Monday, January 28, 2013

The Ghosts of Cedar Creek

On October 19, 1864, an American Civil War battle was fought in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. 

Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s “Army of the Valley” troops launched a surprise attack at dawn * against the encamped “Army of Shenandoah” led by Union Maj. General Philip Sheridan. 

Maj. General Philip Henry Sheridan

What happened next resulted in one of the most dramatic and bitter battles fought in the Civil War. This battle’s outcome changed the course of the war and helped Lincoln get elected to a second term. 

The Battle of Cedar Creek as it is known also left many restless spirits who still linger on this battlefield today.

Lt. General Jubal Early
In mid-October of 1864, the Union army no longer considered the Confederate’s Valley’s troops much of a threat. 

With half rations and sheer will power, General Early marched his Confederate troops day and night so he could surprise General Sheridan’s Union troops camped at Cedar Creek. 

General Sheridan, himself, was staying the night in Winchester, he had just returned from a conference in Washington that morning when he heard the distance canon fire. 

He quickly dressed and jumped on his faithful black horse, Rienzi, and charged to the battle.**

Within thirty minutes, he encountered his retreating men. That morning, Early’s half-starved men had managed to drive back seven Union infantry divisions who found themselves bombarded by their own artillery. The Confederacy had managed to commandeer these guns. 

This sent the Union soldiers in retreat. 

This initial Confederate success was surprising considering these troops at first ignored their officers as they raided the Union supply tents in search of food.  

General Early gave up this advantage when he made the decision not to pursue the Union troops north of Middletown--for the Union army was in chaos when they reached Middletown, having lost many of their leaders.

This Confederate mistake gave Sheridan, when he arrived, the time to quickly rally his men. The result was he was able to turn his Union troops around and launch several counterattacks. 

Sheridan's men spent the afternoon hitting various spots along the Confederate line, which ultimately broke down their defense. This turned the tide of the battle, and the Confederate’s now were the defeated. 

General Sheridan became a famous hero*** and the Confederate’s loss effectively ended their invasion of the North. They were never again able to threaten Washington, D.C., through the Shenandoah Valley. 

They also could no longer protect one of their vital economic assets-- Virginia. Sheridan’s victories in this Valley and Sherman’s successes in Georgia resulted in Abraham Lincoln being re-elected as president.

The fierceness of this battle left 8,000 soldiers dead--many others were wounded. Within days of the fight, the local residents started to notice activity they could not explain. 

A church that had been used as a Union field hospital during the battle became the focus of much of this activity. Many of the dead were hastily buried here in the yard, and then later these bodies were unearthed and placed in pine boxes to be sent back up north. Residents felt this was the main reason that Cedar Creek was haunted.

Witnesses saw a light leave the church late at night and go over to where the pine coffins were stacked. One resident stated it was if someone was searching through them with a candle, but no one has seen a human figure holding this light. 

When the coffins were removed, it was hoped the activity would cease, but it continued. Late at night cries of pain, moans and footsteps were heard near the church, but again no one is ever seen. 

In recent times witnesses have heard the whine of shots overhead and the distant boom of cannon fire.

One farmer who was leasing a barn that was located upon the battlefield saw something that terrified him one night. He was up in the loft, throwing down hay to his horses when he spotted a man wearing a threadbare uniform standing below him. 

He yelled at the man that he did not allow bums to stay in his barn. When the stranger did not respond or leave, he became angry. He lurched at the figure with his pitchfork, but the fork’s tines went right through this dark figure. He ran from the barn too scared to finish feeding his horses.

Another farmer, walking along a road one night, saw a ghostly officer leading his troops. He first stated, he heard a bugle sound, and then he saw these phantom men who walked right past him without noticing his presence. ****

One phenomenon that has been heard by many is that of a phantom band. Military style music is heard faintly in the distance. Residents state they hear first a horn, a drum and then the entire band starts playing, but as soon as it starts it then abruptly stops.

* Some historians point out that this attack should not have been a surprise for one Union General by the name of Emory believed a Confederate attack was imminent due to information he received that the Southerners were spying on the Union position. 

Emory did report this to General Wright, who was temporarily in command while Sheridan was in Washington. Unfortunately, Wright dismissed it.

** After the battle General Sheridan changed his horse’s name to Winchester.

** Two future American presidents fought in the Battle of Cedar Creek-- Col. Rutherford B. Hayes and Capt. William Mckinley. Hayes was elected to office in 1876 and Mckinley in 1896.

**** This is typical to battlefield phantom sightings where the haunting is most likely residual in nature as opposed to an intelligent haunting.

No comments: