A Confederate Soldier Escapes on a Dark Northern Night

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Bizarre yet true Civil War story of one unlucky Confederate soldier, coming home to Tennessee. Written by Kathy Warnes.

Captain Tod Carter escaped from the train that was carrying him to the Union prison at Johnson’s Island and returned home to fight the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.

Captain Tod Carter, Confederate States Army, captured at Missionary Ridge, was one of the more than 6,100 Confederate prisoners that General Ulysses S. Grant sent north after the battles around Chattanooga, Tennessee. Captain Carter’s trip toward Johnson’s Island was just the beginning of a southward journey that led him home to Franklin, Tennessee.

Tod Carter Enlists in the Twentieth Tennessee Regiment

Tod enlisted in the Twentieth Tennessee Regiment, in a company formed by his older brother Moscow. His brother, Colonel Moscow Branch Carter mailed a letter to Tod from Nashville, Tennessee, on March 4, 1864. The letter gives more details of Tod’s capture. It is addressed to Capt. Tod Carter, Prisoner of War, Johnson’s Island, Ohio, Block 8, Mess No. 1. After describing the Union occupation of Franklin, Tennessee, Moscow adds, “I have a little piece of news you many never have heard before. After your capture, your horse swam the river, and returned to camp in full rig. The boys thought for a long time you were killed, seeing your horse without you.”

But Tod wasn’t at Johnson’s Island to read his brother Moscow’s letter postmarked May 4, 1864. Family tradition said that Tod made a daring escape “while crossing the State of Pennsylvania en route to a northern prison.” Riding on a moving train in the darkness of a northern night, Tod pretended to be asleep, with his feet resting in the train window and his head in his seat companion’s lap.

Tod Escapes from the Train on the Way to Johnson’s Island

When the guard looked the other way, Tod’s companion shoved him out the train window! The conductor stopped the train and a search party scattered through the countryside to look for him. A northern farm couple befriended Tod and in disguise, he traveled up the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Memphis, Tennessee. From Memphis, he traveled to Dalton, Georgia, where his Twentieth Tennessee Regiment still lay encamped.

Seven months later on November 28, 1864, Tod clung to a scrap of tablet paper signed by his commanding officer giving him permission to advance ahead of his brigade to visit his home and family in Franklin, Tennessee, less than twenty five miles away.

At home waited his father, Fountain Branch Carter, 67. His older brother, Colonel Moscow Branch Carter, a prisoner of war at home on parole for about a year, waited. At home waited his four sisters and his beloved sister-in-law, nine nieces and nephews all under twelve years old. At home waited the hams and bacon in the smoke house and the good meals his servants prepared in the kitchen in the yard.

The Union Army Waits for Tod at His Home in Tennessee

At home also waited the Union Army. A Union Army of about 24,000 men under General John M. Schofield marched to join the forces of General George H. Thomas at Nashville. It encountered the Confederate Army under General John B. Hood and the battle of Franklin, Tennessee took place the next day, November 30, 1864.

General Cox of the Union army commandeered the Carter House to become the Federal Command post. His family managed to warn Captain Carter away just as he had stopped at the garden gate. Tod’s duties as an Assistant Quartermaster were non-combatant, but no power on earth could keep him out of the battle. The Yankees had built breastworks across his father’s farm and overrun his home. Worse yet, he feared for the safety of his family in the bombardment.

Astride his horse, Rosencrantz, Captain Tod Carter dashed through the Yankee works under the guns of the Twentieth Ohio Battery. About five o’clock in the evening, he was leading the charge in the center of Bate’s Division when his horse Rosencrantz plunged, throwing Tod over his head. Tod hit the ground and lay very still. He had been shot in the head, mortally wounded about 525 feet southwest of his home. Shortly after midnight the soldiers from both sides left the battlefield, leaving their dead and wounded.

