Saturday, February 6, 2010


Antietam print by Thure de Thulstrup

The Rebs and Yankee forces clashed at Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862. The Gray had just thumped the Blue at Manassas, and were launching their first invasion of the North. If successful, the Confederacy might have won the war.

It instead became the bloodiest single day of conflict in American history, with 23,100 men wounded, missing, or dead after twelve hours of savage combat. Six generals died during the battle. The bloodbath ended up a draw, but strategically was a Union win, as the massive toll in men blunted the Confederate march on the North.

And like at Gettysburg, the imprint of the dead still remains.

The sunken road ("Bloody Lane") was one of the brutal actions played out that day. When the curtain closed on this battle, there were about 5,500 casualties. And some haven't left. Witnesses report hearing ghostly gunfire and the smelling spectral smoke and gunpowder. A visitor reportedly saw several men in Confederate uniforms walking down the road. He assumed they were re-enactors when they suddenly vanished before his eyes.

The most famous story of Antietam happened here. Schoolboys from Baltimore on a field trip heard strange noises that sounded like voices singing the noel "Deck the Halls" in a language they couldn't quite understand. But they could make out the "Fa-la-la-la-la".

The Union Irish Brigade had staged a charge there, and as they attacked the Confederate positions, they shouted their battle cry of Faugh-a-Balaugh ("Clear the Way"). It would sound like "Fah-ah-bah-lah." Was that the carol the kids heard?

General George McClellan used Phillip Pry's House as his headquarters during the battle. General Israel B. Richardson died there. The house, owned by the National Park Service and used for storage, isn’t open to visitors.

A woman saw a ghost of a female dressed in period clothing walk down the staircase, and workers saw the same apparition standing in an upper window in the room where Richardson died (a room, that due to construction work at the time, had no floor!). It’s thought that she’s the spook of his wife, Frances, who nursed him during his final hours.

Sounds of phantom footsteps that have been heard pacing on the staircase. A National Park Service worker claimed to see a blue lantern make its way down the old road, which now is in the middle of a field.

Another hot spot is the Rohrback (now called Burnside) Bridge where General Ambrose Burnside paid a bloody wage to cross. Many of his fallen soldiers were quickly buried in unmarked graves near the bridge because of the deadly accurate fire of the Georgia troops defending the span. Witnesses have seen blue balls of light wafting through the night mists and reported the rat-a-tat of a phantom drum beating out cadence before fading away.

Reb General Longstreet used the Piper House as his headquarters and its barn was used as a field hospital. There were so many troopers to treat that three soldiers actually died under the piano in the parlor.

People have heard mysterious sounds and have seen ghostly forms that appear and vanish, representing both armies. Strangely, the area of the house with the most tales is a section that was added on well after the battle, circa 1900. Guests tell of hearing muffled voices and odd sounds in a bedroom, and report a misty apparition which appears in a bathroom doorway.

Some think that the new wing of the house was built over the top of graves of those who died in the battle, disturbing the soldiers from their eternal rest and causing the hauntings.

Saint Paul Episcopal Church was used as a Confederate field hospital after the battle. Visitors have claimed they heard the screams of the dying and injured coming from inside of the building, and have seen lights flickering in its tower. Legend has it that the floorboards in the house are still stained with blood that can't be removed.

A pair of park rangers were doing their nightly rounds and were spooked by a blue translucent figure in the open doorway of Otto House, which was used as a hospital after the battle. The ghostly figure looked like a Southern belle in a hoop skirt standing in doorway of the house, gazing toward town.

The rangers flew away from the ghostly lady, and retold the story to their coworkers. They had identical tales. It seems as if the ghostly Southern belle has been a frequent visitor.

This house stands on a knoll along the Burnside Bridge Road and it overlooks the Sherrick Farm House, which also is home to reported spooky apparitions.

The Landon House, used as a field hospital during the fight, is best known in Civil War circles for hosting the Sabers and Roses Ball prior to the Battle of Antietam, a bit of civilized activity before the inhumanity began. It's known for ghostly barking from its cellar and the sighting of a Union ghost in the nearby woods.

But it was spooked out before the battle. Prior to the Civil War, the Landon House was the Shirley Academy for Women. A ghostly woman in white is rumored to occasionally look in on second-floor rooms. Local lore states that she’s looking for children to tuck in at night.

We'll close with a tale of a ghoul of the human variety who got his come-uppance from the other side. When the battle was raging, the Confederate Army didn't have time to bury their dead; they hired locals to see to the last detail.

One innkeeper, passed down in legend as a Mr. Wise, took the job to provide a proper burial for fifty soldiers. But instead of burying them, Wise dropped the dead soldiers into an abandoned well, some landing head down or upside down, hardly a fitting farewell for guys who had just made the ultimate sacrifice.

Wise received a shock when one of the dead appeared to him, said to be the shadow of Sergeant Jim Tabbs of Virginia. Tabbs told off Wise about the disrespect of the corpses, and a scared half-to-death Wise repositioned the bodies in the well. He was quickly found out by the authorities, and under their steely stare, buried all fifty in the ground.

The grounds have been operated by the National Park Service since 1890, and the park proper consists of the battlefield, a visitors’ center, a national military cemetery and the Pry House Field Hospital Museum.

And many of its combatants.

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