Curiously though, at least three of the homes he lived in life have had verified accounts of being haunted by one or another Lee family member. While I devote an entire chapter to Lee’s haunted homes in Dixie Spirits,I thought to supplement that with this article and some photos to go along with it.
When one thinks of General Lee and his family, one naturally pictures a dignified Southern gentleman, someone descended from an honored and venerable First Family of Virginia (FFV for short).
While Lee always conducted himself with probity, his family was anything but venerable; in fact, it was riddled with scandal through several generations. For one thing, Lee’s father, “Light Horse” Harry Lee, although a hero of the American Revolution, had the reputation of a hell raiser; he drank heavily and gambled much of the family wealth away, and as a result he was constantly in debt–at one time he was even thrown into debtor’s prison.
After he died, his widow and children were dependent on the charity of other family members–and they too had their scandals–notably their relative “Black Horse” Harry Lee.
The best known Lee home is, of course, Arlington, now located in the middle of the National cemetery. Seized early in the war, it became a last resting place for Union war dead. The mansion itself is also an abode of the dead–who at times get a mite restless. Several family ghosts have been sighted here by visitors.
Stratford Hall, the ancestral home of the Lees, was built in the early 1700’s and so it naturally has several generations of Lee ghosts, including old “Black Horse” Harry who had an affair with his wife’s sister while his own spouse lay sick abed. Robert lived here for a time with his mother and siblings.
Then there is the “Lee Boyhood Home” in Alexandria, Virginia. After their father died in debt, Robert and his mother had to move about a bit due to their financial situation. Nonetheless, General Lee always had fond memories of this place and it was here he returned after the surrender–who knows he may still be there.
There are a few other old Virginia manse’s associated with the general—all of them reputedly haunted. For more on the tragic haunted history of the Lees of Virginia and their stately haunts see the Chapter in Dixie Spirits. Depending on the time of the year most of the Lee homes will be open to the public, where you might even encounter a Lee family ghost for yourself. Happy haunting!
Although recent transplants to Middle Tennessee are only dimly aware of it, the Cumberland Valley and its surrounds were much fought over during the Civil War. Although that is not the origin of the phrase, this section of the South amply earned its moniker The Dark and Bloody Ground during the Late Unpleasantness. Many an old house is home to a resident ghost or two who date back to the dark days of the war. The causes of their continued residence on the mortal plain may differ, but as often as not it is due to their violent or untimely death, being cut down in the prime of life, often with great pain and the awareness they will never to see their loved ones again. Sometimes that agony and anguish are all that remain.
Such, it seems, is the case with Carnton Mansion, the grand home sitting on the southeastern outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee. The very name of the manse is suggestive of death, for in ancient Celtic tradition, a cairn or carn was a place where a warrior would be buried who had died with honor in battle. During the Civil War, late one Autumn day, the mansion would earn its name, a reputation that endures to the present day.
After the fall of Atlanta, Sherman planned his next move; ignoring the still viable Confederate Army of Tennessee, he would conduct a scorched earth campaign across Georgia, destroying everything in his path. Basically, it was an act of terrorism, designed to cow the white civilian population of the South into submission and break their will to resist. The Rebel army, now under General John Bell Hood, at first fenced with Sherman, attacking his rear and threatening his long supply line heading back northward towards Nashville. Then, when Sherman began marching south, Hood began marching north; a bold move not only to draw Sherman’s army after him but also to seize the mass of supplies stockpiled in the strategic city of Nashville; from there he could threaten many other places further north. It was a bold strategy and whatever historians may say about General Hood, he never lacked for either courage or boldness: “all lion” is how one postwar writer characterized him.
