The Battle at Midnight

(From Haunted Houses of Harpers Ferry, by Stephen D. Brown)

"What in heaven's name is that?" gasped the sleepless man on the observatory at the top of South Mountain House. Alone at the late hour, none of the other guests staying for the evening were awake to answer his self-directed question.

He stood for several moments, looking toward the east. In the field below thin wisps of smoke curled through the limbs of several trees, very near the barn that he had toured that day with the other guests. Fearing fire, the man went downstairs to wake a gentleman he had met only that day, but with whom he seemed to share common interests.

They hurriedly climbed to the observatory together. In the bright moonlight the smoke was clearly visible, and both remarked that they smelled the strong odor of sulfur. The wisps of smoke were rising at a more rapid rate near the trees, and strangely, several other clouds of gray smoke seemed to be rising in the open field. They decided to wake Henry, the servant, at once.

Henry didn't have to be wakened. Sitting in his room in a chair propped precariously on the wall, he was just finishing a bottle of whiskey when the two entered. Embarrassed at having been discovered imbibing, he sat upright and tried to put the bottle on the floor out of sight, but the bottle toppled over, spilling the small remainder of liquid on the floor.

"Henry, come at once! There seems to be a fire near the barn! Do you think we should call the others?" asked one of the gentlemen.

Henry rose, trying to collect himself. He would surely find himself in trouble if the household were awakened.

"No," he said, taking a deep breath. "I shall investigate."

The two men looked at one another questioningly, then handed Henry a torch. They walked down the hallway to the porch door, where Henry asked again where the fire was supposed to be.

"We think it is near the barn. Shall we come with you?" suggested the man. Henry shook his head and started down the path, while the disturbed men went to wait on the veranda.

Twenty minutes later Henry returned. He said he had gone beyond the barn, which he had examined, and proceeded as far as the gardener's house - and all was still and safe. Then he shuffled off to bed, mumbling that he had been bothered for "nothing at all."

Surprised and more puzzled than ever, the two watchers returned to the observatory.

The moon was brighter than usual, and the atmosphere seemed charged. Looking down at the fields that once had been the stage for one of the most bloody and hard-fought battles of the Civil War, the two witnessed a scene never to be forgotten.

The circlets of smoke took on a vaporous glamour, but yet defined as if opaque. Moments later they formed an image so disconcerting to the educated gentlemen they stood trembling in the midnight air.

The sharp smell of sulfur permeated the air. Shrouded wraiths formed above the ground and moved across the moonlit sky. Marshalling into approaching columns, phantomlike soldiers began converging as if ready to battle. At the moment of collision there was a shattering clash of sabers and an explosion so loud as to shake the house.

Lamps were lighted and people stirred. What had caused the terrible commotion? The ensuing investigation revealed nothing but the two guests still on the observatory, speechless and trembling, feebly pointing toward an empty field.

Fifty years later the warring phantoms were again seen in the field below South Mountain House. Two hikers of the Appalachian Trail had stopped for the evening, and after setting up camp, quickly fell asleep. About 11:00 they bolted upright, shedding their sleeping bags. The sound of clashing metal had startled them awake. Particularly alarming was the proximity of the sound, originating perhaps a hundred yards from where they were camped.

They were noting the curious odor in the air when the scene was unveiled before their unsuspecting eyes.

Across the field luminescent spirits danced above the ground, clad in the garb of soldiers. A chilly wind blew in the faces of the hikers as the phantom soldiers silently moved into position. There was another sound of clashing sabers and a dull explosion, and the specters started across the horizon.

Minutes later the phantoms vanished as suddenly as they had appeared, leaving the frightened adventurers with recurring nightmares of the ghost-ridden field on South Mountain.

From Harpers Ferry, take Route 340 toward Frederick. At the second exit over the Maryland bridge, take a right and head toward Boonsboro, Maryland (signs are clear). When the road ends, at Alt. U.S. 40, turn right and start climbing the mountain. At the top of the mountain you'll see a restaurant called "South Mountain Inn". This is exactly where it all happened. [This is in the same area, "Turner's Gap," where the Snarly Yow is said to make his rounds. - Jonah]