Haunted Battlefields: The Ghosts of Chickamauga

by JoHarrington

Chickamauga Battlefield is the scene of some of the most celebrated ghost stories from the American Civil War. They include a spectral monster.

After Gettysburg, the second highest number of civil war casualties were tallied in the Battle of Chickamauga. It's hardly surprising then that this battlefield - which straddles the Georgia and Tennessee borders - has such a ghostly reputation.

The two day battle was fought on September 19th-20th 1863. It ended in a Confederate victory, which saw Union forces fleeing back into Chattanooga. But the cost in human lives had been high for the South too.

All told, 34,624 American soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or went missing during Chickamauga. Some might say that it's still not over.

US Civil War Confederate Ghosts

The American Civil War left a lot of heartache in the South. Some of its soldiers are still out there fighting in places like Chickamauga, on the Georgia-Tennessee border.

Chickamauga as the River of Death

Before we even step foot into the murky world of the paranormal, it's worth reflecting upon the very name of Chickamauga.

Image: River of DeathChickamauga is a Cherokee word and it translates as 'river of death'. 

The creek itself looks so beautiful winding its way through the valley.  Woodland and open pasture aplenty line its way.  But long before the American Civil War wrought such carnage here, the area had an unhappy reputation amongst the native people.

Those who camped there found themselves quickly sickening.  The Cherokee avoided it.

The situation could only have been made worse, when it's considered that the majority of the fallen, during the famous civil war battle at Chickamauga, were buried where they lay.  Such was the intensity of the war just then, that it took two months for a burial detail to return.  Until they arrived to undertake that grisly task, bodies decayed in the open air, unless retrieved beforehand by their families.

Chickamauga Battlefield is filled with unmarked graves.  Some are trenches, where three or four men were laid side by side.  Others are pits, where a large number of corpses were interred together.  Or there are also thousands of single burials, ranging in depth from the standard six feet to some quite shallow affairs. 

Occasionally maintenance workers will stick a shovel in the ground there and accidentally uncover human bones.  The point being that these internments were not supervised.  Health and safety and the preservation of the water sources did not factor in, so much as the need to swiftly remove from view thousands of decomposing remains.

The 'river of death' aspect of the area did not stop with the coming of modernity.  During the Spanish-American War of 1898, over 70,000 men (many with horses or mules) used the National Chickamauga Park as a base camp.  It turned out to be an error.

The barracked soldiers began to fall ill in droves. The officers, and then the government, ordered repeated testing of the water, but the results came back clear.  Nevertheless typhoid fever still broke out, followed by malaria. More men died of disease in the Chickamauga camp than were killed during the entire Spanish-American War. 

However, the official investigation blamed not the water, but unsanitary conditions in the camp itself.  Food was being transported in carts, which had not been hosed down after carrying manure and trash.  Malaria had not appeared until soldiers had returned from the battlefields of Cuba and the Philippines.

Rank and file soldiers referred to the earlier Cherokee legends, as evidence that the place was cursed.  But their superiors were having none of it. It was smallpox which killed the Native Americans, they claimed.  The Trail of Tears ran right along Chickamauga creek.

History Books about the Battle of Chickamauga

Learn more about the American Civil War battle, which kept the Federal forces from entering Georgia and splitting the Confederacy.

The Ghostly Reenactment of Battles at Chickamauga

Some supernatural entities are sentient. They can see and interact with us. Others are doomed to repeat their dying actions over and over again. Some of them are here.

Confederate and Union soldiers alike have been seen in and around the battlefield.  They are reputedly the spirits of those slain between 19th and 20th September 1863.

In 2002, a family was driving in a car along one of the roads crossing the Chickamauga National Park.  Suddenly the driver slammed her foot on the brake, shaking them all into an emergency stop.

Not that her teenage son and daughter questioned this action.  They could all see what she could see. 

A column of soldiers, in the grey uniforms of the Confederacy, were marching across the road.  They looked ragged and exhausted.  They were also faintly transparent.  The landscape could be discerned through their forms. 

They moved on by and then just faded from view, as the stunned trio watched.  It left them shaken, but otherwise with no harm done.

Their story wouldn't surprise anyone who lives or works in the vicinity of the park. There are so many such sightings that it's actually more unusual to visit the park and experience nothing supernatural.

The vast majority of sightings appear to be of souls doomed to repeat their deathly battle scenes over and over again.  They include whole encampments of both blue and grey uniformed men, who move around their campfires like it's still the eve of the battle.  Then disappear into the mist when rangers approach.

These soldiers are little more than residual energy, memories in the landscape.

But there are others who appear sentient. Like the Confederate soldier who stands just off the side of the roads, staring mutely at all who catch his eye.