A small Union army was deployed to slow Hood as he marched northwards, to give time for the Yankees to gather more troops to defend Nashville. General John Schofield, a classmate of Hood’s from West Point days, was placed in charge of this Yankee force and basically his task was to hold the lion’s tail without being devoured. At Columbia, then Springhill and finally at Franklin, Schofield’s men conducted a fighting retreat. While most historians portray the Autumn Campaign as a done deal and that a Southern defeat was inevitable, in truth it was a very near thing. Had circumstances just been a little different at any point; had orders been obeyed, had the Yankees marched or fought just a little less heroicly; had one Yankee brigadier not disobeyed orders, or some Rebel pickets not been quite so fatigued—at any point just a feather-weight of difference in the chain of circumstance–and we would be celebrating John Bell Hood as a brilliant commander and victor. But that was not to be.
Others have chronicled the Autumn Campaign in great length; we needn’t go into it here. Our concern is with the aftermath. On the afternoon and evening of November 30, 1864, the two armies clashed on the outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee. Both sides fought and bled and died with uncommon courage, and by the early hours of the following morning the blood-soaked fields of Franklin found the Confederates in possession of the terrain. It was a Pyrric victory, however, for Hood’s army was decimated in the process: five generals, twenty colonels and thousands dead or grievously wounded, incapable of combat—all to fight the Yankee rearguard.
Even before the battle was over, however, the wounded began to make their way to Carnton Mansion, on the eastern flank of the battlefield. All through the night and on into the next day, the wounded and dead were brought in a steady stream to the stately antebellum mansion. The owner of the home, Randall McGavock, had served in the Confederate army but accepted a parole to look after his family and was a non-combatant; of course that did not prevent him from opening his home to the wounded.
By the following day, the dead were being piled in Carnton’s yard like cordwood; the back porch held the bodies of no less than five generals, while the moans of the suffering could be heard everywhere. For the dead and dying at Carnton, the victory at Franklin did not seem so glorious.
In time, the McGavock’s home was cleaned of the awful carnage and the blood—where it would go away. In one room that had served as the operating room for surgeons, try as they might, they could not wash or bleach the blood from the floorboards; the stains always came back and cannot be erased. They linger there to this day. There were other things that linger about Carnton as well; some of a spectral nature.
Inside the mansion, several spirits have been detected by successive occupants of the mansion and more recently by visitors as well. On the second floor, for example, a presence some called “the general” could be felt and occasionally seen. In the graveyard, even to this day, visitors sometimes spot a man in Confederate garb. Other spectres have been observed elsewhere in the mansion or on the surrounding grounds. Many are the eyewitness accounts that recount encounters with the ghosts of Carnton. Some of these apparitions are well known; others just passing shades, as anonymous as many of the graves on the grounds.
Many speculate about the sightings reported at Carnton; a few doubt them, most do not. What is certain, however, is that for many of the men who fought and died at Franklin on November 30, the Battle of Franklin will never be over.
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.
That is why, when I was contacted by the folks at the Ancient Aliensseries 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.”
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.
The part of The Paranormal Presidencywhich 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 extensive research in the archives and other primary sources proves otherwise. Similarly, some of the claims of other spiritualists about Lincoln’s involvement with his having visited them 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, not with, but also 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 wound 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 belief in premonitions and similar paranormal experiences.
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.
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 “fringe science,” some scientists are no longer smugly scoffing at many 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.
As any fool knows, the University of Tennessee is BIG ORANGE. And what better candidate for a Halloween ghost tale than one all bedecked in orange? In the SEC sports universe, fans of this football team are said to bleed orange and not red. Everything comes to a standstill in Knoxville on game day and supporters will travel eight to ten hours to get a prime spot in the parking lot for tailgaiting. What even dyed in the jersey UT fans may be unaware of, however, is that UT’s school spirits extends far beyond game day; the school spirits in fact extend far beyond the grave.
