Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

THE FIRST CASUALTY: Ellsworth’s Ghost

Colonel Elmer E Ellsworth was a personal friend of Lincoln's and leader of the elite New York "Fire" Zouaves.

Colonel Elmer E Ellsworth was a personal friend of Lincoln’s and leader of the elite New York “Fire” Zouaves.

In Dixie Spirits we investigated the Custis-Lee Mansion, also known as Arlington House, which still stands near Alexandria, Virginia, but we did not explore the many ghosts and haunts of Alexandria proper.  Today let’s take a quick look at a Civil War ghost down in town.

They say the first casualty of war is the truth.  That may well be true, but in the early days of the war, neither side was much concerned with truth, but more with justifying their own actions, as well as portraying the opposite side as the aggressor.  Regardless, by the time that Lincoln was inaugurated, the time for rational discussion was already over and the Secessionists moved quickly to surround Washington, DC in the weeks following his installation as President.  Lincoln could call for 75,000 troops—but actually organizing, equipping and fielding them to defend the capitol was quite another thing. 

 

The original zouaves were Algerians, recruited by the French to serve in their army. Their elan in battle became legendary and many "zouave" regiments were formed during the Civil War in emulation of them.

The original zouaves were Algerians, recruited by the French to serve in their army. Their elan in battle became legendary and many “zouave” regiments were formed during the Civil War in emulation of them.

      Before the war, volunteer militia units were quite the rage in the US.  In the antebellum era it was fun to be a soldier and many volunteer groups donned colorful costumes, learned to drill like real soldiers and above all, attract the ladies with their displays of martial virtue.  Some militia groups developed a reputation for their skill at close order drill and toured the country performing for the public, especially those units who fashioned themselves as zouaves.  The original zouaves had been recruited by the French in Algeria and wore colorful oriental style uniforms, but over the years their ethnic makeup was of less importance than their reputation for élan and aggressiveness. 

Recruiting for a Zouave regiment, NYC in 1861. While considered elite units, the zouaves could also be quite rowdy when not in combat.

Recruiting for a Zouave regiment, NYC in 1861. While considered elite units, the zouaves could also be quite rowdy when not in combat.

One of the more famous such show units was Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth’s Cadet Zouaves, originally based out of Chicago.  Although he was never able to get into West Point, Ellsworth had studied military tactics with a passion and his fencing instructor in Chicago had been an actual French zouave.  Ellsworth was a close personal friend of Lincoln’s and when the call went out for volunteers to suppress the rebellion, Ellsworth wasted no time forming a regiment.  He went to New York City, sent out a call, seeking out firemen in particular, and within an amazingly brief time received more than double the number of volunteers than he needed.  Although rough around the edges and short on discipline, the 11th NY “Fire” Zouaves were shipped south in short order. 

The Marshall House as it looked in 1861. Note the tall flagpole on the roof of the building. Its owner was a brutal slave owner and fire-breathing Secessionist.

The Marshall House as it looked early in the War. Note the tall flagpole on the roof of the building. Its owner was a brutal slave owner and fire-breathing Secessionist.

When, on May 23, Virginia officially seceded from the Union, Ellsworth’s regiment was ordered across the Potomac to secure Alexandria and Arlington Heights on the Virginia side of the river.  While securing the city, Ellsworth noticed that a Rebel flag was still flying over the Marshall House, a local inn.  The flag had been something of a sore point for weeks, being visible from across the river and symbol of Lincoln’s inability to preserve the Union even within the shadow of the capital.  Not willing to allow this act of defiance to go unanswered, Ellsworth personally climbed up to the top of the Marshall House and tore down the offending flag from the large flagpole on the roof.  As he was descending the stairs, however, the hotel owner, one James Jackson, suddenly appeared without warning and shot and killed Ellsworth with a shotgun at close quarters, for which action he was immediately rewarded with his own death at the hands of Ellsworth’s men.  It was still early in the war and the death of a single officer, such as Ellsworth, was still notable news in the North.  Ellsworth being a close associate of Lincoln amplified the importance of his death.  Soon Ellsworth was hailed as a martyr—the first of many—to the cause of preserving the Union.

The murder of Colonel Ellsworth. His ghost was sighted in the Marshall House on repeated occasions over the years.

