the air to suddenly get quite warm and electronics to malfunction. Phantom odors also occur.
• Pickett’s Charge and The Angle—On July 3, General Lee ordered an attack on the Union position on Cemetery Hill, from a staging area on Seminary Hill. The fields between the two ridges saw nearly half of the Confederate force lose their lives. A low stone fence called the Angle was the “high water mark” of the Confederate campaign, the closest approach they made. Throughout the area phantom soldiers and regiments appear, battle sounds are heard, and air temperature suddenly drops at times.
• Sachs Bridge—this covered bridge built in 1854 over Marsh Creek was the site where three Confederate deserters (or spies, depending on which stories you believe) were hanged. Their spirits linger, and some visitors smell pipe tobacco smoke. Used as a Rebel field hospital and grazing area for horses, many dead buried on the banks of the creek. Cries of pain and horses’ neighs heard.
• Hummelbaugh House—Haunted by the ghost of Confederate Gen. William Barksdale, who died there, and his dog, whose howls can be heard each year on July 2, the anniversary of Barksdale’s death.
• Peach Orchard, Triangular Field, Wheatfield—Sites of bloody fighting on Day 2 of the battle. Visitors have seen phantom soldiers and regiments and heard battle sounds. Electronic equipment malfunctions are especially common in the Triangular Field.
• Devil’s Den—Already haunted before the battle by Indian warriors from a much earlier conflict and by a young woman killed in a wagon accident near the site. Used by Confederate snipers during the battle, whose ghosts sometimes appear. A ghostly barefoot Confederate soldier from Texas in ragged clothing occasionally gestures toward Round Top and informs tourists that “what you’re looking for is over there.”
• Slaughter Pen/Valley of Death—The Devil’s Den soldier occasionally shows up here, at the foot of Little Round Top; phantom regiments and battles are often seen and heard.
• Little Round Top—At the start of the battle soldiers from the 20th Maine Division reported seeing a man on horseback, whom they believed to be the ghost of George Washington, who directed them to their assigned position here. During the filming of a 1993 documentary, re-enactors saw a grizzled Union soldier in a tattered uniform talked about the battle and distributed authentic period ammunition. They thought he was a fellow re-enactor, but nobody ever saw him again and they couldn’t find the source of the ammunition he gave them.
• Houtelin Farm—now Battlefield B&B. Was the campsite of retreating Confederates after the battle and possibly the site of the final shots of the battle. Inn guests have reported seeing a Confederate soldier in the house and on its grounds; a young girl in the house who occasionally hugs guests; and a young woman in a light blue dress seated at a writing desk. Sounds of footsteps are often heard, doors unlock themselves, and an ethereal lantern has been seen in an adjoining field.
These are only a few of the haunting phenomena that have been reported in and around Gettysburg. As the 150th anniversary of the bloody battle approaches, who knows? Perhaps even more manifestations will occur during the re-enactments planned to commemorate it!