With Memorial Day/Decoration Day coming up, I wanted to find a story of a phantom soldier or ghosts on the battlefield. Yet tragically more common are accounts like the following, of a soldier’s ghostly return home.
[The lead up to this story tells of various spirit communications]:
Extraordinary communications, but prove that they are true, is the attitude of the sceptic. Extraordinary, yes, as we of this world view things, but prove that they are not true, is the position taken by the Spiritualist.
The sceptic, however, is no more able to disprove them than he is able to prove that Mrs. H—– did not see the spirit of her son upon four different occasions at her home in Lancashire. On a Wednesday evening the mother was sitting alone at tea when she heard the door open and saw her boy enter and lean against the wall just inside. With an exclamation of delight at his return, she got up to greet him, when to her surprise he went out again and shut the door. Thinking that he had gone to buy cigarettes, she hurried out to two shops nearby and made inquiries. No one had seen her son. She decided that he had met friends and would return later, so she left the door open all evening and sat up till eleven o’clock waiting for him.
The next afternoon while sewing she happened to lift her eyes and there sitting on a stool was her son. She approached to kiss him, but again he disappeared without a word.
Friday evening, after having tea, she was standing, tea-pot in hand, when again she saw him appear at the door.
“My boy,” she cried, “don’t leave your mother this time! Come in and sit down and have a cup of tea.”
‘‘I can’t, mother,” came the reply, “I ’m done. I want to go to bed.”
Then she noticed for the first time that there was blood on his breast. “Go up to your room, and I will come and wash you and bring you a cup of tea.”
She heard him go up. Within a few minutes she followed and found him standing by the bedside. Suddenly he fell on the bed. He rolled over on his back, and the mother saw the bed covered with blood. With an exclamation of dismay she caught up the sponge and turned again to the bed. No one was there, and the bed was spotless and undisturbed.
For the first time she realized that it was not the actual physical presence of her son that had been before her. The next day, Saturday, the son appeared for the fourth time, telling her not to fret, for everything was all right with him.
The next morning when the postman came to the door she said, “You have brought me bad news.” A letter he gave her contained the news of her son’s death at the front. He had been killed on the previous Wednesday, the day on which he had first appeared before his mother.
What can the sceptic say that will make this woman believe she did not see her son? Psychical Phenomena and the War, Hereford Carrington, 1918
The Great War unleashed a flood of such visions, many of them nearly identical in their details, although the bloody bed is quite an unusual feature. I have spent many years concentrating primarily on 19th and early 20th century forteana, so I can’t vouch for statistics on World War II crisis apparitions, but it seemed to me that the Civil War produced fewer stories of this nature than the First World War. Given the burgeoning popularity of Spiritualism, this seems implausible; there ought to have been more of the dead returning to break the news about their deaths in battle. Here is one of the few Civil War examples I found, although it is reported long after the fact:
Numerous Incidents Furnished By the Civil War
WELL AUTHENTICATED CASES
Washington, March 12. “I have had some personal experience with telepathy,” says Dr. S.C. Miller, of this city. “My father was governor of Minnesota, my brother Wesley was a lieutenant in the army of the Potomac, and I was a soldier in the army of the frontier. In July, 1863, my mother was at the old home in Harrisburg, Pa., and at exactly 15 minutes of six o’clock on the evening of July 2 she said: ‘Wesley is shot.’ Fifteen minutes later, exactly at six o’clock, she said: ‘Wesley is dead.’ She afterwards explained that at a quarter of six o’clock she heard him say as though standing close behind her: ‘Oh, my mother.’ On the following morning a telegram was received announcing the fact that my brother had been killed at the battle of Gettysburg on the preceding evening. Of course mother knew that a great battle was going on because the guns could be heard very distinctly in Harrisburg, but she had no means of knowing that her son was actually engaged in the battle, or was where his life was in danger. She simply received the impression that he was shot, and then 15 minutes later that he was dead. Two days afterwards my uncle went to Gettysburg and found the body of my brother and had it removed to Harrisburg, where the remains were interred. Repository [Canton, OH] 13 March 1898: p. 13
I found a few similar stories from the Civil War, but nothing like the quantity generated by the Great War, that war to end all wars. Perhaps I am not looking in the right places. Or do all wars create equal opportunities for the delivery of that telepathic telegram beginning “Deeply regret inform you…”?
Thoughts or stats to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.