Haunted Battlefields: The Ghosts of Gettysburg

by JoHarrington

The Battle of Gettysburg was a pivotal point during the American Civil War. It's been the location of countless ghostly tales ever since.

Up to 51,000 people died at the Battle of Gettysburg. It was the single most deadly encounter of the American Civil War.

For many, this is history - a pivotal turning point of fortunes to be learned about in school, or to visit as tourists to the Gettysburg National Cemetery. But what of those still fighting? What of those who never quite made the retreat to Virginia?

There are those who say that Gettysburg has not been entirely silent since 1863. That there are soldiers wandering the battlefield and its bridges, looking for a way to go home.

The Ghostly Rider on the Eve of the Battle of Gettysburg

Was it motivational propaganda to inspire the troops? Or did a famous leader really appear that morning?

The stories began before the battle was even fought.  As Union soldiers headed towards Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, USA, they found rumors had already overtaken the encampments of their ranks.

A ghostly white horse had been spotted riding through the mists.  Upon its back, the rider had a familiar face. 

George Washington had joined them on the front line, ready to lead the way into victory on those killing fields.  The story spread like wildfire, making its way into the letters sent back home. There in the mud and blood of that infamous July day, the sighting gave heart to the amassed Union soldiers.

Even those who hadn't seen a thing.

Thure de Thulstrup's Battle of Gettysburg Poster

Battlefield with a Long Reputation for Hauntings

To say that Gettysburg has a reputation for being haunted is to woefully understate the case.

Anguished screams and the thunder of firearms have been clearly heard on the deserted plains.  Fully formed phantom figures have appeared crouching in the grass or struggling with their backpacks, as they pass over the bridge.

It's not just on the battlefield itself, but in the surrounding area too. Straggling soldiers limping down the roads and by-ways, or peering through the windows of once make-shift hospitals, now homes, where they died.

Gettysburg Battlefield is practically a place of pilgrimage for American paranormal investigators. They are almost guaranteed some evidence of the afterlife around there.

The deaths were too intense, too sudden.  For the young men and women falling under artillery fire, these were not glorious endings, played out like a Shakespearean drama. It was ugly, muddy, agonizing to the point where some must have screamed for their mothers.  For the majority, it also happened a long way from home with war continuing all around them.

Maybe the latter is the crux of the matter.  Psychics have concluded that the lost soldiers don't know that they're dead.  The Battle of Gettysburg goes on, in an endless loop of horror and mortality. They cannot see the tourists, the historians, the gawping coach-loads of visitors.  They barely register the ghost hunters.

They just see the fighting and the fact that no-one can or will heed their screams for help.  They died not knowing that they're dead; and perhaps with one of two big imperatives on their mind - fight on, or go home.

Gettysburg Ghosts and Hauntings Kindle eBooks

Download these true ghost stories about the Gettysburg Battlefield for your eReader.

Confederate Road Ghost on Highway 81

Some of the most enduring tales involve phantom soldiers trying to get home. Like this one told by Michael McQuate.

Late one night, the McQuate family were driving down Highway 81, just north of Gettysburg.  It was a lonely and completely deserted road.  They hadn't passed any traffic for miles.

Suddenly, a figure of a man was spotted marching along up ahead. 

He was tall and stocky, dressed all in grey, complete with cap and backpack.  Both adults and their three children could distinctly see the bedroll attached to it and the long rifle-butt in his hand.

They were too full of the visit with relatives to realize that they had driven alongside the battlefield, thirty miles or so back.  They wouldn't have thought 'ghost' if they had, because this individual seemed too real.  Too solid.  Too alive.

But he was still in the middle of the road and utterly oblivious to their approach.

Mr McQuate slammed on his brakes, while the rest of his family screamed and braced themselves.  They couldn't miss the man.  He was never going to survive.

Their car hurtled into a hedge and swung around, but the anticipated thud of impact with the man never came.  Each person in that car scanned the road around and behind them, but his body could not be found.