Perhaps the best known campus ghost is “Sophie.” Her name in life was Sophania Strong and for years she was a devoted mother, wife and leading light of Knoxville society. After her death her son donated money to the school to build a woman’s dormitory on the site of the old family manse. Over the years, successive generations of UT coeds have come to realize that Sophie never quite left the premises. One room in Strong Hall was so filled with psychic activity that it came to be called “Sophie’s Room” and it was rare that its mortal resident lasted out the semester there before moving out. While the coeds now are gone from the old building, Sophie is not.
Then there is the old Hoskins Library, whose resident spook is called “Evening Primrose.” Who or what she may be is unknown, but the elevators seem to travel without any human agency, books unshelve themselves and the smell of fresh baked cornbread will at times waft through its halls.
Far more frightening, and definitely high on the creep meter, is “The Hill.” An eminence on campus. On a given night one might encounter an elegant gent strolling about the Hill. While at a glance he seems normal, his bowler hat and antique garb seem oddly out of place. When you pass close by he may even tip his hat—at which point one will see the gaping hole in his head.
There is a more sinister spirit which haunts the Hill, a large black dog with eyes like coals and long sharp fangs that emits a howl that sounds like the cry of a lost soul from Hell. Whether it is in fact is a Hound from Hell or ghost of a family pet, he is definitely not a dog you want to take home to the kids.
Union soldiers killed defending Fort Sanders are also thought to haunt The Hill and adjacent buildings and their presence further adds to the strong supernatural aura that shrouds this old part of the campus.
There are more ghosts that haunt the campus of UT Knoxville—many, many more. For an in depth look of the spooks of Big Orange, however, read Chapter 1 of Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.
Although I wrote about the ghosts of “The Seven Hills” in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, due to technical issues I wasn’t able to illustrate it the way I would have wished, which is one of the reasons why this blog exists–to update and supplement the true ghost tales I have already related to you.
For those not native to Nashville, Tennessee, “The Seven Hills” does not refer to specific hills in the city (there are far more than seven) but to a cluster of suburban neighborhoods southwest of downtown which share similar names: Green Hills, Forest Hills, Hillsboro Village, etc. Although to the casual visitor they all seem pleasant affluent areas (they are) they also hide darker secrets as well: all possess their fair share of ghosts.
Most popular of the neighborhoods by far is Green Hills, and in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee I detail several hauntings there. One of the most interesting is at that mecca of Nashville fashionistas, Green Hills Mall. The mall has had repeated reports of hauntings. Other reports of hauntings in Green Hills come from the homes in the area as well.
Apparently some time back a shoe clerk at The Mall reported seeing an apparition wearing a tricorner hat on a number of occasions. It is thought that this spirit may have been a victim of an Indian attack during the frontier era, when raids and scalpings were commonplace in Nashville.
However, in these neighborhoods an even more common cause of the many reports of haunted homes is the fact that this part of Nashville is where some of the bloodiest fighting of the Battle of Nashville took place. In December of 1864, Green Hills and adjacent Forest Hills saw horrific bloodshed before the Confederate Army was finally defeated. The dead and dying lay everywhere after the battle.
While these days on cable television, ghost hunters claim able to not only identify who is haunting what house, but also what they had for breakfast the day they died, the reality is that most hauntings cannot really be pinned to any known person. Residents or owners will report uncanny happenings, mysterious sounds or, more rarely, actually seeing a visual presence. In truth, however, identifying the ghost as a particular individual is mostly speculation. The fact that right after the battle, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dead Confederate were hastily thrown into mass graves in The Hills and never properly buried, is the most probable source of most of these continuing poltergeist activities. As in the movie “Poltergeist,” these subdivisions were often built over the mass graves of the dead without the graves being relocated.
One exception to the above rule of thumb, however, is Belmont Mansion. This grand old dame of antebellum architecture stands on a tall hill overlooking Hillsboro Village, a popular destination for both the college crowd and music industry executives. Today Belmont is the campus of a prestigious Christian school, Belmont University. During the Battle of Nashville it was headquarters for the Union Army’s Fourth Corps and the battle lines lay only a few blocks away. While it is thought several ghosts haunt Belmont Mansion, the one most commonly associated with it is Adelicia Acklen, a Southern belle possessed of beauty, brains and lots and lots of money. Despite all that, she suffered the loss of several of her children in the house and it is believed that that is why she still resides there.
