The Civil War pinned brother against brother, and it tore the United States apart. It all wasn’t for a pointless reason, as we know. But, it doesn’t give our nation an absolution from the 620,000 Americans who lost their lives. They were lost in battle, from illness, and awful circumstances that the Civil War brought. It’s no surprise that there are countless hauntings reported around the areas where battles took place. Battlefields like Gettysburg are known for being paranormal hot spots. According to Michelle Hamilton, author of “Civil War Ghosts”, the ghost stories surrounding the infamous battle of Gettysburg were well known and experienced long before the tours came in.
There’s absolutely no doubt that the Civil War was one of the most tragic chapters in American history. With so much turbulence, violence, grief, loss, etc., it left a literal scar on the Earth. If you visit any battlefield today, you’ll see bullets implanted in the trees. There are also holes in the ground from cannon fire and even some bloodstains that Mother Nature has carefully preserved. With this in mind, it is no surprise that these areas are riddled with ghost stories. Many of this people from this era identified with the Christian religion. So how can one rectify the presence of ghosts from this time period? With Christianity, when you die, you go to Heaven or Hell. Anything that remains, according to the Bible, is an evil spirit in disguise meant to trick you…or so they say. I too grew up Christian, and this thought always bothered me.
Connection to a Devastating Age
Since I was a pre-teen, I’ve always been drawn to the Civil War. I have always been fascinated with what life was like back then. I wanted to know what their culture was like, what a “day in the life” was like. My first visit to Gettysburg was my 8th grade trip to the east coast in May 2000. I was hooked as soon as I stepped off the bus. The Revolutionary War has always been fascinating too, but the Civil War has me hooked like no other. What was even weirder was that Gettysburg has always been familiar to me. I’m not going to go down the rabbit hole of past lives, spiritual connections, right now. I might in a future article.
The Good Death
Going back to my original question…why are there so many ghosts from the Civil War? Hauntings are believed to occur when a ghost is experiencing unrest. They may have unfinished business, or they aren’t ready to move on. From the 1800s and centuries before, death was handled carefully. You usually died at home where you could be surrounded by family. Often you weren’t even given a sedative or pain killers. This was so you could be fully aware as you transitioned to the other side. After you passed, your remains were carefully handled. There was usually a wake, a funeral, and finally, you were buried in the family plot. This was usually located in your family’s backyard, your church, or some sort of designated burial location for your community. With this death process, you were able to find closure with your loved ones. It was peaceful given the tragic circumstances. For more information about the Good Death, I highly recommend this book written by John Sabol.
A Different Way of Dying
The Civil War violated the Good Death. Old men, young men, children…were all swept up and recruited to fight. Most of these soldiers died on site of their battle. Depending on where they passed, their remains were handled differently. For example, the Confederate soldiers who died during Gettysburg were left in ditches, riverbanks, or shallow graves. Many of these remains were destroyed when the rains came in after the battle. The Union soldiers that died there were collected and eventually placed in the Soldier’s National Cemetery. This is where Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address.
I’ve read countless stories where Southern boys were dying up north. So, their families never heard what happened until long after. Families often traveled to battlefields to find their lost loved ones. Many were successful, but many weren’t. The closure was stripped away from these families, and the lack of closure most likely translated into the afterlife.
Rise in Spiritualism
The spiritualism movement began before the events of the Civil War. But it was the war that caused it to reach incredible proportions with mediums rising up every day. Because these families didn’t have closure, and these soldiers had no way to tell their loved ones they were okay, spiritualism filled in the gaps. There’s a moral dilemma in spiritualism since it gave closure to many people. But eventually, it was realized that many of these self-proclaimed psychics were faking it. Even the Fox Sisters, who are credited for creating the movement, came forward and admitted they made it up. They retracted the statement not too long after, but the spot of spiritualism’s reputation became a stain.
Alternate Theory: Storing Energy
Have you ever entered a room after two people have had a fight? Have you ever been someplace where there is a lot of tension but no one told you what was happening? There are theories that this feeling translates into the paranormal as well. Since there was so much energy with the events of the Civil War, all the devastation, heartache, and loss can still be felt around these places. Perhaps it isn’t ghosts at all. Instead, it’s the energy left behind, and the feelings we experience when we recount the tragedy of the bloodiest battle to ever take place on American soil.