The Heartland of Georgia, a vast region stretching from Columbus to Savannah and from the edge of Atlanta to Florida, is home to historic sites of Sherman's March to the Sea and Andersonville Civil War Prison. Because of this history, the area is one of the most haunted in the United States. All manner of paranormal phenomena haunt the battlefields, houses, prison sites and forts throughout this region. Spirits even stalk the streets of Savannah, one of the most haunted cities in the world. Join author and historian Jim Miles as he details the past and present of the ghosts that haunt central Georgia and Savannah.
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About the Author
Jim Miles is the author of seven books in the Civil War Explorer Series. Miles also wrote Civil War Sites in Georgia. Five of his books were featured by the History Book Club, and Miles has contributed to two History Channel documentaries.
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PART I PHANTOMS ALONG SHERMAN'S MARCH
Sherman's March was a grand, largely carefree campaign to the overpowering Federals, and the worst nightmare for the defenseless civilian population. This campaign still haunts the South, and it left a number of ghosts in its wake.
The End of the Atlanta Campaign, the Beginning of Sherman's March
The eastern edge of Henry County is bordered by the South River. People could cross the stream on Butler's Bridge until it was dismantled. C.W. Hollingsworth owned a dairy farm that bordered the bridge.
"It was always a spooky place," his grandson Wes stated. "A lot of people didn't like it, even in the daytime."
C.W. told Wes that Union troops used Butler's Bridge Road at the start of Sherman's March. The Union general sent an advance guard of ten scouts to examine the route. The scouts were captured, probably while looting, and hanged from trees by their Confederate captors. A local legend said if someone went there on a dark night and sang "Dixie," the bodies of the executed men would appear, dangling from old oak trees.
On a daring teenaged expedition, Wes and buddies went to the bridge on a dark night, a cassette tape blaring "Dixie" on the stereo. As the song played, the boys saw the bodies hanging from the trees all around them.
Wes said some locals refused to cross the bridge after midnight, and stories were told of cars stalling on the span and terrified stranded motorists seeing ghostly apparitions and hearing the sounds of combat and fighting.
"There's always been something down there you can't understand," Wes said. "It's a weird place."
Sherman's Right Wing, under Major General Oliver O. Howard, left Atlanta for Savannah via the McDonough Road and passed through McDonough on November 15–16, 1864. Skirmishes between Federal cavalry under Judson Kilpatrick and Confederate cavalry commanded by Alfred Iverson occurred on the edges of the march. Federals burned two churches, slaughtered animals in a third and destroyed mills as they progressed.
Gaither: The Plantation Visited by Sherman's Bummers
During mid-November 1864, one of the four columns of Sherman's army, numbering fifteen thousand men, swept through Newton County like a plague of locusts, stealing food, fodder and personal treasures, and torching much of what they could not carry away. A thin scattering of Confederates withdrew before this inexorable wave, and it is believed that several hid at the Gaither Plantation until the Federals passed.
One day several years ago, during a wedding celebration, a ghostly apparition dressed in a gray uniform, presumably a Confederate, was seen in the basement. A search revealed no one present. On another occasion, a reenactor in full uniform observed not a dead Confederate, but a woman, rocking and nursing an infant in an upstairs bedroom.
Amber Pittman, reporter for the Covington News, was told that Confederates had been hidden in the attic, where footsteps thought to belong to the soldiers are heard. Also, "shadow people" that are believed to be the spirits of Southern soldiers have been observed walking the grounds.
The Gaither Plantation has invited a number of ghost investigation organizations to hunt the farm, and abundant evidence of supernatural encounters has been collected. One group was the Georgia Paranormal Research Team from Dublin. During their EVP session, a spirit identified himself as a Confederate soldier.
Newton County was fortunate to be able to purchase the Gaither house, several outbuildings and two hundred acres of the former plantation. A 1916 church from nearby Social Circle has been relocated to the property. The Friends of Gaither Plantation was formed to administer the estate, which is available for weddings, reunions, festivals, tours and other events.