Then there was the strange encounter of civil war re-enactor David Lester, who was camping at the site as part of a larger gathering.  After setting up his tent, he wandered away to explore his surroundings.

A short distance away, he came upon the camp of another group of re-enactors.  He paused to exchange pleasantries.  Their camp, just like his own, was authentic down to the minutest detail. All re-enactors take pride in ensuring that it is so.  They were all Confederates.  Their uniforms matched his own.

David was joined by some of his friends.  Together they stayed for several hours with their neighbors, sitting at the campfire, chatting.  At the time, he felt that nothing was untoward.  It was a congenial evening with like-minded hobbyists.

That was until the next morning, when he nipped back to say good morning and thank them for their hospitality.  There was no camp there. The ground lay utterly undisturbed, even where he'd seen the campfires burning.

It very belatedly occurred to David Lester and his friends that their hosts had not been re-enactors.  They had been the real thing.

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The Headless Horseman of Chickamauga

Sightings of spectral civil war soldiers are not unusual on the Chickamauga Battlefield, but one stands out from all the rest.

Almost as soon as the battle was over, local people were reporting spine-tingling sightings of this ghostly rider.

It would all begin as a sound.  The rat-a-tat pounding of a horse's hooves galloping through the woodland. 

Those walking along its leafy pathways would feel their instinct begin to ring.  Something was not quite right about the situation, though there was nothing out of the ordinary about riding horses in 19th century America.

They would turn, looking for the rider, so to get out of its way.  There would be nothing, though the pounding hooves were drawing ever more near.

No! It would just be there!  A stallion warhorse so close that it would seem that a collision was inevitable. The stricken individual would throw themselves out of the way, feeling it was all too late. They braced themselves for impact.

But the rider and his mount missed them by an impossible margin, then thundered fast away. 

As if the whole experience wasn't stupefying enough, the hapless victim would be left staring in shock at the figure on the horse.  It was patently a ghost.  It didn't have a head.  They were all too busy registering that terrible detail to even note whether the uniform was blue or grey.

Chickamauga's headless horseman is still seen to this day.  However, it's not the most bizarre entity haunting that cursed battlefield.  Not by a long shot.


WRCB Report on Old Green Eyes at Chickamauga

Old Green Eyes in Chickamauga National Park

Whatever the nature of this creature, it apparently witnessed the Battle of Chickamauga and it's not gone away since. Ghost? Or something much more tangible?

Image: Snodgrass HillYou would think that no added horror was necessary.  After two days of fierce fighting, the terrain around the Chickamauga Creek was strewn with bodies.

But it did actually manage to get worse. 

It was the evening of September 20th 1863.  Women picked their way through the corpses with lanterns held high.  They were searching for, and dreading to find, their loved ones lying there.  Husbands, sons, fathers, brothers and sweethearts were lost somewhere in that valley.

In the vicinity of Snodgrass Hill, their grim and heart-breaking hunt gave way to screams of shock and terror.  There was something there and it was not human.  It stood amidst the fallen soldiers, staring back at the search party.  In this lonely, isolated location, they had nowhere to run.  But they didn't need to.  The thing disappeared.

The creature had looked vaguely humanoid, albeit much taller than even a large man.  It stood on two legs, with light-colored hair covering it to the waist.  (Its legs always seem lost in the darkness, thus never fully described.  Those who do imply that those limbs are also covered in hair.)  Fangs stuck out from a misshapen mouth and its jaw protrudes.  Others have stated that its visage is ape-like. But its most notable aspect was that which earned its nickname - Old Green Eyes.  Two orange-green eyes, which appear to glow in the twilight. 

For those ladies about their terrible task, the encounter must have been the last straw.  But their meeting was just one in a long tradition of sightings in that particular area.  Old Green Eyes features in Cherokee legends pre-dating the battle.  It's been seen many, many times since.

Chickamauga National Battlefield rangers have been amongst the more modern witnesses.  They include Edward Tinney, who worked there in 1981.  Old Green Eyes stepped out of the edge of the woods right in front of him, but was then frightened away by a passing vehicle.

Motorists have also spotted it, generally at night.  During the 1970s, it was cited as the cause of two separate car crashes on one of the many public roads crossing the park.  In both cases, the drivers had been startled by its sudden appearance, swerved to miss it and lost control of their vehicles.

Many stories have sprung up to explain the presence of Old Green Eyes.  He is the ghost of a Confederate soldier, or the totem spirit attached to a battalion killed there.  It is the guardian of the dead, there to ensure no grave is ever disturbed.  She's the ghost of a bereft woman with emerald ear-rings, who is still looking for her lost lover killed in battle.

All of these theories seem to ignore the Cherokee legends, which placed Old Green Eyes along that creek long before the American Civil War.   To my mind, it's obvious.  Old Green Eyes is a sasquatch.

