Haunted Gettysburg: True ghost stories from Little Round Top, then and now

44th New York Infantry Monument and 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Little Round Top, Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Adams County, Pennsylvania

44th New York Infantry Monument and 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Little Round Top, Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. “

Abe Lincoln said that in his address dedicating the national cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania back in 1863. Most of us had to memorize his speech at some point in our school days, and perhaps one of the things we were most thankful for at the time was for Abe’s brevity.

A Google search for haunted Gettysburg might very well convince you that it is certainly possible to detract from what the brave men, living and particular the dead did there. You get the feeling, perusing the search results, that there must be swarms of ghost hunters, cameras and tape recorders in hand, combing the more than 30,000 acres looking for evidence of the dead who might be less than at rest. And in the process, keeping the spirits stirred up.

If there is a place in these United States where the dead have a good reason for still shuffling about the old mortal coil, Gettysburg, about 90 minutes from Washington D.C, and less than an hour from both Baltimore, Maryland and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is it.

In 1863, Gettysburg was a sleepy little town in the Pennsylvania countryside with a population of about 2,500, boasting a bit of light industry and a college. Today it hasn’t changed all that much, with a population of less than 8,000. Or to look at it another way, Gettysburg’s population has grown enough in the past 150 plus years to finally match the number of dead delivered on their doorstep in July of 1863.
One need not be a rocket scientist to figure out that having one’s life snuffed out suddenly and violently is a prescription for a haunting. And if amateur ghost hunters are to be believed, Gettysburg is overrun with spirits.

Ghost stories at Gettysburg didn’t begin following the battle. Like any small town, it had its share before the slaughter which made it famous. In fact, the first documented haunting here actually helped lead to the battle itself.

The 20th Maine division were marching towards the Pennsylvania hamlet when they struck a fork in the road and found themselves unsure which direction to proceed. Luckily for them, a mounted rider appeared, albeit in somewhat unusual and old-fashioned uniform, who directed them in the right direction, and even brought them to the top of Little Round Top, where they became famous for repelling one of the first massive assaults on the union lines. Even as they followed this unnamed rider, many found his appearance unusual, particular the eerie glow which seemed to emanate from him. When he disappeared without a word, many were convinced that he was not of this earth. Lincoln’s Secretary of War,  did a proper investigation of the matter, and was told by Colonel Joshua Chamberland, one of the heroes of the battle, “We know not what mystic power may be possessed by those who are now bivouacking with the dead. ”

If you’ve seen Gettysburg, the film, you’ll remember Chamberlain from Jeff Daniels sympathetic performance, and if the accuracy of the film is any guide, you’ll find Chamberlain a reliable witness. Filmed in 1993, Gettysburg utilizes thousands of Civil War reenactors, recreating battles on the very ground where they were fought. It’s no surprise that during their off-time, these extras wandered about the park.

One day around sunset, during filming, a group of extras portraying Union soldiers were relaxing on Little Round Top, the site of Chamberlain’s victory on the second day of battle. They heard a rustling in the trees, and were startled as “a rather haggard old man,” in the uniform of a Union private came upon then. Filthy and reeking of sulphur, one of the key ingredients of black powder guns during the Civil War, he spoke, “rough one today, ay boys?” He then proceeded to give the startled group of reenactors a handful of musket rounds.

Noticing that they didn’t look like the rounds issued to them, they went to the head of props for the film, who told them they weren’t issued by him. Later they made their way into Gettysburg proper to have them checked out, and were chilled to learn that they were genuine musket rounds, dating from the time of the battle.

Gothic Travel Rating: Gettysburg I’m sure can be a wonderfully creepy place. Unfortunately for the gothic traveler, it’s also an intensely crowded place at times, particularly the more well known locations. However, if you do your homework, you’ll find stories of hauntings in some of the more quiet areas of the park, which is indeed massive. Find a seat on Little Round Top or hang out inside the wonderfully gothic memorial on top and be prepared to scowl at the children who intrude on your solitude, and wait for a break in the crowds for the best effect. If you can find a quiet space, or a quiet time, or indeed can find your way into the historic park at night, the sky is the limit on how how your own rating might go. For me though, while certainly an essential travel stop, just too damned busy. So three crypts, with a caveat.

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View From Little Round Top Towards Devil's Den, Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Adams County, PennsylvaniaView from Little Round Top towards Devil’s Den, Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA.

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