The Carter Family Finds Tod

The Carter family and their servants and their neighbors, the Albert Lotz family emerged from the cellar, unharmed and thanking God for their deliverance. Before they could finish their prayers, a Confederate soldier brought the news that Captain Tod Carter lay wounded on the field. His family climbed over the breastworks and trenches carrying lanterns. Just before daybreak they found Tod, lying on the cold ground, deliriously calling his friend Sgt. Cooper’s name. Nearby lay his horse, Rosencranz, gray and powerful even in death.

Nathan Morris, Captain of Litter bearers, a Mr. Lawrence and a Mr. L.M. Bailey of Alabama carried Tod into the debris filled family room wrecked by shot and shell and laid him upon the floor.

The regimental surgeon Dr. Deering Roberts probed for the bullet in Tod’s head while his young nieces Alice Adelaide McPhail and Lena Carter held a candle and small lamp. Despite the efforts of his family and Dr. Roberts, Tod Carter died on December 2, 1864, at the age of twenty four. He died in the front sitting room across the hall from the room where he was born.

-THE END-

References:

James L. McDonough, Thomas L. Connelly, Five Tragic Hours: The Battle of Franklin, University of Tennessee Press, 1983

James R Knight, The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee: When the Devil Had Full Possession of the Earth, The History Press, 2009

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The Ghost of Bill Sketoe’s Hole

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The story of Bill Sketoe and the “hole that would not stay filled” is one of Alabama’s most famous (and true?) ghost stories.

Outside Newton, Alabama on the banks of the Choctawhatchee River is a spot where, in December 1864, Confederate soldier Bill Sketoe was wrongly executed for desertion. But the ghost of Bill Sketoe would continue to haunt the town and his tormentors. Watch the Legend of Bill Sketoe below (courtesy of Roger Powell/WDFX-TV in Dothan, Alabama).

Want to find the haunted spot for yourself?

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Bill Sketoe Hole, Newton, AL

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Bill Sketoe Hole, Newton, AL 31.344099, -85.613596 Story: The Ghost of Bill Sketoe\'s HoleOutside Newton, Alabama on the banks of the Choctawhatchee River is a spot where, in December 1864, Confederate soldier Bill Sketoe was wrongly executed for desertion. But the ghost of Bill Sketoe would continue to haunt the town and his tormentors.

If you’d like to learn more about The Legend of Bill Sketoe, check out these outside pages:

Current Photos of the Haunted Area

The Ghost of Sketoe’s Hole

More on the Sketoe Bridges

-THE END-

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The Wildflower Girl

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Kentucky Civil War ghost story of two boys on a camping trip that encounter the ghost of a mysterious girl during a lightning storm. Written by Nikki Satterlund.

Ryan Gilthsburg was 14 years old and slender, with shaggy blond hair and stunning blue eyes. He was camping with his friend Mark Smith, who was about a half a year older, with green eyes, red hair and a freckly face. The two boys were the best of friends; one was rarely seen without the other. They would be gone for five days, just the two of them in the wilderness, having the adventure of their lives.

The campsite was in a woods in Kentucky. It was filled with tall, sturdy oaks and maples reaching to the sun, and low shrubbery fighting for the same sunlight. The boys were messing around, doing what boys do alone and camping together. Between cracks in the trees were streamers of sunlight, shining on the boys’ bright, playful faces. They did as most kids do alone and camping; messed around, tried to burn as many things as they could find in the campfire, and dared each other to jump from the highest tree branches they could find into the lake by the campsite. The adventure was bliss.

On the third night, the boys were awakened by a blinding flash of lightning, and a deafening crack of thunder. BAM! Ryan opened the tent and glanced out. A tree near the tent had been stricken straight in half, split down the middle. A fire flared above it.

“Mark!” he shouted. “The storm’s right above us!”

“What do we do? We’re in the middle of nowhere!”

“I don’t know! Find shelter?”

“Where?”

The boys ran frantically, calling for help. The wind tore at their faces, and rain battered them. Lightning flashed, thunder cracked. Each flash was blinding, sometimes splitting trees. They were soaked and freezing, calling for help. Mark slipped in the mud and landed on Ryan.

“Ouch!” Ryan yelled.

“Sorry,” Mark replied, getting off him.

“S’okay,” Ryan grunted and hoisted himself up.

