Tale of Rich Mountain ghosts recalls early Civil War battle

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Tale of Rich Mountain ghosts recalls early Civil War battle
In one of the first engagements of the Civil War, the U.S. Army defeated Confederate troops defending a mountain pass.

RICH MOUNTAIN, W.Va. — Every summer, thousands of Civil War buffs travel to the summit of Rich Mountain near Beverly, West Virginia, in Randolph County, to explore the remains of the small Rich Mountain Battlefield.

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Here in a mountain pass on July 11, 1861, George B. McClellan secured his reputation as a winning general and was afterward appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac.

The battle was brief, lasting only two hours. On that morning, Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans of the U.S. Army, under McClellan's command, led 2,000 men through drenching rain to attack a log-and-dirt fort raised by rebels above the pass.

The Rich Mountain Battlefield guarded a pass on Rich Mountain.
The Rich Mountain Battlefield guarded a pass on Rich Mountain. (Map courtesy richmountain.org)

There, Confederate Lt. Col. John Pegram had set a force of 310 men with a single cannon, which held off the army into the evening. Badly outnumbered, however, the rebels retreated under the cover of darkness. (You can find out more about the battle here.)

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Rosencrans and the Union troops were led to the summit by a young man, 22-year-old David Hart, whose father owned the farm adjacent to the fort. This farm figures in a ghost story published in the Wheeling Register on February 15, 1885, by Lewis Kittle, who lived on the Indian Fork of Clover Run in Tucker County. Kittle told the following tale.


The Rich Mountain Ghost

In 1867, Kittle and his companions were mining coal near the Rich Mountain battleground. He and a cousin, Daniel Courtright, boarded in the house of a Mr. Hart, who lived adjacent to the battlefield and whose home had been used as a hospital when the conflict occurred. The first night they stayed in the room, they heard a strange, continuous noise, which they assumed was the wind, but a few days later, they were told it was a ghost.

Comrades-in-arms bury Indiana volunteers who fell in battle atop Rich Mountain
Comrades-in-arms bury Indiana volunteers who fell in battle atop Rich Mountain.

On a Saturday night sometime later, Kittle was sleeping alone in the room when he was awakened by a chill and saw a "clammy, cold light" outlining the objects in the room. He then saw eight shadowy figures clad in Confederate uniforms. Four of them went to the bed where he had been sleeping and removed the covers. They stepped over and raised an invisible object, which they laid carefully upon apparently nothing between the other four, who stood in a position that indicated they were pallbearers.

As they passed out of the door, Kittle saw they were carrying the body of a handsome young man. When they reached the hallway, a noise "resembling the knock of a crutch on a wooden floor" was heard, followed by a door closing.

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"The story goes on to say that Kittle collected the covers and returned to bed. On other occasions, when Courtright was present, the covers were removed from their bed several times in succession. They witnessed the same old clammy light, heard the weird echo, and saw the eight forms.

It began to happen nightly and "became so frequent that Kittle and Courtright finally got used to it. And when they first became aware of the cold light and the weird wind echo, they would wrap their blankets tightly around them and say, 'Here comes them rebels again.'


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