They were young, bright men with futures ahead of them. Many left behind sweethearts, though some died without knowing their first kiss. Brother turned and fired on brother on land that became muddy with blood in one of the most famous battles in American History, leaving bodies to bake in the sun. And still they can be heard, calling for charge or crying out in agony. The scent of burned gunpowder still floats on the wind, and none who visit the site leave unchanged. And while Gettysburg is known for being a place where history is alive, its history swims in death as well, and the dead never truly rest.
Halloween is a time when we, the living, pay respects to those who came before us. It is for this reason that Cold Spots feels that the article for Halloween should pay tribute to some fifty-thousand soldiers who gave their lives in the name of their beliefs and freedom. And if it is true that passion and emotions are what cause hauntings, then it is little wonder that the city of Gettysburg holds that distinction.
In 1863, the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was unremarkable in any way. It’s 2400 residents lived in relative peace, and there seemed to be no indication whatsoever of any historical significance to the town. That was, of course, until the Civil War spilled into its borders. By some accounts, it was mere coincidence that the forces of Union General John Buford and Confederate General John Pettigrew were both scouting the area at the same time. In the dark of night on June 30, both armies met. The next day, shots rang out.
For three days, the battle raged. At the end of the first day alone, the Confederates had suffered heavy casualties, with nearly 6,500 soldiers killed. The Union forces losses numbered more than 9,000. On the second day, the fighting continued, with the Confederates claiming a first-day victory. By the end of the day on July second, each side had lost another 9,000 men. On the third day, a charge on the part of the Confederate army was answered with blasts from 80 cannons, muskets from infantry, and more violence than has been ever seen on American soil since. The Confederates were cut to ribbons, and the battle was over. By the time it was all said and done, the total losses in the battle equaled more than 23,000 for the Union forces and more than 28,000 dead on the Confederate side.
The Confederate forces retreated, leaving the dead and dying where they lay. It fell to the citizens of the once-quiet town to tend to the wounded and dying. Homes and businesses were converted to makeshift hospitals, farmers and housewives became unintentional nurses and, in most cases, grave diggers. It was said that in every house, the carpets were so soaked with blood that there was no cleaning them, and that the walls were covered in crimson handprints.
It was the tragedy of the battle that scarred the land and homes of Gettysburg, where so many lost their lives in the pursuit of their beliefs. Their pain lingers, confirmed and sighted by far too many for such reports to be taken lightly. Ask anyone in the town where the battlefield is, and most will tell you that the whole town was the battlefield. It is not surprising, therefore, that the repercussions of those tragic days are felt throughout the town.
The Farnsworth House, which was used by Confederate Sharpshooters during the battle, has quite a history of paranormal activity. From the phantom sounds of a Jews-Harp to invisible guests sitting on beds, it has quite the reputation of being quite haunted. There have been reports of full apparitions, cold spots, and people being touched by invisible fingers by guests and employees alike.
Located on the Gettysburg College campus, Pennsylvania Hall is another site where the fallen soldiers still walk. Shadowy figures and chilly breezes are the least of the worries there, however. The most famous story about Pennsylvania Hall is a tale in which two administrators got on the elevator, preparing to go home for the evening. The elevator, however, passed their desired floor and opened up instead on the basement, though it was not the basement either of the men knew. Instead, they saw a vision of hell, in which wounded soldiers lay in heaps while surgeons worked without anesthetic on others. The blood dripped from the walls and the wails of the injured were so great that the two men were visibly shaken for years to come.
Still, the most haunted area in the town is the site now run by The National Park Service, what is commonly thought of as the main battle ground. Visitors and ghost hunters alike have visited the site, and none have come away disappointed. Apart from the general feeling in the air, there are the cries that many have heard, the unexplainable drops in temperature on the field, and the cameras that simply refuse to work in certain areas. Most disturbing, however, is the number of reports from people who were shown the battle as if it were happening before their eyes. Some claim to have smelled the burning gunpowder. Others to have felt the spray of warm blood as a man was shot in front of them. No matter who visits, none can deny the impact and the importance that the place holds.
Gettysburg today is a living museum, where respect is paid to those who fell in battle. The college is still in operation, and many of the historic buildings still have bullets embedded in their walls dating back to the three-day battle. Reenactments of the famous battle are also performed, and not only by the living. Even today, almost 150 years later, the events of the past refuse to rest. Those who fell are still around, and thousands every year have some sort of experience with them. Many skeptics come away believers.
What seems to be the best time for those looking for the past would be on the anniversary of the battle, July 1-4. It is during those days when more voices are heard and more apparitions are sighted than on any other of the year.
-Scott A. Johnson