Chickamauga Sasquatch in Georgia and Tennessee

There are Sasquatch legends, coupled with modern day eye-witness reports of Bigfoot, in both Georgia and Eastern Tennessee. Learn about them here.
Whistling great apes; a methane stink; childcare research; and bizarre chattering in the middle of the night. These are just some of the hallmarks of this hairy giant.
The Civil War Battlefield of Chickamauga is haunted by a tall, hairy, bipedal creature with eye-shine. That sounds more like Bigfoot than the ghost of its own legend.

Bug or Orb at Chickamauga Battlefield

This was taken in the early hours of an April morning in 2006. The lady in the foreground had already sensed something in the tree-line.

Wings to the Kingdom by Cherie Priest

This is a fictional ghost story set on the Battlefield of Chickamauga. It draws upon real legends as its back-story.

The White Lady of Chickamauga Battlefield

Let's return to the scene of thousands of heart-broken ladies searching for their own amongst the bodies of Chickamauga Battlefield.  Because they seem to return to it often.

Strange lights have been spotted in the fields, where the fighting was at its most ferocious. They appear to be distant lantern lights swinging back and forth, bobbing as if carried by an unseen hand.  The sight is accompanied by the sound of female shouts and crying.

Only one ghostly apparition is actually ever seen from their numbers.  A woman has frequently been spotted at Chickamauga.  She is dressed all in white, in that distinctive Southern Belle civil war style.  The White Lady appears to float across the field, always looking down.

The story goes that she was the fiancée of a Confederate soldier killed there, but she never found his body amongst the tens of thousands there.  Nevertheless, she kept on looking, even beyond the grave.

Fife and Drum Band Heralding the Confederate Victory

'Late on Sunday afternoon, as the firing gradually died down on Snodgrass hill, the party suddenly heard a band strike up some southern air. They divined that this meant victory for the Confederates, and as their sympathies were with that side, jubilation broke out among them. Some of the women sang and shouted aloud in the excess of their joy.'

Julia Kittie Snodgrass fled her homestead on Snodgrass Hill with her family, as the Battle of Chickamauga surrounded them.  She was only six in 1863, but recorded her recollections in adulthood.

However, it seems that you didn't have to be there on the day to hear the Fife and Drum band on Chickamauga Battlefield.  They apparently do encores.

Confederate Fifes and Drums

This is the kind of music heard on Chickamauga Battlefield.

Ghosts of the Southern Tennessee Valley

Chickamauga's Ghostly Fife and Drum Band

In her book Ghosts of the Southern Tennessee Valley, Georgiana C Kotarski recounted a tale about the Fife and Drum playing ghosts of Chickamauga. 

Teenage Cub Scouts Blake Burnette and Bryan Russell were on top of Snodgrass Hill, with younger members of the Cub Scout Pack 3140 and Troop 8.  They were defending their position by lantern-light, during a night-time game of 'capture the flag'.  Their Scout Masters Doug Albritton and Ben Bouvier were at the foot of the hill, with a similar team of young boys.

It was the group on top of the hill who heard the music.  The Fife and Drum band sounded quite close. They could distinctly hear every rap on the snare drums.

Charged with the responsibility of looking after the little ones, the teenagers grew concerned about the proximity of other people.  Blake raced down Snodgrass Hill to report the intrusion to Doug.

The Scout Master assumed that there were pranksters in the woods.  But this did seem to be a good time to call a halt to proceedings.  It was getting very late.

With all of the boys safely corralled, Doug went for a walk alone up onto Snodgrass Hill. He'd expected that whoever was having a joke would be gone by now, but they weren't.  The scout master distinctly heard the Fife and Drum music, just as the boys had reported. There was no mistaking it for something else.

He had goosebumps, but he also had a duty to ensure the well-being of his scouts.  He investigated the area and found one parked car.  It was empty and no sounds were emitted from its stereo.  Though he could hear the band throughout his search, he couldn't locate them.

As the scout master headed back to his waiting group, it started to rain. The music finally faded beneath the patter of the elements.  But their ordeal was not over.

Doug rejoined his scout troop with the intention of leading them to shelter in the old Snodgrass homestead cabin.  But before the words escaped his mouth, they all heard another series of loud noises.  It sounded like a dozen people rushing at speed down Snodgrass Hill.  They could hear them, but they couldn't see them.

Doug and Ben were of a single mind in their decision.  Despite the inclement weather, they shepherded their boys back to the scout camp.  They would get wet on the trek, but neither man felt comfortable taking them into the Snodgrass cabin after that.  It felt like they just weren't welcome.

Print of the Homestead on Snodgrass Hill

Music, moans, musket and cannon fire, screams, horse's hooves and people shouting have all been heard in this vicinity.

