Chickamauga, River of Death

Written by Kelly Wilson

The War between the States was a time of death, heartbreak and suffering the likes of which people today can hardly imagine. Battles were fought and lives were lived in such harsh conditions that only those that serve in our military can begin to understand what it must have been like; the Chickamauga Battlefield is one such place.

The battlefield is located just South of Chattanooga Tennessee, not far from Lookout Mountain, in the Northwest corner of Georgia. Chickamauga is a Cherokee word that means “River of Death”.  The Natives felt this place was cursed and they avoided it if at all possible. Those that were brave (or foolish) enough to camp there often became sick or worse.

The battle that was fought there between the North and South took place on September 19th and 20th 1863 and although the battle carried the 2nd highest body count of the war (2nd only to Gettysburg) the Confederates eventually claimed victory. These two days in September saw the deaths of over 34,000 soldiers from both Blue and Grey, not all died from the fighting though. There were those who died from sickness as well.

This area was also used as an encampment for soldiers during the Spanish-American War of 1898. During this time 70,000 soldiers made their home away from home here and in short order many of them became sick. The men contracted Typhoid  Fever and there are even reports of some getting malaria. Naturally a good many men died from these illnesses. The officers had the water in the nearby river tested and all types of tests were done to discover the source of the problem but, time and time again, the river came up clean.

The official reports state that it was due to unsanitary food carts and from some of the men who had returned from battles away from Chickamauga, The local legends and Native warnings were never taken seriously. It’s said that, at Chickamauga, more men have died from sickness than from war. Regardless of how they died this area is scattered with unmarked graves, some of which hold more than one body.

There is no doubt that such a place as this would have its fair share of paranormal happenings and odd occurrences, and it doesn’t disappoint. There are many unexplainable things that have been associated with the Battlefield, some even before war came to Georgia. As was mentioned the Native Cherokee avoided this place and feared it was cursed but in addition to that they also had legends of a Sasquatch type creature that roamed around this area. Some people believe this is the beginning of the legend of “Old Green Eyes”.

“Old Green Eyes” became a popular tale just after the end of the battles fought at Chickamauga in Sept. 1863. It became well known when two women were out walking and searching for their fallen family and loves on the battlefield. They reported that they came up on a creature standing in the field among the bodies. They described it as being vaguely humanoid but much taller than an average man, it was bi-pedal and covered to the waist by light colored hair. It had fangs and a protruding jaw but it’s most striking feature were its eyes that glowed a greenish color. It’s said to have been seen many times through the years and some people believe it can change it’s forms but the glowing eyes always remains a constant feature.

Another ghostly tale is that of the “Lady in White”. She is said to be a sad woman that wears a white wedding gown while she searches for her fiance, she’s supposedly always looking down. There are reports of people hearing all types of unexplained sounds: there may be sounds of battle, sounds of human footsteps, sounds of horses hooves and even the sound of music as the camp bands play the sounds of victory over the Northern troops. The sounds of Fife and Drum bands may be heard but no-one has ever been able to locate the origin of it. It just surrounds you as you search. One of the most frightening sightings is of a horseman that comes out of no-where to, seemingly, ride you down but at the last moment the horse misses you. If that is not terrifying enough this horseman is said to be headless.

In 2002 a family driving through the battlefield had an encounter they wouldn’t soon forget. As the car made it’s way down the road the driver suddenly stopped and everyone in the car witnessed a column of grey uniformed soldiers cross in front of them. They reported that the soldiers looked ragged and exhausted and, although they could see them plainly, the soldiers were fairly transparent as they could make out the landscape directly behind the figures. Once the soldiers crossed the road they faded from sight and eventually the family continued on their way.

While this experience would challenge a person’s beliefs there is also a report of a group of Civil War re-enactors who finished setting up their camp one evening and decided to walk a short distance to visit with another group of “soldiers”. They greeted each other and sat and talked for a while around the campfire until the visiting group decided to head back to their camp for the night. The next morning the men decided to go back and visit with the others again but they only found undisturbed ground and no sign of a campfires or anything else that would suggest someone had been there the night before. A line of men crossing in front of your car would be something but it would only pale in comparison to realizing that you had been sitting and visiting with a ghostly camp.

One of the most prominent monuments is an 85 foot tall tower called Wilder Tower. It was not around at the time of the war. Construction began in 1903, it was erected by veterans at the spot where the Confederates broke the Union line and forced them into retreat. There have always been claims of odd noises surrounding the tower but one night something much more than noises happened.

In 1970 a Park Ranger named Charlie Fisher was sent to the tower to respond to an accident. What he found was a 24 year old man laying on the concrete base badly injured. It seems the man and his friends were drinking and he decided to break into the tower, The tower is locked and secured at night because of the risk of danger and injury while it’s dark but this man found a way to scale up the side to a gun slot window that was about 14 feet off the ground. Once inside he went up to the observation deck at the top and yelled down to his friends and celebrated his successful break-in. He then went back inside and those outside waited thinking that he would exit the same way he entered but suddenly they heard a blood curdling scream from inside the tower.

They watched helplessly as their friend jumped from a window that was 25 feet above the ground without stopping or showing any concern for his safety. He landed on the concrete base and although he survived the fall he was now paralyzed from the neck down. The friends that were with him never saw what scared him to the point of risking his life to escape from it and he was never able to speak of it.

I have been to the Chickamauga Battlefield several times and with the exception of the first visit I haven’t experienced anything I couldn’t explain. The first time I visited was with a woman I was dating at the time, I remember that we both felt that we were being watched and that who or whatever it was was standing behind a very large tree at the edge of the field about 75 yards away. I also remember “hearing” the sounds of battle in my head and at the time I thought that it was just my imagination. I tried many times back then to re-create the intensity of it in my mind but was never able too.

I have a great deal of respect when I go to a graveyard and when the graveyard is also a battlefield it’s a good idea to make sure to show respect. The people who lived and died under such gruesome conditions deserve it and, I believe, when they feel that someone is being blatantly disrespectful they will show their disapproval in ways you may not like (perhaps like whatever the man in the tower saw).

R.I.P. Soldiers, one and all.


Photos are not mine, credits are unknown


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