Wherever there has been great suffering, people are always seeing strange things."
These are the words of Edward Tinney, former historian and chief ranger at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park. Tinney, who worked at the park from 1969 to 1986 and also spent time working at the battlegrounds at Shiloh, Tenn., said ghostly sightings at the Chickamauga Battlefield or any Civil War site are not uncommon.
Tinney said the legend of Old Green Eyes, the ghost who is said to haunt the battlefield in various forms ranging from a Confederate soldier to a green-eyed panther, has been a part of Chickamauga Battlefield lore since the last shot was fired at the bloody battle that claimed 34,000 casualties Sept. 19-20, 1863. The tales of Green Eyes and other phantom sightings stem from the soldiers, who lived through the War Between the States, Tinney said.
"Green Eyes is rumored to be a man who lost his head to a cannonball, frantically searching the battlefield at night for his dislocated body," Tinney said. "History says ghosts in the battlefield such as the Green Eyes tale began happening soon after the war in 1863.
"Those who lived after the war are the ones who started the stories," he said. "The more you get removed from the war or any kind of pain, the more glamorous it gets."
Tinney said wherever he has been — whether it is on a Civil War battlefield or in Europe where he fought in World War II — there are incidents and sightings that cannot be explained by human logic.
One of the earliest ghost sightings shortly after the Civil War ended is documented in Susie Blaylock McDaniel's book "The Official History of Catoosa County."
Jim Carlock, an early resident of the Post Oak Community, writes in McDaniel's book about returning home from a centennial celebration on Market Street in Chattanooga in 1876, a mere 13 years after the bloody battle. Carlock writes: "Did you ever see a ghost? They used to see them on the Chickamauga Battlefields just after the war."
Carlock goes on to write that, while passing through the battlefield (or near it, the exact location is unclear), it was dark and there were no houses nearby when he and his friends spotted something 10 feet high with a "big white head." He said he and his companions were in a wagon and a Mr. Shields was riding horseback. Carlock said Shields road up and hit the ghost and a baby cried out and the ghost said, "Let me alone." He said the entity appeared to be a ghostly apparition of a Negro woman with a bundle of clothes on her head.
Contact with the other side
Tinney said that out of the 34,000 casualties (killed or wounded) at Chickamauga, only 4,000 are believed to have perished during the battle, but the historian estimates close to 70 percent, or 23,800 soldiers perished from their wounds when the fighting ended. Out of the thousands who passed on, many may still be buried on the battlegrounds but the exact number is unclear, he said.
But the Civil War is not the only source of death that may have imprisoned lost spirits at the battlefield. The hill behind Wilder Tower saw the deaths of many soldiers, mainly from typhoid fever, during their training and encampment on the battlefield in preparation for the Spanish-American War, he said.
According to various sources, other tales claim Green Eyes existed before the Civil War and circulated among the soldiers during the fighting, or that the spirit existed as early as the Native American occupation of the land where the battlefield is now located.
Tinney said that during his tenure at the park, he saw something one night that he could not explain, and believes he came face-to-face with the undead inside the battlefield.
The historian said that one day in 1976, about 4 a.m., he went to check on some battle re-enactors who were camping out in the park. He said that while walking near Glen Kelly Road, he encountered a man over 6 feet tall, wearing a long black duster, with shaggy, stringy, black, waist-length hair, walking toward him. From the man's body language, Tinney feared he was about to be attacked, so he crossed to the other side of the road, he said. When the man became parallel with Tinney he turned and smiled a devilish grin, and his dark eyes glistened. Tinney said he turned to face the man and began to back-pedal, as his companion did as well. At that moment, a car came down a straightaway in the road, and when its headlights hit the apparition it vanished, he said.
Since Tinney's sighting 27 years ago, several residents have experienced unusual activity in the park they cannot easily explain.
Fort Oglethorpe resident Denise Smith said she encountered a ghostly being with green eyes on a cold foggy night in the park in 1980. Smith said she had just gotten off work at the Krystal Restaurant in Fort Oglethorpe and was taking a shortcut through the park on her way to her home on Cleo Drive. She crept her '71 Roadrunner slowly through the fog-enshrouded park about a half-mile from Wilder Tower.
"It was raining and foggy, so I was going real slow," she said. "I was going through the S-curve past Wilder Tower, when I saw something big in the road about eye level, and all I could see were these big green eyes. It was so foggy I couldn't see a body. I got closer and it just disappeared."
Smith said she always thought the tale of the ghostly green-eyed beast was a myth and never would have "believed it in a million years," but now she says she won't step foot in the park after nightfall.
A multitude of haunts?
Green Eyes, in its various forms, is not the only phantom people claim to see in the park. Tinney said there is also a ghost believed to haunt Snodgrass Hill, which saw some of the fiercest fighting and is home to the Snodgrass family cabin, which served as a field hospital to both Union and Confederate soldiers during the battle.
The specter, in the form of a lady in a white wedding dress, known as the "Lady in White," is searching for her lover, Tinney said.
Other stories of hauntings on the battlefield include visitors' accounts of hearing gunshots, hoof beats, or smelling the strong scent of alcohol.
Sam Weddle, chief ranger at the park for 11 years, said the National Park Service has no official opinion about the legend of Green Eyes or any of the other ghostly tales that float from the confines of the park.
"There are apparently a lot of local stories circulating that we don't have any official knowledge of," he said. "We don't say 'yes' or 'no,' we just say we haven't seen anything yet. We don't deal with ghosts. We don't have folders and files on ghosts or Green Eyes."
Laura Gilstrap, a lifelong Fort Oglethorpe resident, said that when she was 16 years old in 1990, she and about 10 of her friends were enjoying a hayride inside the battlefield when the unexpected happened.
She said around dusk, the group decided to take a break around Wilder Tower. Off in the field near the tower they spied a flaming torch that would disappear then mysteriously reappear again. Suddenly, the kids heard a horse's hoof beats, and a skeleton in a Confederate soldier's uniform appeared to dismount from a ghostly horse with green eyes, Gilstrap said. She said the skeleton constantly repeated the name "Amy" before disappearing for good.
David Lester, Civil War enthusiast and re-enactor, said about five years ago, he and some of his fellow re-enactors were camping out at the battlefield as part of "Living History Days," an event that gives park visitors a first-hand look at how soldiers lived during the war.
Lester said several of his comrades wandered to a neighboring camp to say hello to their fellow soldiers. The men talked with the neighboring campers for several hours before returning to their own camp to sleep for the night.
When day broke, the men went back to the camp to wish them a good morning and see how they were getting along, but they were gone, Lester said. There was no sign of their campfire from the night before, not one trace of any human occupation at the site — only undisturbed land.
On Oct. 20, 2001, three women decided to delve into the ghostly realm of Old Green Eyes and communicate with the phantom first-hand.
Olivia Newton, Terry Kimbrell and Jennifer McElhannon — all members of the Foundation for Paranormal Research, a self-proclaimed non-religious, non-scientifically-oriented investigative group specializing in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena — spent the night near Snodgrass Hill, where most of the Green Eyes sightings are believed to originate. McElhannon reported that she and her partners felt "surrounded" and melancholy throughout their camping excursion that night. The trio reported taking pictures of ghostly mists and colored orbs emanating from monuments in the park.
Reporter's note: Whether soldiers or their loved ones' souls occasionally return to the once bloodstained soil of the Chickamauga Battlefield is yet to be proven to me or anyone else, except those who claim to have encountered that green-eyed spirit or one of his creepy comrades, but the legend and stories live on, providing echoes of two days of hell on earth in 1863