The murder of Colonel Ellsworth. His ghost was sighted in the Marshall House on repeated occasions over the years.

In the ensuing months and years following his death, rumors began to circulate that, although dead, Colonel Ellsworth was not really gone from the Marshall House.  Some claimed to see him removing the Rebel flag from the rooftop of the hotel, others swore they saw his shade on its stairs, where he was murdered.  It was also said that the ghost of the fire-breathing Secesh James Jackson also haunted the same stairwell in the old inn.  The Marshall House and its ghosts stood on the same spot until the 1950’s, when it was torn down as part of a modernization trend in the city.  Normally, that would be the end of the story, but apparently it is not.

Today the Monaco Hotel, a nice “boutique hotel,” occupies the same space where the old inn stood.  It has all the amenities one expects in a modern hotel, plus one more: it is haunted.  There are those who claim that it is the restless shades of the Civil War who still roam the new hotel.  Sometimes nothing is actually seen, but people claim to hear the sound of gunshots out in the hallways, as if the Rebel hotel owner and the zouaves who killed him are still having it out in the new building.  On one occasion recently, a couple was riding the elevator when it unexpectedly opened at the fourth floor; no guests were there but they saw a glowing light appear on the wall opposite, then disappear.  Later, the visitors found they were not alone in having uncanny experiences there.

Some visitors allege the modern hotel on the site of the old Marshall still holds the ghost of Ellsworth and perhaps of his murderer.

Some visitors allege the modern hotel on the site of the old Marshall still holds the ghost of Ellsworth and perhaps of his murderer.

 

 

According to some, it is the Monaco’s sixth floor that is most haunted, which could be a reflection of Ellsworth’s flag taking venture, although the reports are vague on that score.  Regardless, the hotel embraces the site’s haunted heritage and in the Fall offers a “Ghosts of Alexandria Family Package” which includes discounted room rate, a stay on the “haunted sixth” plus tickets for the local ghost tour of the town.  Not a bad deal and maybe Colonel Ellsworth will put in a personal appearance, but don’t hold your breath.

 

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover

Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical definitions served in the front lines throughout the Civil War.  Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life.  Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Ambrose Bierce—and America’s—life.

Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical definitions served in the front lines throughout the Civil War.  Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life.  Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Ambrose Bierce—and America’s—life.

For more Civil War ghosts see: Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and for more on General Lee’s Arlington ghosts, plus other famous Southern ghosts, go to Dixie Spirits.  Happy haunting y’all.

Dixie Spirits via Sourcebooks

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

Abraham Lincoln and Ancient Aliens

President Lincoln was one of the many prominent men of his day who attended séances; he also believed in prophecy and other psychic phenomena

President Lincoln was one of the many prominent men of his day who attended séances; he also believed in prophecy and other psychic phenomena

I normally don’t write about UFO’s and Alien sightings, restricting my researches to paranormal phenomena, but I have delved into the subject on occasion as it relates to the South. In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, for example, I investigated the UFO sightings over the Tennessee Valley in the early 1900’s and a “dark day” in Memphis, while in Dixie Spirits I also chronicled a very credible close encounter in West Virginia. Then there are those strange events which may not be supernatural but which certainly defy all attempts at rational explanation, such as rains of blood and gore, aerial showers of snakes and other land going animals, as well as the Mothman enigma, which itself seems to transcend traditional categories. So while I have an abiding interest in UFO’s and the possibility of Aliens visiting our planet, I generally have left those investigations to those with the resources to properly probe them.

via turbosquid

Artist’s conception of a mothership. Did one such ship hover over Memphis, Tennessee in 1904? See Chapter 37 of Strange Tales of the Dark & Bloody Ground.

That is why, when I was contacted by the folks at the Ancient Aliens series on The History Channel to come on their show and discuss my researches on Abraham Lincoln and the paranormal as published in The Paranormal Presidency, I was a bit bewildered how I might fit into their show’s format. Nevertheless, last summer I did an interview with the folks at Ancient Aliens and discussed quite a bit about Lincoln’s beliefs in the paranormal and allied subjects, as well as also discussing Ambrose Bierce, whose Civil War career I have researched extensively, the results of which should be published later this year or early next. Bierce, although known as a cynic, in fact was fascinated by the bizarre, the unexplained and the unusual—in other words, a man after my own heart. As honored as I was to be on their show, however, I wondered how my own expertise would fit into their show’s concept. Well, the wait is over; earlier this month the History Channel aired an episode entitled “Aliens and the Civil War.”

