In the ‘spirit’ (yuk yuk) of Halloween, I thought I’d share a story with you. This is a true story, and even though I can’t remember how young I was, the incident is still as clear as a bell in my mind.
For years, my family has ventured to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on or around the anniversary of the battle. At first it was as the usual tourists. We went to see museums, did tours, and saw the sights, gradually building an interest in the history of the place that led to a long-lived hobby of living history and eventually historical reenacting.
Before we got into all that though, as I mentioned, we would tour the battlefield on a constant basis. We did the guided tour, the audio tour, the bus tour….you name it, we did it.
One of our favorite spots to visit was “The Angle” – the place on the field where the frontal assault known as Pickett’s Charge was ultimately defeated on the afternoon of July 3rd, 1863.
Our tours and explorations were always cut short after nightfall, since the park closed at dusk. There were always places where people were out ghost hunting or something like that. At this time in our family history, none of that particularly interested us very much. Well, one summer night we were passing through the area of The Angle, and decided to stop for a little bit. I don’t remember what time it was, only that it was getting dark, quick. We sat around the stone wall near the copse of trees which was the focal point of the attack. After the sun went down, we started to walk back to the car which was parked back behind us on the road. On the way, we decided to stop at the monument that commemorated the spot where Brigadier General Lewis Armistead was mortally wounded.
As we walked nearer to it, we suddenly became aware of three men in confederate uniforms hovering over the stone in the dim light. We were almost on top of them by the time we realized they were there. They were all dressed in complete uniforms including their rifles, which at the time was illegal on the park grounds. We thought it was weird that they’d be so bold as to carry their weapons around with them.
One of them was sobbing uncontrollably, his head bowed over the stone. The second man stood near his distraught friend with an arm on his shoulders as if trying to comfort him. The third man was running his fingers over the lettering on the stone and reading it out loud in a very slow and broken manner.
“Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead, C.S.A. fell here, July 3, 1863.”
The reader stopped at the end of the inscription, then added “He was our brigade commander. We came from all the way down there, (Indicating Seminary Ridge, the starting point of the attack) up to here, then all the way back again.”
My father, always the people person, said something at this point, but was completely ignored by the three men. Instead, they all gathered themselves and began to walk away. Not back towards the road where cars were parked, but back out into the darkness, towards Seminary Ridge…which was almost a mile away. As they walked, I can distinctly remember hearing the clatter of accouterments that accompany reenactors. Tin cups clattering against metal canteens, the creak of leather belts and straps, all of it. As the men left visible sight in the darkness, the sounds vanished all at once. As if someone had turned off a soundtrack with the single push of a button.
At the time, nothing really registered with us, but after we left and started to think about it, the question became “What the hell did we just see?” So many things didn’t add up. Why was the one man so distraught? Why did these guys have weapons on them? Why was the reader commenting in the first person? Where the hell did they GO?
As strange an incident as it was, part of me always dismissed it as just an odd run in with some hardcore reenactors.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Several years later, we were milling about some of the shops on the main commercial street of the town. My parents were in one of the shops, while I wandered into another right next door. As I went in and browsed, I heard a couple of people talking to the clerk, telling him a story about the time they ran into three spooky characters at the Lewis Armistead monument on the angle. Like some sort of adolescent lunatic, I interrupted their conversation. “Excuse me, what did you just say? Hang on a second!” I rushed out of the store and found my father, and hauled him almost bodily into the shop I’d been in. To our astonishment, the couple’s story matched ours.