Certainly the battle scored one of the heaviest losses of life when between 1–3 July 1863, there were over 27,000 Confederate and 31,000 Union losses. As the losing Confederate forces retreated, approximately 8,000 men and 3,000 horses were left rotting for the occupants of the area to bury, and many of the dead lay in graves scattered across the terrain of the battle site, and in some cases, the bodies still remain hidden where they fell beneath the debris of war and conflict.
Gradually, the majority were later re-interred at Gettysburg National Cemetery, but some still remain unseen and untouched since those fateful days in 1863.
Over the years that followed, many tales started to emerge of ghosts belonging to those dead men being seen on the battlefield site, and in period buildings still standing to this day.
These accounts were mostly residual hauntings, that is to say where the ghosts are actually a replay in time, and it is claimed that as the site lies across a bed of igneous volcanic granite, it is the quartz crystals in these rocks which retain the memory of these dreadful events. Other accounts are of sentient ghostly soldiers actually reconnecting to the living by speaking or reacting to their presences - and particularly with regard to the many thousands of historic re-enactors that flood to the site to this day to recreate key events from the battle.
Here are some accounts from witnesses who lay claim to having seen apparitions at Gettysburg, or have interacted with them.
Another account here that I quote as it was written. `Many years ago my friend and I made my first trip to Gettysburg. He had been there before. What happened one night still boggles my mind.
We were heading back to where we were camped at about 1015 at night. We walked by Servant's and noticed a light in the window of the house across the street. At that time, I did NOT know the story of John Reynold's sweetheart sitting with his body in that house.
We went across the street and looked in the window. There was the body of a man in a union general's uniform stretched out on a cot with a young woman sitting beside the cot in a chair reading a book by the lamplight. I thought wow, what a nice touch! We made a note to let Servant's know we liked the set up the next morning.
When we went back, the next day, the house was set up like a business and there was no way, they could have redone it over night. About 8 months later I was reading Mark Nesmith's latest book of the ghosts of Gettysburg, when I came upon the description of the scene we saw!! I about fell off my friends couch. My friend Linda said I got really pale and she thought that there was something wrong.
I told her what had happened. Later on my next trip over there, I got to talk to Mark and told him about it. He told me I wasn't the only one to see it, other people had experienced it too. There have been other experiences rather strange over there.`
`He appeared to be a man laying there, but he wasn't solid like you and I are. I mean, he was more of a hazy mist. He was shivering 'cause it looked like he was in a lot of pain. I couldn't go no further. Emotionally, I broke down and cried. I was shaking. I had to actually have somebody come back and lead me out of the trail.`
One of the most haunted buildings connected with the battle also served as a field hospital, and campaign headquarters for the Confederacy. Today it`s called, Gettysburg College, but in 1863 it was known as Pennsylvania Hall which was constructed in 1837 and is often referred to as Old Dorm.
It has been said that on certain nights, students and staff members of the college have reported seeing the figures of soldiers pacing back and forth in the cupola of the building. The descriptions of the men vary but it is believed they may be sentries who were placed on duty there to guard the safety of General Lee, or to deliver messages to the battlefield.
It is believed to be the terrible conditions of the field hospital however, which have left the strongest impressions on the building. According to the records of the time, blood sprayed the walls and floors of the rooms as doctors operated without anesthetic, dealing with bullet wounds by the preferred treatment of the time which was amputation. Outside of the operating rooms was an area where those who could not be saved were left to die.
Perhaps the most famous story connected to the time of the battle was related by author Mark Nesbitt. He told of two college administrators who were working on the fourth floor of the building one night. As they were leaving, they stepped into the elevator and punched the button for the first floor. Instead of taking them to their destination, the elevator mysteriously passed it and came to a stop on the basement level. The elevator doors then opened to a timeslip.
The basement storage room had vanished and in its place was the blood-splattered operating room of 1863. Wounded men were lying prone on the floor and administering to them were doctors and orderlies in bloody clothing. The entire scene was completely silent, although it was obvious that it was one of chaos.
Horrified by this residual event, the administrators repeatedly pushed at the elevator button, desperately trying to close the doors and escape the scene which lay before them. Just before the doors closed though, one of the spectral orderlies was said to have looked up, directly at the two administrators, as though asking them for help.
Whatever happened that evening, the two administrators were shaken and frightened by it and needless to say, never forgot their strange experience.
One notoriously haunted area on the battle site is a pile of boulders known today as, `Devils Den`. The site has a strategic military advantage, which was fought for many years before the arrival of the first Europeans by native tribes. This is largely bourne out by the fact that so many stone axe heads and arrows have been recovered from the locality.
During the battle, it was used by the Union and later the First Texas Regiment of the Confederacy for artillery and sniper riflemen. As with most parts of the battlesite, many men were killed here, and it is their ghosts which predominate the alleged hauntings.
Here are a collection of haunted tales given by visitors to this area.
One afternoon in the early 1970’s, a woman was said to have visited the National Park Service information center to enquire about the possibility of ghosts being on the battlefield.
The visitor explained that she had been out on the battlefield that morning, photographing the scenery. She had stopped her car at the Devil’s Den and had got out to take some photos in the early morning light. The woman stated that she had walked into the field of smaller boulders, which are scattered in front of the Den itself and had paused to take a photo. Just as she raised the camera to her eye, she sensed the uncomfortable feeling of someone standing beside her. When she turned to look, she saw that a man had approached her.
She described this man as looking like a "hippie", with long, dirty hair, ragged clothing, a big floppy hat and noticeably, no shoes. The man looked at her and then simply said, "What you are looking for is over there," he said and pointed over behind her.
The woman turned her head to see just what the unkempt fellow was pointing at and when she turned around again, he had vanished. There was no trace of him anywhere.
A month or so later, the same ranger was on duty at the information desk when another photographer had come in and asked almost the same question. He too had been taking photos at the Devil’s Den, only this time, he had taken a photo about a month before in which the image of a man had appeared on the exposed frame a man who had not been there when the photo was allegedly taken.
The photographer described the man as looking like a "hippie" and also mentioned his long hair, old clothing and the fact that he was barefoot.
Other visitors and Park Rangers have seen the apparitions of sharpshooters and have heard phantom sounds of gunshots and drum rolls coming from the wooded area of this locality.
It`s also claimed that other photographers have reported that their cameras refused to work, and one, a paranormal investigator alleges that he called out to the rocks that he wanted to take some pictures for friends back home in Texas, and magically his equipment worked fine after that.
These are just a few of the many haunted tales from Gettysburg, but what of the actual evidence to back these claims up?
Certainly in respect of first hand accounts, there have been a number of contradictions to some, but not all of the stories told, and it would be fair to say that some of the stories of the many events reported were nothing more than the re-telling of urban legends.
Interestingly, I can find no images from Devils Den of the alleged ragged soldier with long hair which seems to appear in many recollections of him being photographed.
There are of course many blurry and out of focus images on the internet which may or may not be construed as paranormal, but no evidence of clear full bodied apparitions.
I think it`s fair to say that quite a few amateur ghost hunters who have spent time and limited resources visiting the site have left with nothing and have clutched at explainable anomalies as paranormal, or (in a few cases) have either resorted to fabricating their own version or have accidentally filmed re-enactors who frequent the site regularly.
I believe that as many people do, that Gettysburg is an incredibly haunted site, but sadly the evidence that would prove some of the significant hauntings to be empirically proven is, I am sad to say, lacking at the present time.
Here is one video of an alleged paranormal sighting caught on camera which as far as I am aware has not been evidentially debunked.
Story: Chris Halton