A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I got the chance to spend a weekend in Georgia with my daughter, son-in-law, and some of my adorable grandchildren. We drove down from Illinois and when we reached Georgia, we drove down the back roads to their house that is northeast of Atlanta, rather than take the highways. I’d always heard that you needed to be careful when you drove through old Civil War battleground areas because you never know who you might encounter. New Hope, Georgia is one of those areas where the past doesn’t want to stay buried.
The Battle of New Hope Church occurred on May 23, 1864. General Sherman was marching toward Atlanta and thought he was moving around General Johnston’s left flank by going through the town of Dallas. But Johnston had anticipated Sherman’s move and had sent a large force of soldiers to wait for the Union soldiers. Thinking the troops were only a token force, General Sherman had ordered Major General Joseph Hooker’s troops to attack.
What both Sherman and Hooker hadn’t realized was that Confederate forces that were awaiting them were 5,000 men strong with sixteen cannons. As the Union troops struggled through the thick underbrush into the clearing, they were hit by a ferocious bombardment of artillery. The Union soldiers were sitting ducks.
During the battle a thunderstorm blew into the area and the wounded soldiers pushed through the torrential downpour to hide in a ravine, their moans of pain mixing with the thunder of both the storm and the artillery. The Union Army renamed the ravine Hell Hole and, within the two hours of battle, Hooker’s corps lost 1,665 men.
The stories of the hauntings at New Hope are numerous, but I’d like to share a couple that are my favorites.
A gentleman was told that if you drove down a road off Dallas Acworth Highway (near the battle site) at night and parked a strange mist-like fog would appear and take on shapes that looked like Civil War soldiers crossing the road in battle. He decided to check it out and invited several friends.
When they found the road it was just a simple, inconspicuous, gravel road. They drove down into the woods and everything seemed fine. Everyone was very calm and really didn’t think anything was going to happen. The gentleman turned off to the right down another gravel road and then noticed a patch of fog. It was so thick, it seemed like a cloud just sitting on the ground. They decided to park and watch the fog with the headlights on. The fog got thicker and totally surrounded the car.
He looked in his review mirror, touching his brake pedal so he could cause a little illumination behind him. To his surprise, the light shone on someone standing directly behind them. He hit the pedal again, and the figure was still there, but had changed positions. Heart pounding, he put the car in reverse and slowly starting backing away. A friend in the back seat cried out, “Let’s go! Move it!! Go! Go! Go now!” as the shadowed figures stared to surround the car.
As they backed out of the fog they could see the fog taking on the shapes of soldiers, even their hats, guns and other military equipment were visible in the fog. The gentleman has never returned to the site.
A naive relic hunter decided to bring his metal detector and shovel to the Hell Hole and see if he could find some buried treasures, Civil War artifacts. He parked his car across the street from the cemetery that now sits in front of the ravine, waiting until nightfall to begin his plundering. The sun set and a full moon appeared in the sky, lighting his way through old, white gravestones that glowed eerily in the moonlight. He pushed his way through the thick brush, vines, and thorns to the edge of the ravine. To his dismay, the ravine was being used by locals as a garbage dump. But greed was a great motivator, so he climbed down and began to clear away a less cluttered area. Once the area was clear of the first layer of garbage, he began to sweep his metal detector over the ground, picking up a number of readings. He abandoned his detector for his shovel, and began digging.
The sound of heavy raindrops on the leaves didn’t occur to him for several moments, he was so intent on his potential treasures. But, when he finally looked up, he saw that the moon had been covered by a thick cloud, leaving him in complete darkness. A jarring clap of thunder shook the area and he took cover in an abandoned junked car. The storm intensified, thunder shaking the ground, and the rain saturating his surroundings.
Then he heard it. A low moan drifting out of the bottom of the ravine. He thought, perhaps hoped, that the sound was from an animal. But as the sound intensified, he realized it was human and had been joined with the moans of others. The sounds surrounded him, coming from everywhere and nowhere.
Soon the sounds were joined with the smell of rotted flesh and the odor grew as the moans increased in volume. He was beyond frightened and didn’t think he could handle much more when a bolt of lightning illuminated the forest and he saw the shadows. Shadows of the soldiers who had spent their last moments on earth in the Hell Hole. Shadows with military caps, guns and packs.
His heart in his throat, he scrambled out of the car and up the side of the ravine, slipping and sliding in the muddy earth, leaving all his equipment behind. He tore through the cemetery, the old graves mocking him, and rushed across the street to the church parking lot where he’d left his car.
The storm suddenly cleared and he trudged toward his car only to be met by the pastor of the church, concerned about his appearance. He explained to the pastor that he’d been visiting the ravine and had been caught by the sudden thunderstorm. The pastor chuckled, nodded and said, “Yeah, we seem to get storms like this, especially today.”
“What’s so special about today?” the relic hunter asked.
“Today’s May 26th,” he explained with a knowing smile. “The anniversary of the Battle of New Hope. Some say it’s haunted, if you believe in those kind of things.”