Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Southern Civil War Ghosts (Part III)

As the Civil War raged across the South, huge armies marched across the landscape private homes often became makeshift hospitals, camps, headquarters for officers and even battlefields and makeshift fortresses. These homes were physically scarred with bullet holes, bloodstained floors and destroyed outbuildings. The inhabitants were emotionally scarred; one of the daughters of the Carter family in Franklin, Tennessee who cowered in the basement of their home while the rampage of the Battle of Franklin continued outside, stated years later that she thought about it every day of her life. Of course, spiritual scars were left behind as well in the form of paranormal activity.

Octagon Hall
6040 Bowling Green Road
Franklin, Kentucky

Andrew Jackson Caldwell began this unique plantation home in Franklin, Kentucky in 1847 completing it in 1859 on the eve of war. Kentucky was literally the birthplace of the Civil War being the birthplace of both Lincoln and his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis, but initially, with the secession of its Southern neighbors, the state attempted to remain neutral. When the Confederate army invaded the state and occupied Columbus, Kentucky on the Mississippi, all hell began to break loose. A Confederate shadow government was created to oppose the Unionist state government already in place and the state joined the Confederacy in December of 1861. The provisional capital at Bowling Green had to be evacuated the following year and some eight to ten thousand fleeing soldiers camped on the grounds of Octagon Hall, February 13.

The pursuing Union army swept through the plantation two days later and while they controlled the area, frequently searched the grounds for hidden Confederates. Wounded soldiers, knowing of the Caldwell’s pro-Confederate leanings, sought out the house as a hiding place. A story told by the Caldwell family involves soldiers being hidden in the cupola that once topped the house. Mr. Caldwell kept bees in the cupola and Confederates would be dressed in bee suits and hidden there. When Union troops would search the house they wouldn’t enter the cupola because of the bees.

There is apparently a host of spirits at Octagon Hall. The suggestion has been made that the building’s unusual shape may exacerbate the hauntings as well as the limestone brick that the house was constructed with. At least one Confederate soldier died in the house when he was shot by Union troops. His apparition has been seen by the director of the Octagon Hall Museum, though he may also be the culprit behind the body-shaped impressions left in beds, footsteps heard throughout the house and doors opening and closing by themselves. This soldier is joined by the Caldwell’s young daughter, Mary Elizabeth, who died in the 1860s when her dress caught fire while she was playing in the kitchen. Her apparition has been seen and heard throughout the grounds of the house with one paranormal group capturing a marvelous A-class EVP of a child calling, “mommy.” A search of YouTube reveals a number of videos of investigations of this unusual house.

Carter House
1140 Columbia Avenue
Franklin, Tennessee
By some accounts, the Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Some historians have even deemed it the “Gettysburg of the South.” Fought right on the edge of the town of Franklin, the battle hit very close to the home front and absolutely hammered the farm of the Carter family which was located at the center of the main defensive line. During the furious fighting, the Carters, neighbors and slaves cowered in the basement of the house, emerging after the battle to witness the carnage spread through their yard and around their house. The house and outbuildings still bear bullet holes, attesting to their experience.

The Carter House, 2009. Photo by Hal Jesperson, courtesy of
Fanny Courtney Carter, who was 8 years old when the battle overtook her family’s farm, later recalled the day following the battle: “Early the next morning after the Battle I went to the field. The sight was dreadful. It seemed I could scarcely move for fear of stepping on men either dead or wounded. Some were clod and stiff, others with the lifeblood ebbing out, unconscious of all around, while others were writing in agony and calling ‘Water! Water!’ I can hear them even now.” Fanny’s brother, Tod, who had enlisted in the Confederate army was found some yards from the house, his body riddled with eight bullets, but still clinging to life. The family brought him into the parlor of his home where he died on December 2.

The pastoral fields that once surrounded the Carter House as well as the town of Franklin that saw so much blood that November day have mostly been lost to development though the spiritual imprint of the battle is still felt throughout the city. The spirit of Tod Carter may be one of the more active spirits at the Carter House. He has been seen sitting on the edge of the bed where he may have died and according to Alan Brown, he took a tour of the house, correcting the tour guide when she didn’t use the correct name or date and disappearing before he and the guide could descend to the basement.

Apparently he’s not the only lingering spirit. Poltergeist activity in the house has been attributed to Tod’s sister, Annie. Objects have moved from room to room and one visitor on a tour watched a figurine that jumped up and down. The Carter House is open for regular tours and a ticket can be purchased that also allows access to the haunted Carnton Plantation nearby.

Rockledge Mansion
440 Mill Street
Occoquan, Virginia

Rockledge Mansion, 2009. Photo by Ser Amntio di Nicolao,
courtesy of Wikipedia.
The town website for Occoquan (pronounced OK-oh-qwahn), Virginia states that the city, “has an inordinate amount of spooks per capita” and then goes on to list a number of locations in the town with ghosts. Among this remarkable collection of haunted locations is the magnificent Georgian mansion, Rockledge, which commands a literal rock ledge above Mill Street. The town was founded in the mid-eighteenth century as a port on the Occoquan River and during the Civil War this northern Virginia town served as a post office between the North and the South.

Quite possibly the work of colonial architect, William Buckland, Rockledge was built in 1758 by local industrialist John Ballandine. In the yard of this house the ghost of a Confederate soldier has been seen and possibly heard. One witness saw the soldier then noticed peculiar wet footprints on the front steps that appeared to be from hobnail boots, the kind that would have been worn by soldiers during the war. Many people have heard loud footsteps in the house as well as someone knocking at the door. So far, no source has identified this soldier.

Visitor Information

Both Octagon Hall and the Carter House are open as house museums. In addition, Octagon Hall is also open for paranormal investigation. Currently, Rockledge Mansion is a private residence though occasionally opened for tours. Please see the following websites for further information.

Battle of Franklin (1864). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     13 December 2010.
Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena
     Of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
The Civil War Years. The Octagon Hall Museum & Kentucky
     Confederate Studies Archives. Accessed 30 November 2010.
Episode 2. “Octagon Hall.” Most Terrifying Places in America,
     Season 7. Travel Channel. Originally aired 22 October 2010.
Kentucky in the American Civil War. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 13 December 2010.
O’Rear, Jim. Tennessee Ghosts. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.
Occoquan History. Accessed 16 November 2010.
Occoquan, Virginia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     13 December 2010.
Streng, Aileen. “Benevolent ghost believed to haunt mansion.” 27 October 2010.
Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. National Register of
     Historic Places Nomination Form for Rockledge Mansion. Listed
     25 June 1973.

1 comment:

  1. I would love to see the Octagon House. I've heard ghost tour guides say that the shape of the build effects spiritual activity before. That is always an interesting idea to me.