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Stones river - The haunted battlefield

December 10, 2011
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

December 31, 1862-January 2, 1863, Stones River Tennessee. 23,000 estimated casualties during the four day battle. It's no wonder there are so many stories of ghosts and eerie happenings.

The area is rocky, wooded, and full of sinkholes. The horrific loss of life caused it to be dubbed the "Slaughter Pen." Many of the dead were not found and buried for days after the battle was over. Many of the wounded died for lack of medical treatment.

At this site many a visitor has heard phantom footsteps behind them as they walk the paths. They report an absolute stillness, no wind, no signs or sounds of animals, and temperature drops of 10-20 degree difference between there and the rest of the park.

The park has been the scene of many battlefield re-enactors. Many have told of a "mysterious soldier," who often appears around the campfire. Sometimes he's seen leaning against a tree. He's a part of, yet separate from the re-enactment soldiers he joins. He quietly keeps their company until he's spoken to, then he slowly fades away.

During the war Lt. Colonel Julius Garesch was a West Point classmate of General William Rosencrans, Union leader of the Cumberland Army. Garesch had numerous premonitions of his death in battle. He discussed this with his brother, a priest, who shared his own vision of Garesche's death. The priest felt his brother would be killed during his first battle which would occur within the next 18 months.

On December 31, 1862, Garesch took Holy Communion in preparation for the day's activities, which soon became a battle, as confederate general William Hardee launched a surprise attack. Fearing his friend Chief of Staff Rosecrans was exposing himself to great danger by riding ahead and gathering his troops, Garesch dismounted from his horse to read from a prayer book. Remounting, he galloped into battle, only to be met with a blast from a Union gunner, ripping his head from his body. His horse continued on with the headless body for about 20 yards before the corpse tumbled to the ground. Garesche's headless body is interred at Mount Olive Cemetery in Washington, DC, but his ghost has been spotted by both railroad workers and re-enactors, near the railway where he was decapitated.

One night after the fighting was over for the day the soldiers forgot the war briefly. It was the Holiday season and the soldiers thoughts were on family and home. In an attempt to boost morale, one side struck up a song. With the battle lines so close together, both sides could hear the music. One side sang Dixie, the other Yankee Doodle. Soon one side played "Home Sweet Home" and the other side joined in. For a few brief moments the war was forgotten as the sounds became that of Christmas and the Holidays. Grown men wept, missing loved ones. Cheers and toasts were raised to all, regardless of Yank or Rebel. A quiet night was passed. Sadly the bloody fighting began again at dawn.



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