In my very first book of all things weird, wondrous and wicked in the Mid-South, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, in addition to the traditional haints, haunts and boogers, UFO’s and other unexplained phenomena, one curious tale revolved around the northern Georgia Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga. In that chapter I chronicled several of the battlefield apparitions known to haunt the battlefield, but the one which was the most curious, to my mind, was Ol’ Green Eyes, sometimes also known as the Green Ghoul. Since publishing that account, I have run into a few folks who have had their own tales to tell about this particular spook, so this venue I judge to be a good place to update my readers until I can prevail on my publishers to let me do a revised edition of that classic book.
Anyone who has visited Chickamauga knows it is a brief run from downtown Chattanooga—a brief run, that is, if you are a Yankee soldier trying to flee from ten thousand Rebels with bayonets all yelling like a banshee. Otherwise, it is about ten miles or more. At any rate, between the eighteenth and twentieth of September, 1863, thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives fighting there, while thousands and thousands more suffered agonizing wounds.
It is not surprising, therefore, that quite a few ghost stories and reports of eerie encounters at Chickamauga have surfaced over the years. As I tell in my book, one version of Ol’ Green Eyes holds that he is a stone monument—dedicated to the Union brigade known Opdycke’s Tigers—that comes to life at night and stalks the countryside. I personally am dubious of that one—it has all the earmarks of a story invented around a campfire to scare gullible youths.
Another version holds that Green Eyes is a human looking ghoul, with top hat, gentleman’s cloak and long stringy hair; after the battle, it was said, this green eyed fellow went about munching on the bodies of the dead. It’s been a long time since that feast and he’s built up a powerful appetite since then. According to one source, this version was invented out of whole cloth by Park Ranger Ed Tinney some years back to entertain tourists.
While I can’t judge the veracity of the Tinney version, I do know that some park rangers go out of their way to deny any paranormal activity, in order to discourage people trespassing there at night. In all fairness, some self-appointed ghost hunters have vandalized historic sites in pursuit of nighttime thrills. The rangers at Chickamauga have been known to shut down all the secondary roads in the area at Halloween to keep out the thrill-seekers. So officials at Chickamauga National Battlefield have a rather strong motivation to deny accounts of Ol’ Green Eyes and other hauntings there, valid or not.
To my mind, the most credible accounts of Green Eyes are less specific; some have seen a green glowing light about Snodgrass Hill, while others describe a pair of eyes. Is it a ghoul, a ghost or a beast? Hard to say, but I have spoken to one man who had a close encounter.
Although Ed Tinney popularized Green Eyes, according to this local source, folks have known about the creature for generations; it’s just that in the old days you didn’t talk about such things, and certainly not to strangers.
After Strange Tales came out, I was doing a signing and this gentleman from Chattanooga, who bought a copy, told me of his experience.
It was some years back, when he was a hot blooded young teenager and since he had a few years on me, I am judging this was sometime back in the 1950’s. Well, he took a date out one Saturday night and after a little dinner and dancing they decided to park after dark; it was somewhere near Snodgrass Hill.
Then as now the park was closed to the public at night, but it was a favorite place for couples to go nonetheless. They were parked in his car with the top down, and he and his girlfriend were, shall we say, somewhat distracted at the time; that was until he felt the sensation of warm moist breath behind him. With a start he turned around to see two large green eyes glowing behind him.
The eyes were set apart, farther apart than any human pair of eyes could possibly be, and the creature was close enough to tell it was on the curved trunk of his car or close to it. Romance turned to terror in an instant; the teenager fumbled for the ignition, slammed his car into gear, and high-tailed it out of there as fast as his jalopy could go, just barely avoiding being Ol’ Green Eyes next meal.