After that, the boys only ran a little farther, still calling for help, before Ryan looked up and saw out of the corner of his eyes a large portion of a split tree falling. It was about to hit Mark.

“MOVE!” Ryan shouted pushing the red-headed boy out of the way just in time.

The branch hit Ryan on the head, and he collapsed.

Ryan had a strange dream. He was in the forest, near a stone path surrounded by flowers he was sure didn‘t grow there before. There was a girl about ten or eleven standing in front of him holding a bouquet of wildflowers. She had curly blond hair, vivid blue eyes like his and a pioneer-style dress. The girl was beautiful, and a bit pale. She seemed to glow eerily. She looked upset.

“Who are you?” Ryan asked.

The girl ignored the question. “I’m sorry I threw the branch at your friend,” she said. “I thought you were my brother, you look so like him. I saw him land on you; I thought he was trying to hurt you.”

“Oh…well, its okay… I guess,” Ryan replied. “Who are you?”

The girl again ignored the question. “My house is gone.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Ryan told her. She looked so sad. The poor little girl seemed so lost, he felt bad. “Can I help?”

Her eyes brightened. “Yes, you can! Please! I will help you get home if you help me get my house back.”

“Deal.”

“When you wake up, go down the stone path until you come back to the woods. The worst of the storm will be over. Sorry, that is the most I can do. Find the stone path again. It will be faded. Follow it, until you see the clearing in the woods. Look for a clump of wild flowers, dig there until you find what you have to. When someone finds you, show them.”

“What am I looking for?”

The girl smiled. “You’ll know,” she said. “I really am sorry about that branch. I sit in that tree all day sometimes, waiting. I jumped to conclusions I guess. I feel attached to that tree, it killed me you know.”

“MOVE!” Ryan shouted pushing the red-headed boy out of the way just in time.

The branch hit Ryan on the head, and he collapsed. Mark screamed, and called out his friend’s name. He pulled the boy from beneath the tree branch. His eyes were closed, his forehead caked with blood. Mark called for help. Lighting flashed again and a young woman appeared. She had golden curls and hazel eyes. She was dressed in a pioneer-style dress, and was deathly pale. She seemed strangely unfazed by the horrible storm.

“Oh dear,” she said, in a soothing sweet voice. “What happened here?”

“The tree…it…it…broke.” Mark sobbed.

The women suddenly looked very grim, “That tree…” She quickly changed tone. “Come, I will take you boys to my house.”

She carried the limp form of Ryan, and Mark followed. They entered a log cabin, where the fire at the hearth was the only source of light. The furniture was very old-style, wooden chair and tables that looked handmade. Beds of straw, hand made quilts, an old stove you lit by hand. Cornhusk dolls, toys carved from wood, a couple of books, and a Bible. The women laid Ryan down on one of the straw beds. Mark looked outside. The storm was gone. There was a field of crops and a path leading away from the door. He looked at the women with golden hair.

“W-What happened to the storm?”

The women looked puzzled. “Storm? What storm?”

Mark frowned, and the women smiled and handed Mark a blanket. “Poor dear, you must be tired. Oh, I wish Fabian had told me he was coming home. I’ve missed him so much.”

Mark was confused, “Fabian?”

The woman smiled, “I’m not sure what pet name you boys gave him in the army, but ‘round here he’s Fabian.” she replied, gesturing at Ryan.

“I think you have him confused with someone else, his name is not Fabian.”

“Oh, silly boy. I think I’d know my own son.”

“That tree’s a real problem isn’t it?” She sighed. “Killed my daughter not two months ago. Noel was her name. I have planted wildflowers by her grave. She loved them. Real spirited girl, as I am sure you know. Dear Fabian has probably told you all about her.”

Mark felt bad for the woman, her eyes gleaming with sadness, a tear streaming down her face. Obviously, this woman loved her daughter so much. Mark didn’t have the heart to tell her that Ryan wasn’t her son.

“I-I’m sorry ma’am,” he told her.