Badly shaken, Mr McQuate finally drove them away.  This was the 1970s, so there was no cell-phone upon which to summon help.  Instead they made it the further terrifying miles to the Pennsylvania toll-booth, where the adults reported the accident.

The toll-booth official did not seem surprised. He'd heard it all before a dozen times. "Ah! I guess the ghosts are out wandering again tonight!" He told them, but the family were in no mood for jokes.

Mr McQuate became quite angry, demanding that the Highway Patrol be sent out.  The official wasn't going to bother. Needless to say, no man in a grey uniform, nor any other, was found when the police investigated.

Confederate ghosts are often seen on Highway 81. Back in 1863, it was one of the major by-ways for the movement of troops of all sides.

Books about the Haunted Gettysburg Battlefield

Unravel more scary supernatural tales from America's most haunted battleground.

Articles about Gettysburg on Wizzley

Based on the book 'The Killer Angels' by Michael Shaara, 'Gettysburg' was filmed on location at the actual battleground. It is the longest ever American film.
Tony and Ridley Scott are the directors of this gritty docu-drama, which focuses on lesser known stories from the Battle of Gettysburg. Originally shown on The History Channel.
When we imagine the heat and blood of Gettysburg, it's the men that we see standing or falling in the blasts. But there were women there too, in the ranks, with their muskets.

Gettysburg Film Actors Encounter the Real Thing

In 1993, the movie Gettysburg was released, starring Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen, Jeff Daniels and C Thomas Howell.

But they weren't the only actors in period costume, during scenes filmed actually on the battlefield.  Hundreds of extras were clad much the same, only they weren't in every scene.

A group of them, dressed in grey Confederate uniforms, were sitting around in the shade of the trees waiting for their moment to step before the cameras.

A gaunt, older man, his own Confederate clothes covered in dust and tears, staggered into view. He saw them and they smelt him. 

He reeked of sulfur and body odor.

Gettysburg (1993) on DVD

"Rough one today, eh, boys?" He hailed them in his Southern drawl, then pressed ammunition onto them.

Without a further word, he moved on.

Naturally, the actors' first assumption was not supernatural.  They were, after all, surrounded by people dressed just like him. But there had been something strange about his aspect.  Something a little too authentic.  Plus why did he smell so bad?

Another puzzling fact was the ammunition in their hands.  It was heavy, like proper musket balls, rather than the light-weight (and safe!) props that they had been given so far.

Finally moved to investigate further, some of the actors went to visit the field wardrobe department and checked there.  They were assured that not only had the musket balls not been issued by them, but there was no old man on the cast-list matching his description.

The mystery only deepened when the local museum confirmed that the musket balls were 130 years old; and that they would have been used at Gettysburg.

Mysterious Journeys: The Ghosts of Gettysburg (2007)

A documentary exploration of paranormal events and sightings that have taken place on the old battlefield at Gettysburg.

Paranormal Shows Featuring Gettysburg Ghosts

Buy the DVD or rent an episode to watch online to watch ghost hunters check out eye-witness accounts of Gettysburg hauntings.

Collection of Tales from a Gettysburg Park Ranger

The best source for ghost stories from Gettysburg Battlefield is the people who work there day in, day out.

Mark Nesbitt lived and worked as a park ranger on the site, with his duties also taking in the National Cemetery and the Military Park.

This meant that he had ample opportunity to speak with locals, visitors, colleagues and just about anyone else with an interest in the paranormal there.

The result was not one but a whole series of extremely well-written true ghost books from Gettysburg. The first three are shown below; and another two have followed to date.

Mark Nesbitt has become so convinced by all that he's seen and heard, that he's now branched out into becoming a paranormal investigator himself.

He's also taken the historian's approach of checking as many details as he could against original or secondary source evidence. 

As a man familiar with the area, his tales are filled with local landmarks and directions, so that visitors can check out the locations for themselves.  He includes warnings where such places aren't accessible to the general public, but never stints on the story.