There are those who scoff and those who deny, but for that mature gentleman at least, there is no denying that Ol’ Green Eyes is very, very, real—whatever it may be.
Many female devotees of the Late Unpleasantness are great admirers of the fictional heroine of Gone with the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara. Her wilfulness, her ability to manipulate men and her all around bitchiness have made her a role model for generations of GRITS (Girls Raised In The South). Outside of Middle Tennessee, however, there are few who know that there was a real life Southern belle whose actual antics put the fictional Scarlet to shame. Her name was Adelicia Acklen, the Mistress of Belmont Mansion.
Not that Adelicia was at all unpleasant or, shall we say bitchy. Oh no; butter would not melt in her mouth; she was a godly woman and prolific progenetrix. And she was very, very wealthy.
Where once rows of magnolias blossomed, today stands Music Row; other vestiges of Adelicia’s estate have also gone with the wind (or kudzu as the case may be) but the mansion she once resided in, Belmont, remains and–at least at Christmastime–so does she.
Adelicia started off her career as a humble country girl in Sumner County, with several thousands of acres of prime farmland and a few dozen champion show horses to her name. Her father was a simple farmer whose wealth could only be counted by a handful of accountants working night and day. However, wealth begets more wealth, and the young and beautiful Adelicia married a prosperous doctor who amplified her estate and sired several children with her. Poor thing, his health was not so strong as her loins and he died prematurely, leaving her a wealthy widow.
However, beautiful Adelicia did not long remain a widow. She remarried, this time to a far wealthier man, Joseph Acklen, who owned large and profitable plantations on the lower Mississippi, all of which produced bountiful crops of cotton.
In due course, Adelicia bore Joseph a bountiful crop of several more children and he in turn built her the magnificent Italianate mansion of Belmont. Sitting on a long sloping hill, one approached Belmont in the old days as if one were ascending Mount Olympus to visit the gods. Downton Abbey would have been a pauper’s hut compared to Belmont in its heyday. All went well, until the War.
In February, 1862, Nashville fell to the invading Yankee hordes and the miles between the Rock City and the Acklen cotton plantations in Louisiana were long indeed; for most of the war the area between the two waas a no man’s land in which the various armies marched and fought.
Not long into the conflict, husband Joseph headed south to look after their financial interests along the Mississippi, lest their family fortune be ruined. Adelicia remained home to look after her growing brood of children and her thoroughbred horses. She was devoted both to her children and her horses.
Then one fateful day came word that her beloved Joseph had died of a fever tending to their cotton (some say it was a carriage accident).
Adelicia sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, saying “What am I to do, what am I to do!” and then it struck her: what about the cotton? Where the hell was it; had it been harvested; was it ready to be shipped—and how?
Adelicia, for all her beauty, was not one to simply fan herself and stand idly by while her family fortune went up in flames. With no further ado, she piled a female cousin and two loyal servants in a carriage and headed into the hundreds of miles of lawless no-mans land, where deserters and robbers and guerillas on both sides would sooner kill you as look at you.
In the end Adelica saved the cotton. Through cajolery and charm, she shipped it abroad and sold it in England for premium prices, emerging even wealthier than before the war—a feat unique among Southern planters. In the postwar Dixie for many years she was the queen of Southern society and her evening parties and Christmas Balls were legendary. Belmont became the epicenter of the postwar South’s high society.
After she died, the aura of Belmont as a grand and elegant place continued on. It became an aristocratic girl’s finishing school, Ward-Belmont, and ultimately a well respected modern academic institution, Belmont University. But over the years, various alumni and staff have had odd encounters within its august halls, things that cannot be explained by natural causes.
No one has actually seen Adelicia roaming the halls; but on more than one occasion, student, faculty and staff have had fey and uncanny experiences in the mansion, especially at Christmastime, that make them believe she is indeed still inhabiting the old manse.
