Location: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Date of Encounter: September 5, 2000
It was early September 2000, and I was on a solo trip to Gettysburg for 4 days. It was my second trip there, because I had decided to take in the sites I had missed previously and get a better understanding of the sequence of the battle. I had with me what I found to be the best self-guided tour source in print, Gettysburg: A Battlefield Guide by Mark Grimsley and Brooks D. Simpson. It gave the battle in chronological fashion as a series of stops, times, directions, orientation, what happened, and analysis with a map. It was perfect for a tourist with a rental car to get to the sites and stop and ponder. Several of the locations are even ones rarely mentioned in the history books. I made a point to rely on this book, follow it as directed, and try to complete the entire journey it described.
It was about 1:45 PM on September 5th when I reached Stop 5B on the tour, Iverson’s Pits. I followed the directions as given in the book. I parked at the observation tower on Doubleday Avenue near the intersection with Mummasburg Road. I walked down Doubleday to the 88th Pennsylvania Monument, made a right turn into the woods, and came to an open area. On either side of the clearing about 30 feet across were 6-foot cornstalks; at the end of it ahead of me was the marker that served as the stop on the tour. It was here on the afternoon of the first day of fighting that Pennsylvania and New York troops captured prisoners from 4 North Carolina regiments, soldiers of Iverson’s Brigade, and survivors of a deadly volley of rifle fire from concealed troops behind the stone wall near Doubleday Avenue. As I approached the marker, the cornstalks closed in behind it, preventing further unimpeded advance. I then got my bearings from the book. What caught my attention most was that it mentioned that the swale in the ground off to the left was where many survivors from the volley had sought cover. After the conflict, many of the dead were buried in that spot; approximately 600 died, and the name “Iverson’s Pits” stuck to it. The book then went on to say that the area is “believed to be haunted.” I later found that a researcher who came to the area in 1871 spoke to Mr. Forney, owner of the farm on that land during the battle and at that time. The farmer volunteered that his workers refused to remain in the Pits area after dusk because they claimed it was haunted.
Immediately after reading this, I looked at the cornfield in front of me. I looked to the left and could only slightly see the open field beyond. I disrespectfully stood on the marker and thought I could make out a dip in the ground. I had to have a closer look. It was an odd portent that as I looked for a passage, I saw a broken trail through the corn made by previous visitors. I decided to follow it.
After passing through the barrier of several feet of cornstalks, I reached a wide-open field. I could see Mummasburg Road and Buford Avenue far in the distance. I turned to the left and walked parallel to the cornfield and out to try to find exactly where the “swale” might be. I stopped and took one photo in the direction of McPherson Barn, confident that the Pit would be captured in this landscape shot, for later scrutiny if I were unable to find it that day (this picture later revealed an ectopolasmic orb at the bottom corner of the photo, as did about a half-dozen of my other photos from the trip). As soon as I had snapped the photograph, I looked over at the cornfield to my left several yards away; I noticed an area which was only sporadically strewn with corn, the rest being cleared or full of other vegetation. I headed in this direction.
When I reached it, I noticed the ground was slightly depressed within the cornfield. I stood on the short elevation of earth that separated the corn from the open field to my back. I stood and reflected, wondering, but somehow feeling that this was the place. Over the silence, I thought I heard movement in the corn on my right. I looked and saw a few leaves and stalks waver close to me, but I attributed this to breeze or insects. Once I was ready, I put my camera to my eye to take a second photo. As I looked through my viewfinder, I saw two black objects side-by-side. I lowered my camera to make sure it wasn’t something on my lens, but there they were — about 20-30 feet away in the middle of the clearing. I took one step backward with my right foot; as soon as it touched the open field behind me, the two objects seemed to loom, grow in size, as if they were coming in my direction. I fumbled my camera, and as I did, the two objects seemed to turn quickly outward, as if back-to-back. To this day, I still wonder if it was the profile of a man’s head donning a kepi within the object on the right that I saw for a split second just before the two headed off in opposite directions through the cornfield. Both had shrunk from their previous 3-4 feet height to about 2 feet and now looked like two large bowling balls sliding through the corn. Their direction was parallel to the cornfield along the open field boundary, which also meant it was parallel to Doubleday Avenue on the other side of the corn from me. Just seconds after they had started moving quickly, I could hear the sound of their rustling leaves on the ground and the hitting of the stalks, almost as if it was delayed. It did not seem in synch with their movement at all. I watched in amazement, but somewhat relief, as the objects moved away from me, but waxing and waning in size during their motion. Eventually they disappeared into thin air before being concealed by the corn. My immediate response was “Holy &$*#! What the &$*#! was that?” out loud. For some reason I laughed, probably as a result of my relief, but I also noticed I had backed a few steps off from the cornfield. I moved forward, chuckled, and said out loud, “Iverson’s Pits,” as I snapped my photo (note: this photo revealed nothing abnormal that I could find). I was trying to convince myself that I had merely flushed out some wild turkeys or some other animal, easy to believe once they are gone. Never mind the fact that they had suddenly appeared in plain view, and there had been no evidence of them previously.
Since I had decided it was some animals and that I was now going to head back to my car, I decided to scare off any others that might be remaining to impede my return. I reached down and picked up a small, unripe ear of corn that was lying on the ground. I threw it into the cornstalks on my left. I paused and was satisfied with the result being no movement at all in the corn.
