Spirits of the Siege: Ghosts haunting Vicksburg long after battle ends

Published 9:59 am Saturday, February 25, 2023

Footsteps tap the pavement behind you, keeping up with every step. From somewhere in the distance, stony eyes follow your every move.

In the darkness, on a lonely street, a hand reaches out for a touch and whispers in your ear as a chilly breeze rustles the leaves.

If you’ve ever experienced any of these sensations — and, if you live in Vicksburg long enough, odds are you have or will — congratulations. You’ve just added to the city’s long and colorful history of ghost stories.

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“Science will tell you it’s all hogwash. But when you get enough reputable people telling you their stories, there is something there,” said Morgan Gates, who operates a seasonal ghost tour business called Haunted Vicksburg.

Gates’ tours, which can be booked through HauntedVicksburg.com, take people around the city as he tells patrons about its supernatural side.

“I’m not a ghost hunter,” Gates says. “I collect stories.”

Some of Vicksburg’s ghost stories are well-known, oft-repeated tales centered around the Antebellum homes that have been turned into 21st-century bed and breakfasts. Those, though, only scratch the surface.

Over the course of two centuries Vicksburg has accumulated a number of spirits who creep through all of its corners and crevices. The city has seen its share of pain and suffering as a wild 19th-century river town that also endured war and disease, all feeding the flow of negative energy believed to make a place haunted.

“Most old towns do have something to it,” Gates said of the level of ghostly activity in Vicksburg. “When you think of haunted cities you think about Savannah or New Orleans, and Vicksburg is right there with them. We just have so much history that sometimes that door peels back and you see something.”

Vicksburg’s most famous bit of history, of course, involved plenty of death. The long campaign to capture the city during the Civil War, and the 47-day siege that finally did it in 1863, left many unsettled spirits in its wake.

Nearly 8,000 soldiers died or went missing during the long battle. Plenty, it seems, have hung around ever since. The Vicksburg National Military Park is notorious for sightings of ghostly soldiers and other strange phenomena.

Visitors have reported hearing loud footsteps behind them, like a group of people approaching, only to turn and see nothing. Roads supposedly glow at night, while granite and bronze statues cry blood for their fallen comrades.

Bess Averett, the executive director of the Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign, said local residents often told stories of things they’d witnessed in the VNMP in decades past when traveling through it at night was common. The Park is now closed to the public after dark.

“The Park’s Tour Road was part of Vicksburg, and you drove through it to get places,” Averett said. “Supposedly, if you pulled in front of the Pennsylvania Monument at night and your headlights hit the five faces they were crying tears of blood for their soldiers.”

Another story, Averett said, centers around the statue of Ulysses S. Grant and his horse near the Union general’s headquarters. At night, the statue is said to disappear as the general rides along the lines to check on his men.

“I have been in there at night and he’s there, so that’s not true,” Averett said with a laugh.
When Grant stands still — which is often, since he is a granite and bronze statue, after all — his eyes are said to follow the Park’s visitors everywhere they go.

Averett had plausible explanations for some of the stories. It’s believed that rust on the Pennsylvania monument causes the “bloody tears” people have witnessed. Grant’s gaze, she reasoned, probably comes from the way the statue was sculpted.

“It probably is the way he’s cast,” she said. “I know there are paintings that it looks like that no matter where you look, the eyes are following you. I’m sure there’s a way you can do that with sculpture and maybe that was implemented there.”

Other phenomena are not so easily explained.

“Graveyard road is the place where all those men died during the assault, and one night you could see the road glowing. Or you could see soldiers walking just ahead of you,” Gates said.

One story Gates likes to share is that of an Irish immigrant known only as “The Digger.”

The Digger was a miner who was passing through Vicksburg as the Union army closed in, and wound up trapped in the city. He found lucrative work digging caves for the city’s residents to live in, until one of them collapsed and killed several children.

Later in the siege, the Digger was pressed into service by the Confederate army to dig a countermine as Union forces tried to tunnel under and explode Rebel earthworks.

As he worked, the Digger heard Union miners working just on the other side of his own tunnel. He ordered his crew to stop working and ready their rifles as he punched a hole into the wall — only to reveal the ghastly faces of withered children and a lit fuse.

The mine exploded, killing the Digger and his crew. Occasionally, however, people report seeing lights appearing in holes in the ground around Vicksburg.

“Don’t be alarmed,” Gates said with a grin, “For it is just … the Digger.”

And don’t be alarmed, Gates added, if you see a lonely, tattered soldier in the woods. Or hear a voice that comes out of nowhere. Or even feel a touch on your back, like he once did while loading up some equipment one night. For they are just … the ghosts of Vicksburg.

“When I started doing this in 2010, it was bed and breakfasts and horrible history, things like that. Since then I’ve heard all kinds of stories. People want to tell you their stories,” Gates said. “You talk to people and everybody has their own ghost story.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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