“Oh, I just don’t know how I’ll tell Fabian. He loved her so much.” The women said, wiping her eyes. “But she’s not gone.”

“I thought you said she died? How can she not be gone?”

“She leaves wild flowers on the table for me every day while I’m out in the field, just like she used to when she was alive. I miss her so, but I can still hear her laughing in the forest sometimes. I do not think she could leave without seeing Fabian again. She really looked up to him. Especially after the Confederates killed their father. She couldn’t wait for her dear brother to come back from the war.”

Now Mark was uncomfortable. Confederates? War? Fabian? What was going on here?

The next morning Mark spent sitting by Ryan’s bed. Finally, his eyes fluttered open. Mark quickly told him about the women, and the girl, how she thought he was Fabian. Ryan told Mark about the little girl in his dream. The boys agreed to get out as fast as they could-this was creepy. They snuck out of the woman’s house and crept down the path until the house was out of site. They broke into a run, until suddenly it was no longer dawn but night time and it was raining, hard. The thunder and lightning were gone mostly. What thunder they did hear was soft and the lightning they did see was distant and far away. The boys followed the path, and just as the girl had said, they came to a clearing in the woods.

“There,” Ryan said, pointing out the wild flowers.

The boys sprinted over, and knelt down by the flowers, shivering from the cold. They bruised the dirt until they came to a stone with the engraving:

Noel Gilthsburg
Age 11 fell from a tree
1852-1863
Loved dearly, missed sorely

Near that when they kept digging, were three other stones:

Ryan Gilthsburg
Age 32 died for his country
1828-1862
Loving husband and father

Fabian Gilthsburg
Age 28 died of old war wounds
1849-1877
Loving Father and Brother

Katrina Gilthsburg
Age 49 died of grief
1829-1878
With her family again

“Ryan Gilthsburg-that’s your name!” Mark asked.

“It’s also my great-great-great grandfather’s name. I am named after him. He died in the Civil War,” Ryan replied.

A police officer suddenly appeared and shone his flashlight on the boys. “I FOUND THEM!” he shouted.

The boys showed the officer the graves they’d found, and he helped them talk to the state about it. The cabin that was there before was rebuilt, and the land declared as belonging to Ryan’s family. It became a small, preserved tourist attraction. When tourists came, they would plant wild flowers by Noel’s grave, and pay other respects to the family. People would say that the house was haunted, as people tend to do about old houses with sad stories behind them, but Ryan knew that Noel and her family had left. They’d moved on.

Shortly after the graves were rediscovered, Ryan had a dream. Noel had appeared in front of him in the forest again.

“Thank you,” she had said, “Now we can move on.”

Then she sprouted wings and a white robe, and flew into a light, followed by people three people. First, the women in with golden curls, then a man about her age, with brown hair parted neatly and slicked, then a boy who looked a lot like Ryan: Fabian.

– THE END –



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Coastal Georgia Slavery and Gullah Culture

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History of slavery on Georgia Sea Island plantations around the Civil War. Slave descendants would later become the Gullah people.

It’s hard to believe that, in this coastal area of posh beach resorts, shopping centers and freeways, there were once thousands of enslaved Africans toiling in the fierce coastal heat. The foundation of an old plantation house or a crumbling slave cabin here and there are virtually the only structural reminders of this shameful period of history – General William T. Sherman saw to that.

Sapelo Island Ruin

Until General Sherman’s devastating march through Georgia, the Sea Island plantations, like most of the South, were heavily dependant on slave labor. Wealthy cotton and rice plantation owners valued the expertise of slaves who once farmed similar crops in the grasslands and marshes back in Africa. If it wasn’t for the slaves, the vast plantations that once lined the Georgia/South Carolina coast wouldn’t have thrived as they did.

Near the start of the nineteenth century, many slaves were being kidnaped from the interior of Nigeria and shipped down the rivers to coastal ports. The majority were members of the Ibo tribe, whose traditional homeland was in southeast Nigeria between the Niger and Cross Rivers. Their captors were mainly rival tribesmen who traded with white slave traders for currency, goods and firearms.