I began to walk back parallel to the field to where I had initially entered. After one or two steps, I noticed something in the corn out of the corner of my eye. I turned and looked, and it was the figure of a soldier moving parallel with me. He was perhaps 20 feet away. I immediately stopped. He kept going, accelerating and gliding as he went on his way to where my only access back to my car was. As I remember, he was wearing a full-brimmed hat and looked like he had a knapsack on and holding a rifle at port-arms. His color was mostly black, but a grayish-blue seemed to come and go as he moved. The same happened with his outline — at times it was full, then, would nearly disappear, then would grow back to full-size. Just like the previous two figures, he also made a delayed sound, only much, much louder. I could hear him hitting the stalks, not just as a man walking or running through them, but as loud as a man swinging at them with a baseball bat. All of this time, not a single stalk was moved or stirred by him gliding through them. The sound was as if someone were chopping them down. Since it also sounded as if it could take a person’s head off, I ducked my head down and away, and said, “Relax, man!” At this point, I had forgotten about my camera, an error which I regret to this day. I may also have been subconsciously wary of possible reprisals from this apparition at having his picture taken. It might have been 10 seconds or 30 seconds until this figure finally disappeared. I crouched down and looked into the stalks and thought I could see bluish-gray trousers with a wide, white stripe down the side. They were untucked and hung freely on top of black shoes. This part may have been my imagination, for they were gone as quickly as I had seen them. However, I now know that something had been there that I had not imagined, and that something had wanted to make a point that I realized that fact.
I began to walk sideways, bent at the waist peering into the corn. I backed off a few steps, and asked out loud, “Who are you?” As expected, there was no response, so I figured I would talk my way out of this. Thinking at the time that I was dealing with Confederate apparitions, I told them I was born in North Carolina and now live in Florida. When I reached my entry point, I was not too eager to go back through. I looked back at Buford Avenue in the direction of the Forney farm site, which seemed about a half-mile away; I couldn’t go there. I looked further to the left where the corn stretched all the way to Mummasburg Road; that was too far, also. I finally asked of whatever might be listening, “Will you let me pass?” A few seconds later, I heard that rustling sound again to my right, as the corn leaves near me there moved. Then it stopped abruptly. I paused, then made my decision; I spoke out, “I’m coming through. Hold your fire.” About halfway through, I lost my way along the broken path, and while looking for it, I was also glancing to my right, hoping that Gunnery Sergeant Babe Ruth did not decide to come back up to the plate. I soon found it, made it to the marker, and as I walked slowly into the clearing between the corn, I said back over my right shoulder, “Thank you.” I did not panic, but once I reached the 88th Pennsylvania Monument, I sat at its base for about 30 minutes to collect myself. I kept looking at the ground and then to the corn where I had seen it all, trying to make some sense.
Well, the self-guided tour was over for that day. I went back to my motel room and called my wife at home. I told her the whole story. We talked about an hour-and-a-half, and she believed me. I then decided to go to Ghosts of Gettysburg Tours office, where I met Corinne Brownholz. I slowly worked up to my story. She did not comment on whether she believed me or not (in fact, I would not have blamed her if she had pressed a panic button she may have had hidden behind the counter), but she did recount some of her experiences from living in Gettysburg. Some of them made mine pale in comparison. A young couple later came in and got involved in our conversation. The young man, Brian, believed me and dismissed away natural explanations I could present. The many experiences he shared were also very spellbinding. I wrote an account of all of this that very day and brought it back to Ms. Brownholz to give to Mark Nesbitt, author of the Ghosts of Gettysburg series, for me. Regretfully, I made no copy. I have yet to hear from him. Corinne assured me he had read it, because after I had gotten home I sent them my revealing photos for their analysis. She also responded that she and Mark both thought something definitely had been following me. However, she said her uncle believed it was reflection from something I was wearing or something on my lens.
I returned in May 2002 with my wife and daughter for the Ghost Conference. They did not attend, only agreeing to it if we followed it up with a trip throughout Massachusetts. Dr. Dave Oester showed great interest in my story and asked me to e-mail it to him, but as you can see it is quite long. I took my family to meet Corinne. The doorway where she said she had previously told me she frequently saw the ghost of a little boy no longer had a rope across it but now a closed wooden door. I then took them to the spot of my encounter. They stopped at the marker, while I went to show them all of the spots where I had been and the apparitions had been. I even had a small tape recorder with me and played some of Bobby Horton’s Confederate songs for the soldiers who had died there, even though I had ancestors that had fought on both sides. However, I was no longer in an open, grassy field but was tramping on tiny cornstalks. I went to the location of the bare area in the corn; it was no longer bare, nor was it even very depressed. I had a tough time locating it.
I submitted a second draft of my encounter to Cathe’s Civil War Ghosts website. They acknowledged receipt of it and said they would get back to me. When I asked them to e-mail it back to me as I had no copy, I received no response. I keep checking but they have yet to use it for their site, but I would naturally expect an e-mail or something from them before they did so. This is my third time writing the story, and it is my best version, although it is a while after the fact. I still look for answers, but without so much emotion or desire for acknowledgement as I had previously displayed. It has also greatly changed my opinion of life here on Earth and afterwards.