Ambrose Bierce as he looked during the Civil War.  Was his war wound a source of his interests in the bizarre and unexplained?  The Ancient Aliens show thinks so.

Ambrose Bierce as he looked during the Civil War. Was his war wound a source of his interests in the bizarre and unexplained? The Ancient Aliens show thinks so.

First off, I must say they did an excellent job of dovetailing what I had to say about Lincoln with other material relating to Alien contact and the Civil War. As is usual for this show, much of what they have to say is highly speculative; nevertheless, I thought much of what they argued was interesting, making connections between events and phenomena which I had not previously thought related to one another. Besides the Lincoln segment that I was on, they also discussed some other unusual phenomena which I have previously written about in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, although my take on the incidents was different. There was, for example, the vision of Washington at Valley Forge and his later appearance at the Battle of Gettysburg, which I discussed in the Chapter “Behold a Pale Rider”—although their account of Washington’s visitation at Gettysburg differs from my research.

While attending one seance Lincoln was given a "ride" on a piano by, a "physical" medium.

While attending one seance Lincoln was given a “ride” on a piano by, a “physical” medium.

The part of The Paranormal Presidency which they chose to excerpt from my longer interview revolved about Lincoln’s involvement with Spiritualism, in particular with a young psychic named Nettie Colburn—better known under her married name, Nettie Colburn Maynard. Although mainstream historians frequently label Nettie as a “charlatan,” my researches in the archives and other primary sources proved otherwise; likewise, some of the claims of other spiritualists about Lincoln’s involvement have been verified, at least in part. How deeply Lincoln was involved in the movement, however, remains subject to debate, but there is no question that he did attend séances and visit psychics, with and without his wife. That the “spirits” that contacted Lincoln’s psychics and advised the President could possibly be Alien life forms is something I had never thought of, but Ancient Aliens makes a case for these and other psychic encounters being due to the remote telepathic actions of extraterrestrials. Likewise, their tying Ambrose Bierce’s traumatic head would into a possible cause of his being psychically informed by Aliens may seem a stretch, but not totally dissimilar to Lincoln’s own near death experience being the possible cause of his own belief in premonitions and similar paranormal experiences.

Were Aliens in contact with Lincoln through the medium Nettie Colburn? (artist' s conception of an alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy).

Were Aliens in contact with Lincoln through the medium Nettie Colburn? (artist’ s conception of an alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy).

Bear in mind, the Ancient Aliens theories remain highly speculative, but some of the ideas they put forth in the episode “Aliens and the Civil War” are highly original and in some cases I think worthy of further investigation. Traditionally, UFO’s and the belief in Ghosts and the paranormal have been regarded as mutually exclusive. For one thing, most scientists accept the premise that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe; most of them have yet to accept the premise that earth has been visited by them.

In contrast, scientists as a group reject the supernatural or anything that resembles it and most reject any aspect of the paranormal as “delusions of the masses.” However, as theoretical physicists delve deeper into such things as Quantum Mechanics, and posit parallel worlds, alternate realities and similar seemingly incredible scientific theories, some scientists are no longer smugly scoffing at different types of paranormal phenomena, such as remote sensing, precognition, telekinesis and other things hitherto rejected as impossible. The possibility is growing that psychic communication at a distance, or foretelling the future may eventually be found to have a basis in reality, no matter how fantastic they may seem today.

All this reminds me of something that William Herndon, Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, once said about Lincoln’s unorthodox beliefs. He said that Lincoln did not so much believe in the supernatural as in the supra-natural; that what we may regard as defying the laws of nature may just be a part of the natural world which we cannot yet comprehend. Have aliens been in contact with us, by psychic or other means? Who is to say; what today may seem fantastic, may yet prove true.

“Aliens and the Civil War” aired on April 10, 2015 but you can see it on the Ancient Aliens Website: http://www.history.com/shows/ancient-aliens/videos/aliens-and-the-civil-war

My latest book, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife is due for release by The University of Tennessee Press later this year or early next.  Look for it at better bookstores everywhere.

