The Civil War was a mess — anyone would agree with that. But history likes to simplify things, so many of us have the idea that it was more straightforward than it probably was.
Naturally, the weirdness can’t stay hidden forever. These 10 strange tales show the weirder side of the Civil War. Some of these mysteries continue to baffle us today.
1. Stonewall Jackson’s death
Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was killed one night by friendly fire, but over the years, legends of murder and conspiracy have evolved. Astronomers have another theory, though. They say that on the night of his death, the moon would have been very dim, so when exhausted, scared soldiers saw a large and mysterious shadow approaching, they instinctively started shooting.
2. General Grant’s manipulated photo
Tweaking celebrity photos to make them better than they actually are is apparently nothing new. This majestic-looking photo of Grant addressing his troops at City Point is actually completely fake. Grant’s head was spliced onto the body (and horse) of Major General Alexander McCook, and then that combination was spliced onto a scene that depicts some captured Confederate soldiers.
3. Unidentified soldiers — and a little girl
To this day, many soldiers have yet to be identified, and their nameless faces exist only in old photographs. And it’s not just soldiers. One story tells of Private Thomas W. Timberlake, who found a photo of a small girl lying between two dead soldiers, one Union, and one Confederate. He had no way of knowing who the photo belonged to, or even if it belonged to either of them. To this day, her identity is unknown.
4. The mystery itch
As if war wasn’t hellish enough, there was another scourge that plagued the soldiers: a skin rash that made the skin swell and blister. No one knew what it was until 2006. As it turns out, it was epidemic scabies, caused by the terrible hygienic conditions of the barracks.
5. Fort Monroe
Because of its thick walls and moat, Fort Monroe was one of the only Southern forts that was not captured. It’s said to be haunted by just about everyone, including Abraham Lincoln, Varina Davis (wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis), Ulysses S. Grant, and Edgar Allan Poe. There’s also a mysterious “Light Lady” who drifts about the grounds. Ghost sightings have even been reported by upstanding members of the military. Today, you can take a ghost tour of the fort.
6. The lost Confederate gold
Right after the war, the U.S. was desperate for money to rebuild its cities, so the government went after the Confederate treasury. Oddly enough, nothing was found. To this day, no one knows what happened to all of the gold. Some say it was split up and buried on various plantations. Others say it was stolen by a group of deserters, and one legend even has it buried in a cemetery under the tombstone of a fake general.
7. USS Keystone State
This sturdy ship disappeared at the height of the war, but was nowhere near the battle. It was in the Great Lakes, presumably transporting iron and passengers, and was uninvolved with the war. In 2013, it was found at the bottom of Lake Huron, seemingly done in by a nasty storm. But why would it be out in such a storm? It’s possible that it used the storm as cover while transporting weapons to Wisconsin for militia training.
8. Glowing soldiers
Medical technology was basically nonexistent on the battlefields, so injured soldiers would sometimes lie out for days with open wounds. At night, they noticed something really weird — their wounds were glowing. Doctors noticed that the glowing wounds were healing faster and better than the ones without the glow. It wasn’t until 2001 that it was discovered (by high school students, no less) that it was likely bioluminescent bacteria Panellus stipticus, which is helpful in fighting off infections. The hypothermic soldiers’ low body temperatures allowed it to live.
9. Kolb’s Farm
The Battle of Kolb’s Farm was little more than a skirmish, but it was enough to leave the area haunted. Residents of a particular house noted the apparition of a man in Civil War-era clothing, cold spots, and unseen hands tugging at their hair. Weirdest of all (but kind of cute) is that the current residents, who reported the activity, learned to coexist with their ghost in a friendly manner.
10. The secret Confederate flying machine
Hitherto unknown inventor (and dentist by day) Finley Hunt supposedly created a steam-powered flying machine, and was all ready to give the plans to the Confederate Army. Unfortunately, Hunt’s engineering skills were lacking, and the machines were never built. It’s possible, though, that some kind of prototype was built and got airborne for a while, as reports of UFOs in the area cropped up at about the same time.
So there you have it. There are probably hundreds more mysteries from this bloody, messy war that we don’t even know about yet. And when they’re unearthed, we’ll be all over them!