At Ease: Things That Go Bump on the Battlefield
What Was THAT?
Crisp air. Fog settling over the fields. A chattering squirrel. A deer crashing in the brush. Or is it something else? The end of October is that season of spooky stories and tales that make us wonder. In the spirit of the times, we've pulled a few accounts from Civil War soldiers and parts of Civil War memory in Central Virginia. Whether it makes you shiver or just pause and consider the sacrifices of real soldiers on these battlefields, we hope you'll find some interesting accounts.
From failed attacks, voices on the battlefields, fog at Spotsylvania, grisly medical stories, and Walt Whitman in Civil War memory, the answers ran the gamut of odd episodes from the fields and history. Here's one classic: Several years ago while at Gettysburg, I got my six year old daughter out of bed at 0530 so we could watch the sun come up over the battlefield from the observation tower on Seminary ridge. When we came down we walked over to Devils Den. There was no one around because it was around 0600. I asked her if she could smell anything and she said two things, men’s aftershave and breakfast sausage cooking. Nobody but us or so we thought...
"Only A Soldier's Grave"
This Civil War poetry reflects on the lonely graves, like the ones hastily made after the battles in Central Virginia.
Gloom at Fredericksburg
Night on a battlefield had many terrors, but sometimes the smallest sounds haunted the still-living soldiers huddled in scarce shelter. "All night the winds roared. The things that caught their beat were such as were rooted to earth, or broken and shivered by man's machinery. One sound whose gloomy insistence impressed my mood was the flapping of a loosened window-blind in a forsaken brick house to our right, desolate but for a few daring or despairing wounded. It had a weird rhythm as it swung between the hoarse-answering sash and wall. To my wakened inner sense it struck a chord far deepening the theme of the eternal song of the "old clock on the stairs": "Never—forever; forever—never!" I still seem to hear, in lonely hours with the unforgotten, that dark refrain sounding across the anguished battlefield." (Excerpt from My Story of Fredericksburg, by J.L. Chamberlain)
Twilight at Chancellorsville Battlefield.
Wording: Spirits In The Wilderness?
Morris Schaff, a Union veteran, wrote the first book about the Battle of The Wilderness. In the text, he characterized the land, trees, and other natural features as characters, giving them human-like elements through his word choice. He also referred to the spirits and ghosts of the wilderness that lingered and fought the military invaders. Some of the spirits even include talking plants: In the woods not a living leaf is stirring, and the dead ones are waiting to pillow softly the maimed and dying. “The mortally wounded will be so thirsty!” says a spring beauty blooming on the bank of the little run that crosses the Pike…. “And some of them I know will cry for water,” observes a violet sadly. “And if they do, I wish I had wings, for I’d fly to every one of them,” exclaims the brooklet. [I]f one of them dies under me, I’ll toll every bell that hangs in my outstretched, blooming branches, declares a giant huckleberry-bush warmly. “But hush! Hush!” cries the bush, “here they come.” You'll have to decide for yourself if such thing exist or if they are only the product of the imagination. But there are strange things in The Wilderness... (Check out this blog post by Noel G. Harrison for more details about Schaff's book and its place in Civil War memory.)
Shattered trees after the Battle of The Wilderness (Library of Congress)
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.