In the late 1700s, after a horrific voyage across the Atlantic known as the Middle Passage, the Ibos would typically be brought into ports on the Southern U.S. mainland or in the Caribbean. They were placed into pens, given plenty of food and drink and encouraged to exercise, solely to make them more attractive on the auction block. Then, after a humiliating viewing period where they were stripped, pinched and prodded, the Ibos were sold to speculators who, in turn, transported them to areas of demand.

Of course, not everyone agreed with the practice of slavery. The abolitionist movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries succeeded in banning slavery throughout the Northern states. As early as 1749, even Georgia discouraged overt slaveholding within state lines. In 1798, it was made illegal in Georgia to import slaves from Africa.

But these so-called laws were too late in coming for an area so dependent on slave labor. Most plantation owners saw slavery as a necessary evil, and resorted to secretive tactics to keep their workforce growing. At high tide under the cover of darkness, slave holders would sneak their ships through the tidal creeks directly to the island plantations.

By all accounts, life on the Sea Island plantations was brutal for the slaves. They were given the backbreaking task of converting heavily wooded islands into cotton and rice fields. This involved draining the salt marshes, cutting down huge trees and clearing stumps. Some Ibos had accomplished a similar task in their African homeland, but never under slavery conditions.

Few slaves tried to escape the plantations. Capture was almost certain, and even if they did escape to an uninhabited island, poisonous snakes or a lack of food and fresh water usually brought them back. Escape or suicide also meant the abandonment of loved ones.

Life on the coastal plantations came to an abrupt end when the Civil War erupted over the region. As Union ships blockaded the ports of Charleston and Savannah, plantation owners took their healthiest slaves and fled the islands, leaving the sick and elderly slaves behind.

But as the Confederacy collapsed, many of these healthy slaves ran straight into General Sherman’s troops during their destructive march through Georgia. Sherman ordered the slaves to return to the islands and, after the war, issued Special Field Order #15, which ceded most of the Georgia and South Carolina Sea Islands to former slaves and forbade white settlers other than military personnel to live there.

Whipped Slave

Many slaves didn’t make it back, becoming refugees along the war-torn Southern roads. Others migrated to surrounding cities. But several did return to reunite with the older slaves left behind. In a perverse twist, many former slaves had become attached to the land they were enslaved upon, and returned to farming the old plantation grounds. Despite widespread poverty, the former slaves formed working communities that would become the nucleus of the African-American island communities found today.

In 1865, President Andrew Johnson expanded the terms of the Confederate pardon to include the return of property abandoned during the war. This meant that the white plantation owners could return to the islands and reclaim what General Sherman had promised the former slaves barely a year before. These plantation owners naturally assumed that their impoverished former slaves would be happy to come back to work for them as sharecroppers.

But this time, the former slaves resisted. They chose to live in their own communities, living on whatever they could catch from the sea or grow in tiny backyard plots. Some even formed land companies to consolidate black-owned farmlands. Individual businesses and schools also sprung up. Without a stable work force, the plantation families lost money, causing many to give up their lands for good.

GULLAH

Cultural ties with Africa are scattered throughtout the Sea Islands,especially on Sapelo Island, where several descendants of West African slaves live in the tiny community of Hog Hammock. Some speak a unique Creole language known as “Gullah,” which developed from the slaves communicating secretly across the islands. Because of their relative isolation from the mainland, the Gullah people have preserved West African customs, craft techniques and storytelling for future generations.

Despite their predicament, the slaves were able to preserve and expand upon many of their African traditions. Besides the Gullah language mentioned above, the more notable traditions involved death and the afterlife. The slaves would often speak about spirits from Africa, which they called “h’ants” or “fixuhs,” coming to visit their homes. To protect themselves from the bad “h’ants,” they would often paint a blue ring around their doorways. Some slaves could detect these spirits better than others, especially babies who were born with a special “caul,” or membrane, over their eyes that enabled them to see ghosts. Naturally, most of the plantation owners dismissed the slaves’ beliefs.

