There are thousands of photos taken every year. Paranormal investigations happen daily, ghost tours and walks are available at many of the gift shops in town, Gettysburg has been the feature in many tv shows for over a decade. But do you believe in ghosts? The citizens who lived here in 1863 did. The soldiers themselves who fought in this Battle believed they would wonder this field for all eternity.

Families during the Civil War had a strong respect of the human soul and took death very seriously. There were mourning customs and practices that had been passed down for generations. Funerals were no simple task back then. A person would be laid out in their own bed, in the home for days or weeks before being placed in a casket and put into the ground. The entire house was redecorated while the deceased was laying in the home. Every detail of “dressing a home for mourning” had a supernatural belief tied into it. No matter what religion or nationality you were, you were raised to believe that you MUST properly identify and mourn the dead before burying them, or else their soul would be cursed to wonder upon the earth and never reach heaven.

As men prepared to march off to war, death became a subject in every household. Men feared for their own souls. What would happen if they were left to die on a field, miles from home with no one to identify and mourn them? Families feared letting their loved ones leave home for the same reason. Soldiers both North and South carried in their pockets what became known after the war as a “death envelope”. These envelopes were the last hope and effort to have their bodies identified and sent home for proper mourning and burial so their souls would reach heaven and not be cursed to wonder. However, even with death envelopes in pockets, as the war raged on, survivors of battle saw how few of the men were ever retrieved from the battlefield. Rarely were their bodies in condition that their envelopes were intact and helpful. Citizens in hometowns where battles took place, who buried these dead, could not identify them first in anyway, aside from if they wore a blue or gray uniform. Fear began to grip the Nation. A supernatural fear, in addition to all the other forms of fear the Civil War brought with it. Souls were cursed to wander, and never would reach heaven. People became anxious to go out at night, for fear of encountering a wandering soul in the dark. Soldiers developed a special kind of fear when entering battle, that they would be left to wander this same field for all eternity.

Gettysburg had over 50,000 men left dead, wounded or missing after three days of fighting. Baking in the hot sun, being picked at by wild animals. So precious few of these men were identified and given a proper mourning before burial. Mass graves popped up in church yards and farm fields all over Gettysburg. A vast amount of graves were not dug deep enough and washed up days or weeks later producing men who needed buried for a second time. Then the opening of Soldier’s National Cemetery came to be in October, and men who were already buried were moved to a new gravesite all together in one consecrated place. Widows, and caring women, travelled from north and south to come to Gettysburg and dedicate these graves. Placing flowers at head stones that possessed only a unit number and not a name. Prayers were said over unmarked graves for the poor soul laying beneath the dirt, that God would spare them and please cross them over to heaven to be with Him and not let them wander in damnation here on earth. The President himself was here to dedicate and honor the first National Cemetery that the United States ever had, on this very notion and supernatural belief that all men and women possessed back then.

Today’s view from the Union held position looking down toward the Slaughter Pen and Devil’s Den

Today it is hard to meet someone who doesn’t have a ghost story of Gettysburg to tell you. But think about it for just a moment, with the mass number of dead in one small town, and the belief they had as they fought here that they would be left to wander the fields of Gettysburg for all eternity. Do you believe in ghosts? The men, women and children who buried the Battlefield dead, feared these men would haunt the streets of their town forever. The survivors came back for reunion ceremonies not only to remember what they fought for here, but to honor those who died here, and try to their dying day identify them if possible so they could cross over and find peace. Gettysburg is not just about the visual encounter of a ghostly image that shows up in your photo, but can also possess the smell of death in the air that carries in a breeze randomly in the summer heat. The eerie sight of buzzards in the air is a haunting reminder of what those birds were feasting upon 160 years ago. And when the sun sets on the Battlefield there is a spiritual feeling in the silence that falls across the hallowed fields. Walking the sidewalks of Gettysburg can give you a random chill down your spine, or a hot flash under the cool shade of a witness tree. The soft petals of a wildflower growing in the midst of a field can bring a tear to your eye. And the air inside Soldier’s National Cemetery always smells sweet and feels heavy.

Heartfelt History Gift Shoppe

Do you believe in Ghosts? Join historical researcher of Gettysburg Amanda Collins Friday April 26th at 6:30 pm for a Historically Haunting Experience. Located inside the Heartfelt History Gift Shoppe 327 Baltimore Street Gettysburg. Learn more about the mourning customs and beliefs that were part of people’s daily lives during the Civil War, and how those customs gave birth to a National Holiday. See the collection historical photographs from the Library of Congress compiled from years of research. Light refreshments are available for purchase to enjoy during your program. Seating is limited and available starting at 6 pm, $18.63 per person paid upon arrival to participate. If you like your history a little on the creepy side, this program is for you. Come and answer the question for yourself, do you believe in ghosts????