The Haunted Halls of Oxford College
Just north of Covington, in the community of Oxford, is Oxford College, founded in 1836 as a Methodist school. The birthplace of Emory University, it claims a number of ghosts, some from the Civil War.
Oxford's Civil War spooks stalk the halls of Phi Gamma Hall, the oldest structure on campus, constructed in 1851. The school closed in 1861 when faculty and students joined the Confederate military, but during the fighting around Atlanta, the buildings were utilized as hospitals. The dead were buried nearby at a site located today a short distance down a trail near the gym.
For decades, students have reported unexplained phenomena in Phi Gamma Hall, although that accelerated during a renovation. "Floors creak as if a person is walking across," a student publication claims. "Windows buckle and doors creak."
Michael Silverio saw lights turn on and off by themselves when the electricity was disconnected. Jared Van Aalten was plastering a wall late one night, and as the material dried, a particular area started to drip, leaving the image of a skull on the wall.
In October 2010, Covington News reporter Amber Pittman interviewed Dr. Joe Moon, dean of campus life at Oxford, asking about the ghosts of the school.
"This is where Sherman's troops marched through," he said. "Many of these buildings were used as hospitals and soldiers were brought here from Atlanta for treatment. When they died, they were carried down this path and buried."
The path is a nature trail that leads through woods to a Confederate cemetery. According to Moon, "You always hear about students seeing movement or feeling things or hearing screams down here. During the daytime, it's kind of nice, but at night, it's very spooky.
"It was here [Phi Gamma Hall] in the Civil War when all the death occurred and it does have a story," Moon continued. Facing the library entrance are several large windows. For years, it had been a study room closed at night. Many students leaving the library in the early evening swore they sighted a woman dressed in white, whom they called a nurse.
"They all described her as frantic, saying she seemed distraught and would pace back and forth in front of the windows," the dean said. The study room was closed for a few years before reopening as an attractive twenty-four-hour study area. Since the reopening, the "nurse" has not been reported.
Seney Hall, dating to 1881, has long been known for strange sounds. A former professor swore that late at night as he worked, he saw a ghost in his office.
"He described it as a young boy, about seventeen or eighteen, and he said that it reminded him of a Confederate soldier," Moon related. "He said the boy was not malicious and that he was never scared, but that he would sit there quietly and watch until the boy faded away."
Because the building was post Civil War, Moon doubted the ghost was Civil War related. He reconsidered that position when he learned the site was Main or Old Main, one of the original campus structures that had been used as a hospital. Materials from Old Main were used to construct Seney Hall.
Nearly every building on campus has been rumored to have been haunted, at least by thumps and movement when professors or staff members were alone in the building.
The Haunted Mill
Johnny Wells constructed Henderson Mill on the Alcovy River in the southeastern corner of Newton County during the early 1800s. The original mill was three stories tall, thirty feet wide and thirty-six feet deep, and after two rooms were added, it enclosed 5,200 square feet. Ray and Cindy Bryan, who spent eight years restoring the structure for use as their home, purchased the historic mill in 1976. Fortunately, they were able to keep various mill features, including a corn grinder and the bagger. The third floor, which is a huge loft, is haunted by a nine-year-old slave named Benjie. Ray related the story to Cindy Smith Brown for Middle Georgia Magazine.
When the Federal troops were in the area during the war, they set fire to a sawmill, wagon shop and cotton gin nearby. They also shelled the mill causing considerable smoke damage. Benjie, his nineteen-year-old sister, Mannie, and the mill's overseer went up to the third floor looking for safety. Fortunately, some of ... Wheeler's boys [Confederate cavalry] came by and [ran] off the Yankees before the mill was burned down. Mannie and the overseer decided to drop Benjie out the third-floor window, hoping to save his life. But Benjie got twisted in the fall and died. The ghost tracers who've been here tell me Benjie's here with me all the time, and when things go missing, he's the one who takes them or moves them.