Sapelo Island Cemetery

The slaves also had unique burial customs, some of which can still be seen on Sapelo Island. When a relative died, his or her body couldn’t be removed from the house until the preacher said a few words. After burial, the graves were kept mounded by members of the family. Favorite and symbolic objects of the deceased were placed on or around the headstone, which was kept clean and shiny to attract protective African gods. As a sign of daily recognition of their ancestors, the slaves would pour libations on the ground – a tradition that can be seen in one form or another throughout the African-American community today.

On the outside, it seems that little has changed for the African-American Sea Island communities since the early postwar days. Many families continue to live in low income housing, and opportunities are scarce. As a result, the steady migration toward the large cities has continued, leaving an aging population to subsist on the islands. Surrounding lands are slowly being gobbled up by largely white-owned beach resorts, educational facilities and preserves.

Sapelo Island Gullah Resident

But for the time being at least, the shared wealth of these island communities is in their memories and traditions. Because of their isolation, islands such as Sapelo serve as virtual time capsules from another era. Practically nowhere else in the country are everyday West African traditions more readily on display.

It is hoped that, by returning to these islands, African-Americans will, at least in spirit, keep their connection to the Motherland alive.


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Chickamauga Battlefield Ghosts

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Chickamauga Battlefield ghosts and hauntings, including Ol’ Green Eyes.

If Georgia has its own Loch Ness Monster, it may very well be “Ol’ Green Eyes,” a legendary creature that, according to numerous ghost hunters and tourists through the years, still haunts the massive national park at Chickamauga Battlefield. Green Eyes isn’t the only apparition roaming the grounds of Chickamauga, but he certainly is the most famous.

Chickamauga battlefield monument

Civil War battlefields are some of the most haunted places on earth. With so much death, destruction and sorrow in one area, it’s no surprise that restless spirits still wander the land. Chickamauga Battlefield, in northwestern Georgia close to the Tennessee state line, was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the war, second only to Gettysburg according to historians.

The Civil War was approaching its end in 1863 when Union troops captured Chattanooga, Tennessee with their eyes set on Atlanta to the South. General Willaim Rosencrans was the Union commander who led the charge into Georgia in September of that year. But he met violent opposition along Chickamauga Creek from Confederate troops led my General Braxton Bragg and General James Longstreet. The two day battle ended with the Confederate army pushing the Union army back to Tennessee. 37,000 soldiers on both sides were killed.

The Battle of Chickamauga was a much needed morale boost for the Confederate army. But of course, their victory would be short lived as General Sherman eventually took the reins of the Union army and drove south to Atlanta, ending the war.

Years later, numerous people encountered strange goings-on at the old battlefield grounds. Some would hear the sounds of gunshots at night, or of soldiers marching, moaning and crying. This would not be a surprise, as the battlefield is believed to be filled with makeshift graves containing Union soliders. After the battle, many Union corpses were left lying in the field for weeks, only to be buried in unmarked graves.

One famous ghost who is said to wander the battlefield is the “lady in white” who is searching for her husband. But Green Eyes is the best known apparition, and has appeared in two different forms. Some believe Green Eyes is a soldier whose head was blown off during the battle, and now wanders Chickamauga looking for his body.

Chickamauga battlefield cannon

The second version of the story – and the one we used here – is that Green Eyes is a strange, otherworldy creature, half-man and half-beast. He’s been spotted walking on two legs and has long, stringy hair down to his waist. But he also has glowing green eyes and huge jaws with two sharp fangs sticking out. It is believed that this version of Green Eyes comes from a Native American legend from long before the Civil War. There were some reports of the creature wandering among the dead at Snodgrass Hill shortly after the Battle of Chickamauga.

Should you wish to travel to Chickamauga to encounter the creature for yourself, read some of the stories we’ve linked to below. There’s also some historical information on the battle itself:

Prairie Ghosts – Haunted Tennessee
This excellent article goes into more detail about the battle and the hauntings that followed.

Haunted Battlefields

CHICKAMAUGA LINKS

North Georgia
Excellent historical overview of battle itself, including maps and numerous links.

Chickamauga National Military Park
Official site of the historic battlefield.


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