One of the annual Christmas celebrations at Belmont is called “Hanging of the Green” and the students stage an elaborate ritual revolving around a tall winding staircase. Over the years, students involved in the Yuletide ritual have reported feeling a female presence there, while waiting for the ceremony to begin. Others hear the rustling of crinoline dresses, when no one is there. Other unexplained encounters also occur with uncanny frequency, especially around Christmas.
So, do Adelicia and other members of her ghostly clan really still inhabit the august halls of Belmont Mansion?
While I have written about this haunting before, notably in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, and briefly in passing in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, it does fit in with the current theme of this blog, as it is most certainly a Yuletide ghost. So for those of you who have read my books, please forgive the redundancy; but as I’m sure there are many who haven’t yet, please bear with me.
We must go back more than one hundred fifty years, to the ill-fated Autumn Campaign of 1864, which was the last gasp of the Confederacy. In a bold maneuver the gallant Army of Tennessee marched northward, even as Sherman’s marched southward to burn and pillage their way to the sea. The idea was to capture Nashville, restock the Confederate army there with the abundant warehouses full of supplies and then chase the Yankees back into Kentucky, take Louisville, burn Cincinnati and hopefully make the North sue for peace. Perhaps it was a vain and hopeless quest to start with; or perhaps in the hands of a better general than John Bell Hood, it just may have had a chance for success.
In any case, after several delays and missed opportunities, the Rebel army lay before the town of Franklin, less than a days march from Nashville. In their way stood two Yankee corps, doing their best to avoid being annihilated by Hood, yet still stall the Rebels advance on Nashville. Just the night before the Yankees, under General John Schofield, had escaped from the trap set them near Springhill, escaping in the dark and filtering into Franklin by the dawn’s early light.
In a rage Hood pursued, ready to attack anyone and anything that dared get in his way. On the southern outskirts of Franklin the Yankees had been entrenching all day, posting their cannon and rearguard behind trench and wall to keep the Rebs at bay. Hood was advised to simply go around the town and outflank the rearguard; to use his cavalry to cut them to ribbons on the road into Nashville; but he would hear none of it. Attack, he said; the enemy is before us; attack!
And so, late on the afternoon of November 30, 1864, even as the sun was westering on the horizon, the gallant Army of Tennessee advance over a broad plain of cleared fields, marching as if on parade and fully exposed to the deadly rifle and cannon fire of the enemy. They talk about Pickett’s charge being an ill conceived attack at Gettysburg; it had nothing over the charge at Franklin, where the distance to cover was far greater and equally clear of cover. Yet the men advance behind their colonels and brigadiers, some quietly reciting the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” with its refrain, “someone had blundered.”
Among this band of brothers in butternut was one who knew the ground well. Todd Carter had grown up in Franklin, and like his older brothers, had volunteered for service in the Confederacy. As quartermaster of his regiment, he was not required in the front lines; but there he was nonetheless, advancing with the rest. Half a league, half a league onward the army advance, with shot and shell growing fiercer and more accurate as they closed with the Yankee lines, whose center lay just before the carter home.
With a blood-curdling yell the Rebels rushed the Yankee defenses which sat astride the Columbia Pike and for a crucial few minutes it seemed as though they might win the day. In the end, however, they were forced back from the parapets, and though the fighting continued on into the darkness, despite the Rebel soldiers best efforts, the enemy slipped away in the night.
The next morning, the carnage was ghastly to behold; men heaped in piles, horses, five generals and twenty colonels lay among their men; fully a third of the Confederate army dead or wounded—among the Captain Todd Carter. His family found him lying close to the Union lines, shot more than once, but still clinging to life. They brought him home, put him in a room in the rear of the house and nursed him as best they could.
Todd Carter was alive, but his wounds were serious. He lingered to life for a few days; but the wounds were too serious and he finally died. He was waked in the front parlor of his home and buried nearby in the family plot. But though he was buried, he was hardly laid to rest.