The mill is located off Georgia 36 at the intersection of Dixie Road and Henderson Mill Road.
When War Passed Through
According to the Butler Herald of June 2, 1885, a man, woman and child from Connecticut were trapped in Walton County by the war. They took up residence in an old house at High Shoals, on the Walton- Oconee county line along the Apalachee River, perhaps working in the High Shoals Manufacturing Company. After Sherman passed nearby, the man disappeared. The woman and child "professed ignorance of his whereabouts, and soon returned home." It was speculated that the man "had been foully dealt with, had been murdered by [Union] camp followers." According to the Herald, from that point on:
Every family which moved into the house as quickly moved out of it. The moving of a human being, accompanied by the clanking sound of chains, low moans of pain, and many mysterious sounds, would be heard. People traveling a distance could see lights at the windows, and on nearing them all would vanish. The most intelligent people soon began to look upon the place with horror, and no amount of money could induce them to sleep in the house over night. Travelers after night would go out of their way rather than pass the premises ...
In the still hours of the night hundreds of reliable witnesses attest that they have been aroused from quiet slumber by the strangest and most unearthly sounds. In one room last week a mother was heard rocking her babe to sleep and singing a wee lullaby; the doors were thrown suddenly open and persons were heard walking up and down the stairs.
Some time since a prominent preacher who scoffed at the idea of ghosts, spent a night at this house. The next morning he appeared pale and haggard, and stated that he would not sleep another night beneath the roof for all the gold in the universe. Families have been known to pack up at midnight and leave rather than brave the terrors which seemed to stand between them and daylight, being driven off through fear at the strange sounds heard.
Legend has it that one of Madison's lovely antebellum homes was used as a Civil War hospital. Today, footsteps are heard on the stairs by night, and a tall man dressed in black appears at the top landing. A phantom ball bounces down a hallway, and in one room, a lady clad in an old fashioned blue dress materializes.
EATONTON: SYLVIA AND THE CIVIL WAR
"Sylvia" was written by Louise Reid Pruden Hunt, former owner of Panola Hall, who frequently saw Sylvia:
Sylvia's coming down the stair —
Pretty Sylvia, young and fair.
Oft and oft, I meet her there,
Smile on lip and rose in hair.
Stand aside and let her pass —
Little room she takes, alas!
Sylvia died, they tell me so,
Died a hundred years ago.
Panola Hall had some bad decades, changing owners frequently and, at one point, becoming a boarding house. Preservationists feared it might be beyond repair when the structure was purchased in the mid-1990s by Rick Owens, who worked in an Atlanta hospital and worked on the house in his free time.
Owens was taken aback when the previous owner candidly admitted, "By the way, there's a ghost."
Owens pondered the situation before deciding, "I didn't know what to expect, but I didn't have a bad feeling about the place," he told Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Bill Osinski in 1998.
The accounts he found of Sylvia described her as a bit haughty with those she judged her social inferiors but also as beautiful and laughing, her presence accompanied by the scent of roses.
After Owens had lived there for a few years, Sylvia decided at last to reveal herself to him.
"She was there just long enough for her presence to register with me. But it was so clear. I can still see her," Owens said.
The transparent apparition was a beautiful young woman attired in a ruffled blouse and waist length jacket. As usual, the girl appeared at the landing of the main stairs.
Owens's only problem with the situation was Halloween — up to three hundred kids descended on the one documented haunted house in the town of Eatonton.
Several times, Owens has entered the house to be greeted by the strong scent of freshly baked cinnamon buns.
A traditional version of Sylvia's story has her as a guest living in Panola Hall during the war. Hearing that her fiancé had been killed in battle, the young woman jumped off the balcony and died when she stuck the brick sidewalk.