Buy Ghosts of Gettysburg by Mark Nesbitt

Read these books to delve into the most comprehensive collection of Gettysburg ghost stories available today.

The Haunting of the Soldiers' Orphanage Basement

Not all Gettysburg related ghosts came from the battlefield, but such carnage had horrific repercussions.

After the battle was over, the blanket of corpses and horror was almost too much to comprehend.

In one hollow, the body of a Union soldier was found.  He had died alone, but must have known that he was going.

He had removed from his pocket a photograph of his three young children. His final sight must have been of them, as his unseeing eyes stared still at the picture.

After such tragedies, the human spirit wants to find something good to hold on to.  This was one of the moments of humanity and pathos which quickly caught the public imagination after Gettysburg.

A press search was soon on, printing the photograph and calling upon the family to get in touch.

Someone did.  This was Phelinda Humiston, a teacher and the mother of the three little ones. It was her husband who had died clutching the picture.

Readers reacted as they often do today, when confronted with something so sad.  They sent money. So much money, in fact, that Mrs Humiston was suddenly quite rich.  But she didn't spend it on a life of luxury.  She set up an orphanage in Gettysburg itself, and took in only children orphaned by the battle.

So far so sad, but with a nice ending.  That is until she grew too old to care for her wards. Over sixty children had passed through her care, but now she was exhausted.

Mrs Humiston entrusted her orphanage to an assistant named Rosa Carmichaels.  What she wasn't to know is that Carmichaels was not the best woman for the job.

One day, a little girl fled from the house. She was half-starved and injured, which led credence to the story that she was about to relate.  It seemed that child abuse was now rife in the house. Children were not only beaten by Carmichaels, but given sticks and encouraged to batter a little victim in mob violence.

In the basement were shackles.  That's where Carmichaels chained up children whom she had selected to die.  They were left there, disturbed only for torture with one of her many devices, until they expired from their wounds or starvation.

It is said, by local paranormal investigators and ghost tour operators, that the most haunted place of all is not on the open battlefield, but here, in the basement of the Soldiers' Orphanage, built in the wake of war.

More Ghost Stories from American Civil War Battlefields

Do American Civil War soldiers still fight on South Mountain? Their ghosts have been seen, felt and heard upon those once treacherous slopes.
Chickamauga Battlefield is the scene of some of the most celebrated ghost stories from the American Civil War. They include a spectral monster.
The Battle of Sharpsburg, aka Antietam, was the bloody start to the Maryland Campaign of the American Civil War. Today it's one of America's most haunted sites.
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.
Updated: 09/12/2014, JoHarrington
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?

Have you had a ghostly encounter at Gettysburg? Please do tell!

JoHarrington on 03/16/2015

I doubt anyone who's been there couldn't know.

frankbeswick on 03/06/2015

I agree, and I know what Culloden felt like.

JoHarrington on 03/06/2015

It certainly felt that way at Culloden.

frankbeswick on 03/06/2015

I think that you are right Joe.

JoHarrington on 03/06/2015

Frank - To my mind, it's the high emotion felt in such places which often cause the imprint to occur.

JoHarrington on 03/06/2015

Rachel - I'll see if I can find any ghost stories pertaining to the American Revolution. There are bound to be some. I'm glad that my stories here engaged you so much!

frankbeswick on 03/04/2015

This sort of phenomenon is known from other battlefields as well. Something lingers in these sites, as though places retain a record of events that happen in them. Yet it is not only the evil that men do that lives after them, the good is often retained in their stones [to play on Shakespeare.] Monastic ruins radiate peace,as do churches whose ancient stones have stones have seen centuries of worship.

Rachel on 03/03/2015

Try to do one on the American Revolotion of how it first started the Shot heard around the world

Rachel on 03/03/2015

Oh my gosh those stories are CREEPY the only reason i found this because my teacher told me to however now i like the story and i want to read more.

JoHarrington on 10/26/2012

Please do report back if you do go. I'll have to look up the Richmond battlefields to see what's out there.

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