The Ghosts Of Wilson's Creek

By , Columnist

The American Civil War is returning to Missouri.

Over the weekend of 12-14 August, the Wilson’s Creek Foundation will mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek with a major re-enactment of the engagement, and once again the ground and trees will shake to the roar of cannon and the clatter of muskets. If some of the stories told about the site are to be believed, however, the fighting never fully went away.

Also known as the Battle of Oak Hills, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was the war’s first major clash west of the Mississippi River. It was fought on 10 August 1861, around 10 miles southwest of Springfield, Missouri, on a site now protected as Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. Both sides suffered heavy losses, with over 1,300 casualties among Union forces and over 1,200 casualties among a coalition of Confederate troops and state militias.

The worst of the fighting was at a ridge which would become known as “Bloody Hill”, where combat raged for over 5 hours, often at close quarters, with the tide of battle turning first one way and then the other.

Since the battle, people have reported apparitions of soldiers on Bloody Hill, and hearing the sound of guns and cannon. The Legends of America website states that reports of apparitions describe Confederate soldiers more frequently than Union soldiers. Perhaps this is because the local Missouri State Guard fought on the Confederate side. The site also says that visitors to the battlefield have experienced areas of abnormal cold, and hearing what could be people moving and talking in the nearby woods at night.

Another part of the battlefield that may be haunted is the Ray House, which was home to John Ray and his family. The Rays took shelter when they found themselves caught within the fighting and were fortunate to survive unharmed. As the fighting moved on, their home became a field hospital for the wounded and dying left behind.  

According to the Haunted America Tours website, recordings made at the Ray House sometimes pick up the eerie sounds of groaning and moaning. The website displays two photographs taken at the battlefield that show what some believe to be evidence for paranormal activity here.

Reports like these have attracted paranormal researchers to the site and a short video of a recent visit by Lunitech Paranormal can be viewed on YouTube:

Tales of apparitions and supernatural echoes of the past are often attached to battlefields. Why should this be?

One theory has it that the spirits of those killed have become trapped here, unable to move on because of the shock of their sudden deaths. Another holds that the violent emotions of what took place left an emotional imprint on the landscape, and that some people are able to sense this. A third idea considers such stories to be a form of folk memory recording significant events. Perhaps there is also a human need to imbue sites like this with a sense of the sacred, seeking to give some sort of meaning to the loss of life.

Such points of view need not be mutually exclusive.

However you prefer to interpret it, the Wilson’s Creek battlefield is undoubtedly a haunted site.

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James Clark is a freelance writer based in deepest, darkest south London, UK. His latest book, "Haunted Lambeth", exploring ghosts and legends from the London Borough of Lambeth, is due out in February 2013.

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