* * *
The song "Marching Through Georgia" by Henry Clay Work was inspired by Sherman's March in 1865. The joyful marching song won wide appeal and the sheet music sold an unprecedented million copies.
Bring the good ol' bugle, boys we'll sing another song; Sing it with the spirit that will start the world along, Sing it like we used to sing it fifty thousand strong, While we were marching through Georgia.
* * *
Marching Through Georgia's State Capital
In 1807, the capital of Georgia moved west with the growing state, from Louisville to Milledgeville. A capitol was constructed near the Oconee River, and despite fires and reconstructions, it is considered the oldest public building in the Gothic style existing in the United States.
The question of secession was vigorously debated in the legislative chamber before the ordinance was passed on January 19, 1861. A torchlight parade of excited citizens toured the streets. Those residents were considerably subdued four years later when Sherman concentrated his sixty-thousand-man army in and around Milledgeville. Governor Joseph Brown and a few troops — cavalry and militia — had just withdrawn without firing a shot.
Milledgeville was largely spared destruction as a provost guard was established on the Capitol grounds. However, raucous Union troops held a mock session of the state legislature that "repealed" the ordinance of secession. Afterward, they trashed the building and destroyed many official papers and the state library.
Georgia's capital moved to Atlanta in 1868. For several years, the old Capitol building served as the Baldwin County Courthouse but later became home to Middle Georgia Military and Agricultural College, which is now Georgia Military College (GMC).
This hulking Gothic castle looks haunted, and it is. A lone Confederate sentry has been spotted marching back and forth from the Capitol to the Governor's Mansion. Students at Vinson Hall have heard a ghostly bugler sounding "Taps," a tune that originated with a Union general in 1862 and was very probably played by Sherman's men in their camps ringing Milledgeville. People working late in the old Capitol have heard phantom footsteps following them through the legislative chamber. On quiet, dark nights, the sound of a large body of soldiers marching is heard in the streets, perhaps Sherman's confident veterans entering yet another conquered Confederate city.
When wind blows across the Gothic towers, a sound known locally as the "soul winds," eerie and shrill, is heard in the community, sounding like moaning, crying or the howling of wolves.
During a book signing of Weird Georgia at Barnes & Noble in Macon in 2006, I met Erin Evans, who submitted her account of a ghost sighting at the old Capitol. One night around 2:00 a.m., she and a friend were out walking around Milledgeville's quiet streets. As they neared the Capitol, "we noticed a young man walking along the edge of the building," she wrote. "The man was wearing a funny looking hat and half cape. When we got closer, he stopped walking and stared at us. Feeling uneasy, we turned to leave, I looked back, and the man was gone."
After describing the encounter to a friend who attended GMC, Erin was taken to the museum located inside the building and shown a Confederate uniform.
"To my shock, it was the exact uniform I had seen the night before on the mysterious man. My friend explained that other GMC students reported hearing shouting and seeing strange fog and a man walking around the old Capitol."
After reading a published account of a similar incident, Erin concluded, "I'm sure I saw that Confederate soldier that night, interrupting his nightly guard over the old Capitol."
The Haunted Executive Mansion
The beautiful Governor's Mansion in Milledgeville has witnessed a great deal of history. The Greek Revival house was completed in 1838 and hosted governors for thirty years. During the Civil War, it was occupied by Joseph Brown, one of the most difficult governors with whom the Confederate government had to contend. Brown had plenty of notice that Sherman was approaching and vacated the premises with all the furniture. His panic amused Sherman, who slept on the bare floor in the mansion. Perhaps it is the smoke from the general's cigars that are occasionally detected in the library.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Civil War Ghosts of Central Georgia and Savannah"
Copyright © 2013 Jim Miles.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I Phantoms Along Sherman's March 11
Part II Savannah's Civil War Specters 37
Part III Confederate Ghosts of Central Georgia 61
Part IV Andersonville: Hell on Earth and in the Hereafter 95
Appendix. Haunted Places Open to the Public 117
About the Author 125