Tennessee’s Haunted Capitol: The Cupola Ghost

Restless Spirits Stalk Tennessee’s Legislature

Brent Moore state capitol at night
More than politics bedevils Tennessee state Capitol!

In my books I chronicle all things weird, wonderful and otherwise beyond the mortal ken occurring south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

As time goes by I often accumulate more information about one or another of those paranormal subjects.  Should the august publishers of Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground or Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War ever choose to do revised editions of my books, I have a wealth of new matter to include in them as well as select images for your edification.  Until then, I am afraid readers will just have to be content with occasional updates on this blog. Of course, if you read an entry here, go back to consult the fuller account in my book..

The Tennessee State Legislature—that old Grecian temple that sits atop Capitol Hill in downtown Nashville—has stood majestically overlooking the city for over a century and a half.  From time to time, work crews have been brought in to renovate the inside work spaces or to restore its structure.  The last time that construction crews were in there they not only stirred up dust—they also stirred up a few resident phantoms or two.

Regarding my chapter on Capitol Ghosts in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, there was one haunting which did not make it into the book.  Since that pioneering book on Nashville and the Mid-South’s ghosts, a whole passle of ghost tours have sprouted up in Music City inspired by the book. Sadly, not only do they not credit Strange Tales as a source of information, from what I can gather, they have the account of the Capitol ghosts all wrong.

Whatever their version may be, if any, herein is the authentic account. Since I received my information from inside sources who know the building’s history intimately, I thought I ought to pass along the true story (so far as we mortals can know it) of the Ghost of the Capitol Cupola.

Atop Tennessee’s Capitol is an ornate cupola with glass sides, on which sits the flagpole where the United States flag flies.  In February of 1862, however, another flag flew over the capitol—the Confederate flag.

Nashville Confederate Capitol Bldg
On the Confederate twenty dollar bill is displayed the Tennessee State Capitol; ironically, this bill wasn’t issued until AFTER the city fell to the Yankees!

In the January of that year, a Yankee force under General Ulysses S. Grant captured the Rebel army defending Forts Donelson and Henry, two mighty bastions on the state border with Kentucky, guarding the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers respectively.

When the two forts fell, a panic ensued in Nashville the likes it has never seen since. All the planters and all the planter’s sons who had so recently been militant Secessionists fled the city, their fancy carriages laden down with all the loot they could carry.

Order out of Chaos Gen Forrest restores order during the Great Panic Feb 22 1862 by Mort Kunstler
Order out of Chaos: Gen. Forrest restores order in Nashville and evacuates Confederate military stores even as Yankee troops occupy the city.

Not long after, Yankee gunboats arrived at Nashville, their big guns pointing ominously point blank at the city.  Yankee troops soon arrived in large numbers to occupy the city.

The first place the Federals went was up to the capitol to haul down the Confederate flag–the symbol of treason and disloyalty.

Jogging double-quick time up the hill, the color-guard, their steel bayonets gleaming atop their muskets, made their way up the steps of the capitol.  Inside the building, they climbed inside the cupola, where a narrow, winding wrought-iron staircase led to the flagpole.

As they neared the top of the spiral staircase, the Yankees found the way blocked by an elderly gentleman dressed in a long greyish jacket.  Unlike the other politicians, this fire-eating Secessionist refused to leave—much less see Old Glory fly over the capitol.

Armed with an antique flintlock, the Secesh proclaimed: “you’ll raise that flag over this building over my dead body!”

Before the young officer in charge of the color guard could answer, a shot rang out from behind him.

The old Rebel clutched his chest, a surprised look frozen on his face, then he tumbled down the stairs ’till he came to rest at the young lieutenant’s feet.

The color guard clambered over the corpse and ascended up to the spire and raised their battle standard over the newly won possession. The American flag flew over the state capitol once more–the first Rebel capital to fall to the Union. Some days later another, another, bigger, flag was raised–Old Glory–which had been kept in secret by a local loyalist, Captain William Driver.

Raising the US flag over the Tennessee state Capitol during the Civil War
Federal troops raise Old Glory over the Tennessee Capitol–for the second time.

Nowadays, maintenance workers in the capitol don’t have much cause to go up into the cupola—nor do they wish to.  When workers are up there they generally have a very eerie feeling, like someone is watching.  They do their repairs and hastily leave.

On more than one occasion, however, workmen have seen a gray mist hanging around the top of the spiral stairs.  The cloudy image is indistinct, but one senses a hostile presence there.

Long-time employees know what it is however—the ghost of that dead Rebel senator, still barring the way to the top.  For him, the war will never be over.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South.
Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, Civil War ghosts, presentiments and other unexplained phenomena.

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