Haunting Music at Chickamauga National Battlefield

This is just one of many more ghost stories about encounters with the victorious Confederate band.

Image: Confederate Fife and Drum BandThe tourist thought it was a nice touch, when he heard the Fife and Drum band playing.  It was early in the season and Chickamauga was practically deserted.  The distant music, contemporaneous with the historical battle tunes, felt atmospheric.

He'd already been there a while, so was ready to go back anyway.  As he walked, he listened and contemplated how the reality must have been back in September 1863.  Certainly not as peaceful as his own visit.  Moved by the music and unwilling to bring the trip to an end, he decided it would be a nice finale to actually watch the marching band.

The tourist meandered into the ticket office and asked directions to the Fife and Drum band.  He was informed that there was no such band playing on site that day.  But the lady behind the counter wasn't surprised by his tale.  She'd heard that one several times before, all from the vicinity of the Chickamauga Monument.

He wasn't entirely satisfied by the response.  He didn't believe in ghosts.  He stepped into the museum and interpretative centers too, asking guides there for the location of the band.  They all gave him the same answer.  The tourist's departure was much delayed, as he drove his car along every one of the byways criss-crossing the park.

He never found the Fife and Drum marching band.

EVP of a Union Ghost at Chickamauga Battlefield

EVP Recording Taken on Snodgrass Hill

Have we hacked into Heaven? The proponents of Electronic Voice Phenomenon claim that we have done just that; and conversations with the dead are the result.

Chickamauga Haunting at the Wilder Tower Memorial

What frightened a young man so much, that he would throw himself from the top of this Chickamauga tower rather than stay in there with it?

The Wilder Tower wasn't there during the American Civil War, but it was built by veterans.  Construction began on it in 1903. 

It marked the spot where, in 1863, the Union lines had broken. A division of soldiers - headed by Colonel John T. Wilder - had held back the Confederates long enough for their brothers in arms to safely retreat.  It was designed as a monument to their bravery.

Strange sounds have been heard here - gunfire, moans, shouts and the such - but that isn't the creepiest tale to be told here.

In 1970, Ranger Charlie Fisher was called out to respond to an accident in the park.  He arrived to find a twenty-four year old man lying prone at the foot of the Wilder Tower.  Badly injured, the casualty would be left paralyzed for the rest of his life.

The Wilder Tower is closed at night with its entrance door locked.  The issue is the observation tower at the top, which is deemed a health and safety risk in the darkness.

However, this had not posed a problem to the young man.  Beer was involved.  He and his friends had been enjoying a hearty drinking session in the park.  Buoyed with the bravado of beer in his belly and the opportunity to impress his friends, the man had surveyed the tower. 

A lightning rod, sticking out from the top, was earthed by a cable running down the side.  He'd simply used that to scale the brickwork, until he came to a gun slot window about 14ft from the ground.  It was an easy matter to slip inside the building then.  With whoops and shouts, he appeared on the observation deck and hailed his friends.

They had all been suitably impressed, but there was little else he could do to milk this situation.  With a final triumphant gesture, he turned to make his descent. 

He'd barely ducked from sight, when a terrible scream sounded from high inside the Wilder Tower. All of his friends scrambled to look, expecting him to emerge from the same window in which he'd entered.  But he didn't.  He propelled himself through another, much higher up, not even stopping to ensure it was safe.

The twenty-four year old plummeted 25ft onto a solid concrete base down below.  He was lucky to survive, but the accident robbed him of the ability to move from the neck downwards.  He was also left unable to tell anyone what frightened him so much, that he literally ran through a high gun slot.

Whatever it was, he prioritized getting away above his own life and limb, while his friends saw nothing at all.

True Ghost Stories from the American Civil War

Buy these collections to discover more terrifying tales from the battlefields of the USA.

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Updated: 09/12/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 04/11/2013

It is creepy! I thought that when I discovered what Chickamauga meant too!

Unfortunately it's a different Headless Horseman. The Sleepy Hollow one was in New York State. You seem to be having an epidemic of them over there!

That Wilder Tower one is creepy to me because we don't know what he saw. Our imagination supplies the rest and that's the worst thing for ghost stories.

Ember on 04/11/2013

"Chickamauga is a Cherokee word and it translates as 'river of death'." That is beyond words creepy actually...

Is this Headless Horseman the same as the one from Sleepy Hollow? Or the inspiration at least.

This was interesting...until I got to the end section. That was terrifying and made my heart sink. He may not be able to say what he saw, but to be honest, I really really don't want to know. :c I'm going to go do something that isn't thinking about this for the rest of the afternoon if I'm ever going to be able to walk through the park to get to my friend's house tonight. :c

JoHarrington on 04/11/2013

LOL Yes, indeed!

Paul on 04/11/2013

I now see where the inspiration for that bigfoot article came from!

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