Most of you have at least some knowledge of the Battle of Gettysburg that took place on July 1-3, 1863. It was an incredibly bloody battle, with over 51,000 casualties, and a decisive moment in the course of the Civil War. Up to that point, it had seemed like the Confederacy might actually win the war; however, after the horror of Gettysburg, the tide turned in favor of the Union and the war was essentially over.
The Civil War left scars on the soul of our nation that continue to ache today, and nowhere is this more evident than at Gettysburg. The cataclysm of that three day battle left its indelible mark not only on the land, where you can still walk over the sunken graves of thousands of unfortunate boys or touch the bullet-riddled walls of the buildings that stood between the Union and Confederate lines, but also in the very ether of the place. Gettsyburg is supposedly one of the most haunted locations in the world, and if trauma, tragedy, pain, horror, sorrow and fear can embed themselves in the fabric of a place, it is not hard to see why this blood-soaked land is so infamous.
Our group conducted an investigation in Gettysburg in April 2011. I am not at all sensitive to spiritual or ghostly energies, but as we first drove along Confederate Avenue onto the battlefield, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and had to fight back tears. This feeling of sadness has been reported by many people, and why not? Perhaps we’re picking up on the residual feelings of grief and loss felt by the thousands upon thousands of men who lost their lives here. Or maybe we can just too easily imagine how those men must have felt, not to mention the loved ones they left behind. In any case, I returned to Gettysburg in July 2011 and jogged along Confederate Avenue every day of my trip, but never experienced that first sensation of grief again. Thankfully.
Another interesting personal experience I had was during an investigation of Culp’s Hill. I wandered away from the rest of the group, who were spread out around the area of Spangler’s Spring, near the foot of the hill; I climbed to the crest of the hill where there is now an observation tower. Walking along that winding road in the twilight, seeing the numerous monuments stationed along the way and imagining the bloodshed that took place all around me…that was creepy, to say the least. By the time I got to the top of the hill and circled the abandoned parking lot, my heart was pounding. However, I decided to climb the observation tower, which is itself reputed to be haunted. People have heard disembodied footsteps on the tower stairs, and at least one person has reportedly seen an apparition in the tower itself. I climbed to the top of the tower as it became full dark, and took some full-spectrum photos of the gorgeous view from the top. As I did so, I heard what sounded like footsteps on the stairs. I looked at the stairs and around the parking lot, but there was no one anywhere around. At the time, I decided it was the wind making the stairs creak as if someone were walking on them. Having only half convinced myself that it was NOT paranormal, I boogied out of there and back to the rest of the group, pulse racing. The next morning I again climbed the observation tower. Again it was windy…but this time, I heard nothing that could remotely be misconstrued as footsteps. So what did I hear the night before? Shamefully, I was too petrified at the time to whip out my digital recorder and try to capture the footsteps, so for the moment, that remains a mystery.
Keeping these prior experiences in mind, I’m quite excited that this weekend I and several members of Black Raven Paranormal will be returning to Gettysburg, this time to investigate the site of the only civilian casualty of the battle, the Jennie Wade House. In July of 1863, Jennie was 20 years old. She actually did not live in the house that now bears her name; at the time of the battle, the house was a duplex and Jennie’s sister, Georgia, lived in half of the duplex with her family. Georgia gave birth right before the troops began coming into town, so Jennie and her mother went to Georgia’s house to help her sister; Georgia’s husband Louis was off fighting the war. The house was between the Union and Confederate lines and did take some fire during the three day battle; in fact, a shell hit the top of the house on July 2, opening a passageway between the duplexes that would unfortunately be put to macabre use very soon. On the morning of July 3, 1863, Jennie was in the kitchen preparing to make bread when a bullet pierced the door of the house, went through a second door, and hit Jennie in the back. She groaned and fell down dead. In her pockets were a purse and a photo of a young solder, Jack Skelly, rumored to be her fiance.
Union soldiers helped the family carry Jennie’s body upstairs, through the hole created by the shell the day before, and into the other side of the duplex, where they placed her body in the cellar. She was later buried temporarily in the backyard, then moved in January 1864 to the German Reformed Church, before being moved to her final resting place in the Evergreen Cemetery in November 1865.
There are several oddities about Jennie’s story. First, her sweetheart, Jack Skelly, had been mortally wounded in the Battle of Winchester; he would die on July 12, 1863. However, a Confederate troop named Wesley Culp, a childhood friend of Jennie and Jack’s, passed through Winchester on his way to Gettysburg and saw Jack long enough for Jack to give him a message to take back to Jennie in Gettysburg. That message was never delivered. Wesley Culp went on to Gettysburg and died in the battle of Culp’s Hill (on land that belonged to his family) on the same day Jennie died, July 3, 1863. Jennie never knew that Jack had been killed. Fate seemed determined to wipe the whole circle of friends out.
Jennie is now buried in Evergreen Cemetery near Jack Skelly, but she does not appear to be at rest. A female apparition believed to be Jennie has been seen at the home where she died, now called the Jennie Wade House. The smells of baking bread and Jennie’s rose-scented perfume have been reported. In addition, the basement of the house is supposedly haunted by a male apparition, possibly Jennie’s father, who was a thief and in a mental asylum at the time of her death. It is speculated that he continues to haunt the area where her body lay in the cellar, perhaps out of grief or regret.
There is another male spirit who haunts the upstairs area, wafting his cigar smoke toward unsuspecting visitors. And the spirits of children are reported throughout the house, possibly linked to the nearby orphanage.
All in all, the house holds a wealth of paranormal activity, at least according to some, and I’m looking forward to seeing what evidence our group may be able to capture. Gettysburg is a fascinating place where history seems almost to come alive, and hopefully we’ll witness a bit of that this weekend.