For every year, about the time of his wounding and death, visitors will report seeing a young man, all bandaged up, in that room in the rear ell where he lay before dying.
I have been to the Carter House and seen the hundreds and hundreds of bullet holes still in the brick and wood; I have been to the room where Todd Carter died, and while I saw no ghost, I felt his presence nonetheless.
So if you go, let me know, if you see the yuletide ghost of Todd Carter.
“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls….And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”
—Col. Joshua Chamberlain, 20th Maine
There are ghosts, and there are GHOSTS. Not just one, mind you, but dozens–perhaps hundreds. That’s the way it is with Civil War battlefields in general; and when you combine a whole town with many convenient old buildings to haunt, well then, you have Franklin, Tennessee.
Late November being the anniversary of the one-day battle, it seems a good time to discuss this battle and its haunts. Probably there are any number of folks in Franklin who have forgotten more about the battle than I could ever tell you and the same holds true for its many haunts. For those unfamiliar with the battle, however, a little background is in order.
John Bell Hood was appointed by Jefferson Davis to head the Army of Tennessee because Davis did not think its previous commander, Joe Johnston, aggressive enough. The Army of Tennessee was second only to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in fighting ability, elan and experience. The only difference being that this Confederate army suffered from the same debility that plaugued British cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon said that British cavalry was “the noblest and most poorly led.”
General Hood was a brave officer but had never commanded an entire army; he had also lost a leg and an arm at Gettysburg and Chickamauga and by the time he took charge of the army, while he was neither drunk nor high on morphine, he had to have been in great pain and his judgment may have been impaired. At Springhill, Tennessee, on November 29, 1864, Hood seemingly had Union General Schofield’s army trapped; yet it escaped during the night.
When he found the Yankees gone the next morning, one witness described Hood as “wrathy as a snake.” Pursuing the Federals to Franklin he resolved to attack them regardless of the cost. He threw his whole infantry across two miles of open field against the Union rearguard, which had had all day to dig in.
It was not for lack of bravery or aggressiveness that the Army of Tennessee failed to defeat the Yankees. They charged headlong into a withering fire and fell by the thousands. Five generals and at least twenty colonels died leading the charge. Even nightfall did not end the bloodletting and the Rebel troops kept pressing the attack, the dead piling up in heaps before the Yankees trenches. A few days later the servants of the Carter family, whose house was smack in the center of the death-dealing, had to use garden rakes to clear the grounds of the house of the thousands and thousands of spent bullets.
The men who fell before the Yankee muskets were not strangers in a strange land; they were the husbands, sons and brothers of the families of Franklin and the neighboring communities. The Carter House is haunted by the ghost of Captain Tad Carter, who died within yards of his father’s home. Other ghosts haunt the Carter House and the Lotz House, standing just across the street. Because the Columbia Pike ran through the Union Defenses right here, this was the weak point of the Federal defenses and it was here the fighting was hottest.
Another famous haunt is Carnton Mansion, belonging to the McGavock family, and lying on the eastern fringe of the battlefield. The five dead Confederate generals were brought here and laid out on the back porch; the other Confederate dead were piled like cordwood in a great long heap; most were buried on the grounds. With so many young men cut down in their prime, the Mansion has several ghosts–some thought to be former family members. As originally chronicled in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, there are many eyewitness reports of ghosts haunting the grounds of Carnton.
Nor are these spots the only places in Franklin, Tennessee where the ghosts of the Confederate dead still linger. The day after the battle both sides moved on to Nashville, to the siege and the battle in December; but in Franklin the wounded lingered on in agony for weeks; amputations, disease and cold all took their toll. Local families took many of the wounded in, but the number of casualties was overwhelming and many died from lack of care. The old buildings that still stand in the core of town house many such ghosts; some today are retail stores, music recording studios, law offices or residences.
