Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sarah’s Unlucky Soldier

By 1862, the Civil War had left a trail of tears and blood across the state of Missouri. After the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas the Confederate resistance in Missouri, except for a few individual fighters, had ended.

After this battle, Federal forces (Union troops), under the command of General Henry Halleck, occupied the City of Columbia—to the chagrin of most of the residents.

Columbia Baptist Female College, today it is called Stephens College, sits at the center of this city. It was initially a finishing school for young southern women.

The fate of two doomed lovers at this college in 1862, has resulted in a popular ghost story—with actual sightings.

Sarah June Wheeler, one student at this college, entered her room one evening to see a ragged soldier come it through a window. Sarah was shocked to see he wore a Confederacy uniform and not one of the occupying forces.

He staggered across the floor, and as she went to call for help, he grabbed her and covered her mouth with his hand. As she struggled to get free, he collapsed upon the floor.

Sarah’s roommate, Margaret Baker entered the room but was not afraid. She was a loyal southerner, born and raised in Arkansas, she attended the college--without payment—for her father had sent two slaves to work in the college laundry, to pay for her tuition.

The two girls discovered the soldier was wounded and bleeding. They tended to his wounds, and then called for two servants to send up food. They warned these servants not to say anything about their guest.

This soldier, Corporal Isaac Johnson, from Mississippi, told the two women he had fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge, and had been captured. He managed to escape and had traveled at night and hidden during the day.

He intended to exact revenge on General Halleck, by assassinating him, because his father had been killed in Grant’s attack on Nashville.

The roommates agreed to keep his presence secret. Sarah spent hours in conversation with this young soldier, often bringing him food. The two fell in love in just a few days.

But the girl’s secret leaked, and General Halleck’s staff heard a Confederate soldier was being sheltered at the school’s dormitory. Halleck approached Dr. Herbert Williams, the president of the college. He warned him if the rumors were true he would close down the school.

Dr. Williams gathered the students together and demanded if anyone knew something, they should come forward. Sarah rushed to her room to request Johnson surrender.

The corporal had another plan. He had stolen a suit from Dr. Williams closet, and he told her he intended to escape to Canada, using this disguise.

But before the two lovers could even leave the room, a crowd gathered at the door. Hearing this commotion, the general and his men with Dr. Williams approached. Halleck was informed the soldier was inside.

Furious, he told the president that the college was closed, and all his female students should pack and exit the premises by the next morning. Hearing this, the corporal surrendered.

Dr. Williams was able to convince Halleck the college did not know about the soldier’s presence and managed to keep the school open. But Corporal Johnson did not fare as well.

Being found in civilian clothes behind enemy lines, he was considered a spy. Three days later he was shot by a firing squad on the street near the college.

One legend states Sarah June Wheeler distraught, jumped from a window—unwilling to live without her lover.

The Haunting

Since her death, many stories have been told, Sarah haunts,—Senior Hall—the only dormitory on campus until 1918. Her apparition has been seen and heard in this building. The legend states she is looking for her lost love.

The Bell Tower
Students have gone up to the college's bell tower in this hall and held séances, to communicate with Sarah. This bell tower was actually built after the Civil War years.

In 1971, a reporter by the name of Gassaway, hearing some of the unusual stories that surround this haunting visited Senior Hall on Halloween.

A group of instructors and students made their way up the bell tower, without the reporter—entered the room and placed their candles on the floor.

Within seconds the door slammed shut, and the candles went out. One female student became hysterical and fainted. In the meantime, Gassaway was outside trying to open this door.

He stopped when he saw a man in uniform and a woman in a long dress. He wrote an article where he describes what he experienced that night.

“There was the sound of slow steps at first. When they stopped, deep breathing became audible. I waited for the person to come through the door. And waited. And waited.

Finally, I took the initiative, hauled myself from the floor and moved to the hallway’s mouth.

Halfway down the hall . . . I see the figure of a man. Then the swish of a woman’s long skirt caught my eye as the man dropped into a half crouch, his left hand outstretched as if to ward something off.

Then both figures disappeared down the stairs—quickly.”

During one renovation.

In the 1990s Senior Hall was renovated, it is used today for dance and music classes.  Ghost sightings are still experienced.

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