Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I Don't Believe in Ghosts

Of course not.

"Bloody Lane"  Antietam
But, to be totally honest, I sometimes get unexplained chills up my spine when visiting historical sites; Especially Civil War Sites.

Standing in the middle of "Bloody Lane" on the Antietam Battle field was almost painful. I'm sure it wasn't caused by "ghosts," but my own awareness of what happened there.

Nevertheless, I never tire of visiting Civil War sites.

A few years ago, I was driving back from a business meeting in Richmond when I spotted a sign just before  Fredericksberg pointing to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, which is a fancy name for the farmhouse where Stonewall Jackson died.

Jackson had been wounded by "friendly fire" from members of the 18th NC regiment, led by John D. Barry who died two years later at age 27 according to his family as a direct consequence of his guilt and depression over his role in Jackson's death. This happened during the Battle of Chancellorsville when Jackson had his men continue fighting even after dark, which was unusual during the Civil War.

House where Jackson Died
It was dusk when I pulled off I-95 onto the road that led to the tiny community of Guinea, VA, which as far as I could determine is little more than a few houses and a stop sign. All of the National Parks have signs that announce they are closed after dark, and I was definitely pushing the envelope.  But there were no barriers to the entrance of the small parking lot, so I pulled right in. There were no other cars there either, nor did I see anyone. All I saw was a small white house, which according the the historical marker at the entrance to the parking lot was the house where Stonewall Jackson died.

In spite of the fact that all signs indicated that the "shrine" was closed, I tried the door anyway, and to my surprise it was unlocked. I went in thinking a park ranger must still be there. But got no response to my "Hello, anybody home?  

So, feeling like I really shouldn't be doing this, I became my own "tour director."  The room where
Bed where Stonewall died
Jackson died was well marked, indicating that the Clock, the meager furniture and the bed were all original and in their original positions.

It was in this room, and this bed, where Jackson uttered his famous "last words:+

“Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks”—then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Suddenly, I heard a voice from behind me say,

"The South lost the war when he died."

Startled is not a strong enough word to describe my reaction at that moment. I turned and saw another tourist who apparently had arrived after me that I had not noticed before. He was a tall man, about 40 years old, sporting a short beard. I said something inane like, "Oh....I didn't realize you were here...." Whereupon he repeated his belief that "The South lost the war the day Jackson died."

That's all he said.

He obviously felt very strongly about that. I could tell from his eyes....intense....yes, intense...maybe a little wild....

Perhaps he's a bit drunk, I thought. Whatever, it was I was not comfortable, so I made my way out of that house as quickly and as gracefully as I could. After all, how long can you stare at an empty bed.

Besides...I couldn't get "those eyes"....those wild blue eyes...out of my mind. Also, those chills I often get at Civil War sites were working overtime.

A Ghost?  No. I don't believe in ghosts.

But, as I pulled out of the small parking lot...I did notice that there were no other cars there.

I guess he walked.