The ghosts of Cold Harbor battlefield – Mechanicsville, Virginia
For believers and ghost enthusiasts, Most Civil War battlefields are haunted by the restless souls of fallen soldiers.
And of all the battles of the war, Cold Harbor located in Mechanicsburg (about a fifty minute drive northwest of Williamsburg), Virginia, was “one of American history’s bloodiest, most lopsided battles“. In less than thirty minutes, Grant, the most acclaimed Union general during the American Civil War and twice elected President, lost over 7000 troops at the hands of Lee’s Army of Virginia, a loss that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Here lot of visitors reported that, besides hearing footsteps behind them, they also came across a dense, unexplainable fog, which disappears as quickly as it manifests, according to some remnants of thick gun smoke.
Though the strategic operation included many raids and skirmishes, the Battle at Cold Harbor was particularly disastrous. Grant himself would later said: “Cold Harbor is, I think, the only battle I ever fought that I would not fight over again under the circumstances. I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made.”
A priest who was at the battle, Winthrop Phelps, confirms: “You cannot conceive the horror and awfulness of a battle. I never wish to hear another much less see it. I went out to see this but found myself in such danger I soon fled… Pray for me. I cannot write – am not in a fit state of mind…”
At the start of the Battle of Cold Harbor, Grant forces totaled around 109,000 men while his opponent, General Robert E. Lee, had 59,000 Confederates under his command. Despite going in with more soldiers, Grant was unable to secure a Union victory. In fact, lack of coordination among his officers and General Lee’s ability to fashion “the most ingenious defensive configuration the war had yet witnessed” made it hard for Grant to retain Cold Harbor. Moreover, the land itself was very unforgiving and its difficult terrain made trench warfare a miserable experience for both sides. Lack of medical assistance meant dugouts were cramped with both the living and the dead, limited food and water meant dehydrated soldiers fought on empty stomachs. June 3rd was an especially devastating day: in under an hour, around 7,000 of Grant’s men were slaughtered.
On a blood stained diary entry, one Union fighter writes: “June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed.”
Though the Confederates emerged from the Battle of Cold Harbor as its ultimate victors, triumph had not come easily. When the two beleaguered armies finally separated, their losses totaled up to 4.595. Union casualties were even more upsetting, estimated to be 12.737.
Apparently, of all the restless souls that wander this historic battlefield, both Union and Confederate, one ghost stands out from the rest, and she is known as ‘The Child Ghost of Cold Harbor’.
Visitors to Cold Harbor often remark of hearing phantom cannon fire, screams of wounded men, and calls from commanders still leading their men into a battle that occurred over 150 years ago. Some visitors even say they can smell smoke from the cannons and hear the distant hoof beats of charging cavalry.
…And they also talk of seeing the ghost of a little girl in a white dress and bonnet wandering through meadows and graveyards that border the battlefield, or peering at them from the windows of the Garthright House, a historic home located on the edge of the Cold Harbor battlefield.
The abode, that dates back to the 1700s, was once used as a field hospital for wounded troops and It’s rumored that the little girl, thought to be the daughter of a local gravedigger, fell to her death from one of the windows as the battle raged around her in the surrounding fields. It seems that Union surgeons took over the home in June 1864, and the poor Garthright family was forced to take refuge in the basement. At the end of the ordeal, some 97 soldiers could not be rescued, and had to be unceremoniously buried under the front lawn.
Cold Harbor Battlefield is a part of Richmond National Battlefield Park. Unfortunately, much of the 7,500 acre battlefield has been changed to support commercial and residential activities and by 2007, only 300 some acres remained.
Now included in the American Battlefield Protection Program, the haunted landscape has huge tourist appeal. Along its improved trail system, picnic tables and historical signage have been added. One of the best things about a visit in the park is that it ends with two eerie extras: Cold Harbor Cemetery and the Garthright House itself.
Most visitors perceived the presence of the souls of Civil War dead when they visit one of the battlefields. And in any case, ghosts or not, the Civil War was a violent, horrible conflict that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of men. But the Child Ghost of Cold Harbor reminds us that children often perished, sometimes in great numbers, during the four years of the war.
And sometimes the ghosts of these children stay behind, probably as a sad reminder of the terrible price of war….
Images from web – Google Research