The Civil War battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a turning point in the war and the war’s bloodiest battle with about 10,000 men killed within the space of three days. I’ve traveled to Gettysburg a few times and it’s a solemn place. It’s not surprising that there are a multitude of ghost stories from the area, mostly of those who died during the fight. But there’s one story that is a little unusual. A ghost story that occurred during the battle itself.
Let me share with you some excerpts from an article written by General Joshua L Chamberlain who was the commander of the 20th Maine Division and one of the few surviving officers participating in the battle.
Worn and famished, we stacked arms in camping order, hoping to bivouac beside them, and scampered like madcaps for those two prime factors of a desultory supper – water and fence-rails; for the finding of which the Yankee volunteer has an aptitude which should be ranked among the spiritual intuitions, though in their old-school theology, most farmers of our acquaintance were inclined to reckon the aptitude among the carnal appetites of the totally depraved. Some of the forage wagons had now got up, and there was a brief rally at their tail-ends for quick justice to be dispensed. But the unregenerate fires had hardly blackened the coffee-dippers, and the hardtack hardly been hammered into working order by the bayonet-shanks, when everything was stopped short by whispers of disaster away on the left: the enemy had struck our column at Gettysburg, and driven it back with terrible loss.
Suddenly the startling bugle-call from unseen quarters! “The General!” it rang. “To the march!” Not moment of delay!”
In a moment, the whole corps was in marching order; rest, rations, earth itself forgotten; one thought, – to be first on that Gettysburg road. The iron-faced veterans were transformed to boys. They insisted on starting out with colors flying so that even the night might know what manner of men were coming to redeem the day.
All things, even the most common, were magnified and made mysterious by the strange spell of night. At a turn of the road a staff-officer, with an air of authority, told each colonel as he came up, that McClellan was in command again, and riding ahead of us on the road. Then wild cheers rolled from the crowding column into the brooding sky, and the earth shook under the quickened tread. Now from a dark angle of the roadside came a whisper, whether from earthly or unearthly voice one cannot feel quite sure, that the august form of Washington had been seen that afternoon at sunset riding over the Gettysburg hills. (Hearst Magazine 1913)
Col. Joshua Chamberlain reported that the ghost of the Father of our Country had been seen on that fateful day, despite the fact that George Washington had been dead since 1799. Many men claimed a figure in a tri-corner hat, riding atop a white stallion, appeared before them and led them to a strategic point on Little Round Top. At first they thought the ghost was a Union commander, but even those who thought he was human detected a faint glow emitted from his personage. Many men later recalled that the strange glowing man resembled paintings they had seen of George Washington.
The commander, still emitting his eerie glow, raised his flaming sword and yelled “Fix bayonets! Charge!” and led the men down the hill toward the Confederate troops. The Confederate troops withdrew, and ultimately, the battle was a victory for the Union. The first president of the United States had helped save the country he had so earnestly fought for in life.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin McMasters Stanton, investigated the incident only to find that all men held fast to their strange story.
It’s said that even today, lucky visitors to Gettysburg will see a phantom on horseback near Little Round Top softly glowing in the early evening dusk, charging off to battle.
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