A Visitor's Guide to Ghostly Gettysburg, including Devil's Den and the National Cemetery
The Draw of Gettysburg
You can be a new visitor or an expert on the area. No matter your level of expertise, you have surely experienced something while walking this hallowed ground. It may have just been a feeling, an odd sensation of oneness with the past, a trickle of sweat while pondering the fates of thousands of America's young and promising men. There is even a chance that it was something more; a glimpse of something fleeting away into the fog, a mysterious noise, the smell of gunpowder or wafting campfire aromas. Many Americans, probably far more than would be willing to admit it, have the indescribable feeling that something otherworldly remains here on this mighty field of destruction and chaos.
During the first three days of July, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the scene of one of history's most hideous battles. The Union and Confederate men who either died or were wounded and missing here added up to about 53,000. These deaths were not only devastating to the families of the soldiers who fell here; the citizens of Gettysburg were themselves haunted by memories of the soldiers they nursed. Many of the town's homes became miniature torture chambers, filled with men who were more often than not deprived of the comfortable conditions they craved.
Some believe that, although innumerable soldiers now rest in Gettysburg's National Cemetery, unnamed heroes lie still buried under the verdant grass of the battlefield. There is no way to know if, as it was meant to be, only Union soldiers are buried in the National Cemetery. There is speculation that a few Confederates may have been confused with their Northern counterparts in the chaos following the battle and thus laid to rest here. This in itself is enough to conjure up the image of the "restless spirit." Buried in Pennsylvania soil, in the very state whose men he bitterly fought, unable to return home to the Southland.
A first-time visitor to this enigmatic tumble of million-year-old boulders will understand how the place got its sinister name. As far as the eye can see, little niches, cracks and holes make the den an exciting place to explore. However, the strange appearance is only a small part of its interest. On the second of July, 1863, during the second day of battle, untold numbers of both blue and gray men climbed these rocks. Many gave their last breath here, falling helplessly into the cracks and crevices of this ancient natural wonder. Visitors who want to climb the rocks (although it is a rather dangerous path, there are bridges and walkways for the more daring) might want to do so at night. Be warned: If you think you might feel uncomfortable seeing gray-coated boys watching you with an eerie fascination, don't go alone!
This will most often occur when there is scant tourist activity in the vicinity, as attested to by many sources. There have been instances of figures fleeting from one rock to another, dressed in shabby gray. One has to wonder if it is mere figment of imagination or if something out of the ordinary was truly witnessed. The small stream running peacefully across from Devil's Den once bore an ominous name; the "Bloody Run," for the blood of young men of both sides colored the stream red. If you visit Devil's Den at sunset or sunrise, you may see the orange and red rays reflecting in the stream, giving you an eerie idea of what it may have been like when it was indeed a bloody run. When you leave the small bridge that crosses Bloody Run, don't look back; the woods on the other side may not always be as quiet as they seem.
LITTLE ROUND TOP
This is quite possibly the loveliest place on the field, and once you have climbed to the top and looked out over the spectacular vista of the surrounding battlefield, you will know why. Hotly contested on the second of July, the hill was inhabited by New York and Pennsylvania men while Confederates attempted to climb the vicious rocky slope below. This slope is aptly known as the Valley of Death. Nearby in the woods, dashing Colonel Chamberlain pushed back the Alabamians with amazing vigor and helped to make the second day's fight a Union success.
The climb to the summit of Little Round Top is made visually pleasing by the boulders accenting the pathway. Once at the top (go around sunset and you will not regret it) the view stretches for miles. The Little Round Top is always filled with tourists, but sometimes mortal beings may not be the only ones we are sharing the space with. Near dusk, as shadows turn the gigantic rocks into a spooky otherworldly dreamscape, strange lights have been reported sweeping the area below. Watch out for shadows in the trees, as they may be spirits of vanquished generals trying to alert visitors to their presence. This place is definitely a hot-spot of paranormal activity and the chances of seeing something "unusual" are greatly heightened after dark.