The restless dead still abide in the prosperous modern town of Franklin; so in between the soccer moms, the Yuppie suburban subdivisions, the upscale boutiques, one may still encounter a Rebel soldier’s shade who does not quite know the war is over–or that he is even dead!
October 28, 2012 The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Blog 10
While I have devoted a whole book chronicling Civil War ghosts and parts of two others, in truth, true accounts of encounters with the restless spirits of those who died during the Late Unpleasantness could fill a whole ‘nother volume and then some. As I live within driving distance of the sites of six of some of the biggest battles of the war, I have had ample opportunity to explore them–and that doesn’t count the many skirmishes, raids and lesser actions that dot the Mid-South. Many of these sites come with some lore attached and I have often collected tales of the spirits which still haunt them. One site which I haven’t yet chronicled in print is Fort Donelson.
Before there was Bloody Shiloh, there were the twin battles of Forts Donelson and Henry. These were the twin Confederate bastions which guarded the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers at the border with Kentucky. The Rebels had fortified the two rivers where they came close to one another–called Land Between the Rivers then and now, thanks to the TVA, is Land Between the Lakes. Here in the winter of 1862 a Union amphibious force came to break the Confederate defences. Led by General Ulysses S. Grant, the Yankees first bombarded Fort Henry on the Tennessee into submission and then, in a bold move, Grant took a small force overland and besieged Fort Donelson from landward, catching the Johnnies off-guard. The Rebels had all their big guns pointing down-river, in the direction they thought the Yankee fleet would come.
It was a bitter cold winter and both sides suffered terribly; the wounded in the no man’s land between the two forces suffered as much from the cold as they did from their wounds and many died a slow and agonizing death. The Rebel troops were ill-prepared for a winter campaign and suffered even more than the Yankees from the cold. Ultimately, Grant bluffed the incompetent Rebel commanders into surrendering, assuring his fame and opening the way to conquering the heartland of the Confederacy.
Although the dead of both sides were quickly interred, their undead shades lingered–they linger still at Land Between the Lakes. After my first book, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, which chronicled a few of Shiloh’s ghosts and haunts, I talked with several re-enactors who had camped at Fort Donelson at various times, trying to re-create conditions as close to January, 1862, as they could.
The re-enactors I spoke with told me it was not uncommon for one or another of their ranks to have uncanny encounters at Fort Donelson. One lady, a sutler, describes awakening in her tent in the dead of night to fight all her wares and her tent violently shaking and rattling. There was no wind or storm or any natural event that night to explain it. But apparently there was something supernatural that could.
Another re-enactor told of performing picket duty at night while his unit was there. Many re-enactors try to get into the spirit of the period not just for visitors during the day but at night as well and an onlooker might well mistake them for the real thing. This re-enactor was on duty late at night when he saw a light coming up the hill in the distance. The dim glow grew larger and larger as it approached him and at first he could not make out what it was. Then it came close and passed him; in the eerie glow he could see the torso and head of a man–seemingly an officer, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and smoking an old-fashioned stogie; it was the phantom cigar that illumined the figure. It almost seemed as if the phantom officer were making the rounds, checking on the bivouac to see all the guards were on duty. But the cigar-smoking figure was no re-enactor; he had no lower body, just a materialized torso and be-hatted head. Was it the ghost of General Grant? Or was it the shade of some other tobacco-loving commander, North or South? Who knows?
To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill about another war, Fort Donelson was not the beginning of the end of the Rebellion; but it was the end of the beginning. And they’re those who say that many who met their end there abide on the grounds of the battle-field still.
For more Civil War ghost stories see my Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; Rutledge Hill did the original editon which is still in print, although Barnes & Noble, Lone Pine and Sterling have come out with economy hardcovers in addition to the paperback editions. My first book, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, also chronicles the battlefield hauntings of Shiloh, Chickamauga and Franklin.