Aliens, Lincoln and Vampires, Oh My!

Just did an interview with Prometheus Productions last week, the folks who produce Ancient Aliens (you know the show with the bad hair guy) and while I am not exactly an expert on UFO’s I did ramble on a bit about Abraham Lincoln and his beliefs in the paranormal.

In my ugly mug did not crack the camera lens they should be taking at least some of the interview for one or another of their shows on the History Channel–it remains to be seen.  While I’m not quite sure whether ancient aliens landed on earth, I have weighed in on more recent historic sightings in both Strange Tales of the Dark & Bloody Ground and in Dixie Spirits.

More about Abraham Lincoln when the show airs, but just for the record, Lincoln did not hunt vampires, although he did consult a Voodoo Priestess or two, attend séances and have several prophetic dreams.  Oh yes, and he did observe the skies for omens, so maybe he was in contact with alien life forms–maybe.

Modern alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy.

Modern alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy.

 

The Prophet and the Three Weird Sisters

October 26, 2012  The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Post 8

While his name is not well-known nowadays, Andrew Jackson Davis was a man of great renown in early nineteenth century America.  His works–dealing with prophecy and the paranormal–were read by Abraham Lincoln and other notable men of the day.  Davis’s ideas were heavily influenced by the works of the eighteenth century philosopher Swedenborg, who had once had a Near Death Experience and believed in the paranormal.

Like Joan of Arc, Davis had spirit voices talking to him, guiding him and telling him of unknown things.  He came from a part of upstate New York called “The Burnt-Over District” because so many spiritual and social movements arose there and spread like wild-fire across the country.  In 1843, he heard a lecture on “Animal magnetism” (an early form of hypnosis) and soon thereafter the spirit voices came to him, advising him of his mission in life.  Shortly thereafter he had an epiphany of sorts: he went into a trance, and when he awoke three days later he was on a mountaintop forty miles away, seeming transported there by supernatural means.  Davis through his writings and lectures developed a large and devoted following.  Edgar Allan Poe heard his lectures on mesmerism and was inspired to write “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” in 1845 as a result.  Edgar Cayce, the “sleeping prophet” of Kentucky, was later inspired by his ideas as well.

At this point, enter the Fox sisters.  In 1848 the two younger sisters, Kate and Maggie, had just moved into a home that locals said was haunted.  Soon knocking sounds were heard around the house, but mainly focused on the sister’s room.  The father tried to nail and tighten every loose board and window in the house, to no avail.  They even sent the two young girls to their older sister Leah’s home, hoping the mysterious spirit would leave them alone.  It did not.  The ghostly activities not only continued in the parents home but the poltergeist activities also started up in their sister Leah’s house.  Leah, it turns out, was a dedicated follower of Andrew Jackson Davis, and she saw in her sisters paranormal activities the fulfillment of some of Davis’ prophecies.  Through trial and error the sisters devised a way of communicating with the spirit—a method which came to be called the seance.  Soon the girls went public and put on public displays of their abilities as mediums and the Spiritualism movement was born.

The Fox sisters became celebrities and put on public performances in New York City and elsewhere; politicians, publishers and leading intellectuals of the day attended and were impressed.  Spiritualism also began to take on the aspects of a social reform movement, with leading spiritualists also championing political and economic ideas of the day, such as Abolitionism.  Spiritualism also had a strong theatrical aspect to it, with many mediums performing before audiences on stage.  While many bereaved families used seances to get in touch with loved ones, it was also widely regarded  by many people as a sort of parlour game.  Individuals high and low tried for themselves and found that it worked.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his wife attended a number of such seances, some by genuine mediums, and others held by charlatans.  While historians dispute that Lincoln was himself a spiritualist, many around him definitely were.

After the war, the two younger Fox sisters fell into alcoholism and also resented their older sister’s controlling influence on them.  When a newspaper offered one of them a bribe to “expose” Spiritualism and say it was a fake, she took the money; she later recanted, however.  The three sisters’ legacy remains controversial to this day.

For more on Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with seances and Spiritualism, see my new book, The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer, January, 2013).  If you want t read more about battlefield hauntings of the Civil War, then I recommend my Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War from Rutledge Hill.