For decades, the tale of the "White Lady" has colored the reputation of Spangler's Spring. No one is certain of her identity, from what time period she hails, or why she remains, but even the die-hard advocates of reality admit that something can be felt walking these grounds. It is a well-known fact that many have reported seeing a lovely young woman in a white gown. The story most often told, although it probably has nothing to do with the battle itself, says that she is searching for a lover, or lamenting that he has fled. Urban legend? You will have to visit Spangler's Spring yourself to search for proof, but I recommend you bring a friend. After all, if the elusive "Lady in White" appears, it is always good to know you are not the only one who witnessed the event.
A "Spirited" Journey
Many "ghost hunters" enjoy a tour of the battlefield after dark. Even if you aren't searching for spirits, Gettysburg in the evening is a somber and lovely experience. For those who are a little more tuned in to the unusual things around them, it is paradise. At every dip and curve of the tour roads, monuments seem to shift, to stare at wide-eyed tourists who gape from the safety of their car. For some "real" ghostly activity, make sure you visit a ghost hunters' society (or find a local place that may cater to your "hobby") and get suited up with all the proper equipment. Take a non-believer with you and see if you cannot convince him or her that a closed mind is not always the smartest thing!
Even without "equipment," make it a point to walk the battlefield at night. It is at the hours between sunset and the park's closing at 10:00 P.M. that most encounters have been recorded. Here are some good bets to have an experience you won't soon forget:
East Cavalry Field. The field where Custer and Stuart's men met in a fight to the death is secluded and little-known compared to other highly visited areas of the Gettysburg battlefield. Traffic is not much of an issue, and you will feel cut off from the bright lights and tourist attractions of the town.
Culp's Hill. Hour after hour, fierce fighting raged here, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. Countless monuments beautify the grounds, and the scenery in itself is enough to draw the curious traveler. Of course, there is the ghostly element. There have been stories of unexplained noises, such as footsteps where no one could be seen. It is easy to see why this place would inspire paranormal activity, as it is somewhat cut off from the major part of the field.
Pickett's Charge. Because the lights of the town are visible from Pickett's Charge and tend to throw a "modern" shadow over your experience, your best chance to have an encounter is after dark. If you stand near the stone wall where Confederate General Armistead surged with his hat on his sword, and then look across the field, you may see the misty rows of men marching as they did almost a century and a half ago. In life, these men defied odds by throwing their sheer numbers against the Union men waiting behind the wall. Ordered not to fire their weapons as they marched, these Southern men were prime targets for the boys in blue.
Jack and Jennie - Love Beyond the Grave?
Before the soldiers forced their way into the picturesque borough of Gettysburg, a young woman named Mary Virginia Wade led a work-filled but peaceful existence. The demands of her errands from day to day were made easier to bear with the thought of Jack Skelly, her beloved soldier-boy. It was common knowledge that they would someday wed, and "Jennie" Wade hoped it would be sooner rather than later.
Then the unthinkable happened. Wounded, his life-blood draining into the Virginia soil, Jack was taken to a hospital in Winchester. There he saw a young man named Wesley Culp, a Rebel soldier - but this was no mere soldier. They had known each other as boys, before Wesley moved to the South to work and ended up enlisting in the Confederate army. Rumor goes that Jack entrusted Wesley to tell his sweetheart Jennie a very important, personal message.
Wesley met his death in the unforgiving battle on Culp's Hill on the third of July. A day earlier, young Jennie, only twenty years of age, had taken her last breath as a bullet plowed through the home where she worked, killing her mercilessly. A great many readers of the story believe Wesley may still be trying to communicate Jack's important message to Jennie.
Why not find the Culp Farm (Wesley's childhood residence) and the Jennie Wade House (actually her sister Georgia's house on Baltimore Street) and see if you can sense a presence around these ancient homes?
More To See
This is just a small offering of places to find the paranormal in Gettysburg. Some argue the whole field is haunted, and perhaps the town as well, since soldiers fought and died right in the streets. The tales of hauntings and of the perpetual suffering of men of both sides are a major part of Gettysburg's cultural heritage. Grab a friend, your car, and your camera, drive the fields after dark under the light of the moon, and convince yourself that the shadows marching across the fields are a mere "figment of imagination."