A Civil War ghost story: The real thingGhosts from Mt. Pleasant served in the Union Army in the war
Editor’s note: As part of the nation’s 150-year anniversary of the Civil War, the Henry County Civil War Sesquicentennial Task Force will be publishing a monthly column, written by Henry County historians. The research for the articles comes from Henry County newspapers published between 1861-1865, as well as diaries, journals and letters written by Henry County Civil War soldiers and their families.
By Joy Lynn Conwell
At this time of the year, it is only appropriate that reflections on the Civil War be turned to the ghost stories which arose following the battles. Gettysburg, as the largest battle of the war, has its own haunting accounts which have led to a major tourism industry.
Herr Tavern, which served as the first Confederate hospital at Gettysburg, was known for the piles of amputated limbs which surrounded it as surgeons sought to care for the wounded and dying. So many sightings have been recorded at the Tavern that four of the guest rooms are “officially” declared haunted. And upon the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War, there has been an increased reporting by individuals claiming to have seen ghost soldiers and ghost battles throughout Gettysburg National Military Park and Cemetery.
According to a local website, visitors to Gettysburg can experience a true ghostly experience by taking a ghost tour of Gettysburg offered by a number of tour companies. Some of the companies offer seasonal tours, while others provide year-round opportunities to “see” these apparitions.
However, the best accounts of ghostly sightings come from a battle which took place in September 1863 at Chickamauga, Tenn. The Chickamauga-Chattanooga battlefield is viewed as one of the “most haunted spots associated with the American Civil War”.
One of the biggest victories for the Confederacy was at the Battle of Chickamauga. The battle which lasted for two days left 35,000 men lying dead on the battlefield. According to the National Park Service, the remains of Civil War soldiers are still being discovered today. So devastating was the battle that most Union soldiers were buried where they died and some were buried in mass graves.
Lending to the haunting stories are the accounts of what took place after the battle ended. It is said, “The night after the battle finally concluded, the wives of many soldiers went out onto the field with lanterns to look for their loved ones. Unfortunately, most of the soldiers were dead, and some say that the screams of their wives can still be heard to this day! Some even claim that ghost lanterns can still be seen burning at night.”
Another account states, “One ghostly apparition that many people claim to have witnessed over the years is that of a lady dressed in white. She roams the battlefield; apparently, in search of a man she loved who fought in the war. Sometimes people feel “watched” whenever they’re in the woods near that area.”
Even national park rangers and other visitors to the battlefield have reported sightings of “old green eyes,” a Confederate soldier whose head was recovered after the battle, but his body was never found. It is speculated that he is “drifting around in search of his body”.
But what would this time of year be without Henry County having its own “ghost” story from the Civil War. The unique part is that every bit is true and the truth of the story lies in Forest Home Cemetery in Mt. Pleasant. In fact, there were two Civil War “ghosts” which have Henry County ties.
As service is intricately a part of life in Henry County, 30 years ago Explorer Post 1846 began assisting with the placements of flags on veteran graves at both Forest Home and Old City Cemetery. It was then that the Ghosts of Henry County were rediscovered and their story came to life.
Officially, according to the government records, there are only eight Ghosts, five from the Union side and three from the Confederate side, who have left their Civil War stories to be told, truthfully and honestly. One was from Illinois, two from Kentucky, one from Pennsylvania, one from Georgia, one from Arkansas and two were from Mt. Pleasant — a father, Phillip E. Ghost, and his son, William C. Ghost.
Phillip E. was 53 years old when became part of Company H, 37th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry….the Greybeard Regiment. Company H’s claim to fame was not only did it have its own Ghost but it had the oldest soldier of the Civil War, 80 year-old Curtis King of Chillicothe. Philip E. enlisted in October 0f 1862 and mustered out in May of 1865. He lived another 23 years in Mt. Pleasant, passing away in 1888. Ghost with a number of other family members, including his wife who died before her husband or son returned from the war, are “our” Ghosts, interred in Forest Home Cemetery in Mt. Pleasant.
His son, William C., enlisted in the 39th Regiment Iowa Volunteer infantry and was assigned to Company G. He was 21 years old when he entered as a private and mustered out as a Second Lieutenant in 1865. William, who served as an adjunct general during a battlefield command, was commended by General William T. Sherman for bravery for his service under General John M. Corse of Burlington, at the Battle of Allatoona Pass. Corse was severely wounded at the battle but his field officers, including Ghost, continued the defense of Allatoona Pass although outnumbered by the Confederates after receiving a message from General Sherman, “Hold the fort, for I am coming”. These words would become a popular Christian hymn, still sung today.
After the War, William C., an 1862 graduate of Iowa Wesleyan University, and his brother, Allen M., an 1867 IWU graduate, moved west and were involved in land speculation and real estate development. Most notably, the Ghost brothers were involved in the development of the City of Denver through the construction of the Denver & Berkeley Park Rapid Transit Company, one of the first companies to provide inter-urban rail service between outlying residential neighborhoods to a city center creating the housing concept of “streetcar suburbs” and the concept of the neighborhood commercial districts linked to larger cosmopolitan area. Today, the Ghost Historic District of Denver is comprised of 206 primary buildings and includes Elitch Gardens and Berkeley Park.
Allen M. would spend the rest of his life in the Denver area, but William C. returned to southeast Iowa and is interred at Aspen Grove Cemetery in Burlington.