Moment in Oddity - Royston Cave
by: Bob Sherfield
Located some 40 miles north of London, in the small market town of Royston, a strange discovery was made by workmen in 1742. In August of that year, while digging a post hole for a market bench, the men hit a solid surface. Clearing the soil away, they discovered that the object that they had hit was a buried millstone. Needing to remove it in order to finish their work, they dug round it and pulled it up. What they found underneath surprised them, for instead of seeing bare soil, what presented itself was a large shaft, 2 feet across and with niches cut into the wall forming a type of ladder. A young boy was “volunteered” to make the initial descent and at the bottom of the shaft he found a cave, half filled with soil and rubbish. When cleared away, they found fragments of a drinking cup, some small unmarked pieces of brass and decayed bones with a skull. The cave they found was clearly man made, and bell shaped, roughly 25 feet tall and 17 feet wide. People have put forward the idea that it was modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The walls are covered in religious medieval carvings, including St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, St. Katherine, St. Lawrence and another which is either St. Michael or St. George. On another portion of the wall, is a large section representing Christ awaiting the resurrection, with Mary Magdalene sitting on the stone rolled away from the entrance. There is also a long row of figures that haven’t been identified, and below the image of St Katherine are male and female figures of Richard I (The Lion heart) and his Queen Berengaria. It has been suggested that these carvings are related to the Knights Templar, though the details on some of the figures, such as the presence of plate armour, place them as being made some 100 years after the disbanding of the order. Though perhaps a secret chamber is exactly what a heretical group in hiding would need! Other explanations are that Augustinian monks from the nearby priory used it as a store house to keep products cool and this could explain the religious carvings. One final explanation is that a “Pryson Howse”, mentioned in a sale record of 1540 may relate to the cave, indicating that it was used as an oubliette or a dungeon. What ever the origins of the cave may be, the fact that it was only one foot below the surface and had been hidden for centuries and has no record as to what it once was, certainly is odd.
This Day in History - Lewis and Clark Expedition Starts
by: April Rogers-Krick
On this day, May 14, in 1804, the “Corps of Discovery,” also known as The Lewis and Clark expedition left St. Louis, Missouri to explore the undiscovered lands of the west. President Thomas Jefferson commissioned his private secretary, Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark, an army captain, to lead the expedition into what is now the U.S. Northwest. Approximately 45 men (although only 33 men would make the full journey) traveled up the Missouri River in a 55-foot keelboat and two smaller boats. A French-Canadian fur trader, named Toussaint Charbonneau (Sharbonno), accompanied by his young Native American wife Sacagawea, joined the expedition in November. The group wintered in present-day North Dakota before crossing into present-day Montana, where they first saw the Rocky Mountains. Sacagawea’s tribe, the Shoshone Indians, met them on the other side of the Continental Divide and sold them horses for their journey down through the Bitterroot Mountains. In canoes they passed through the dangerous rapids of the Clearwater and Snake rivers, soon reaching the calm of the Columbia River, which led them to the sea. They arrived at the Pacific Ocean on November 8, 1805. The Lewis and Clark expedition were the first European explorers to travel across the new land by an overland route from the east. Pausing for the winter, the explores began their long journey back to St. Louis. Almost two and half years later on September 23, 1806 the expedition returned. They brought back with them a wealth of information about the unexplored region, as well as valuable U.S. claims to the Oregon Territory.
Battle of Antietam (Suggested by listener Rebekah Johnson, Research Assistant Steven Pappas)
Dawn broke quietly on September 17, 1862 in Sharpsburg, Maryland. Joseph Chapline had come to this area in 1763 and established a settlement next to a great spring. He named it Sharps Burgh after Maryland Governor Horatio Sharpe. Settlers were English and German and the population soared. When George Washington became president, he looked at the area near Sharpsburg as a possible location for the new American capitol. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal came to town in the 1830s and industry grew as much needed job were brought to the region. It would be on that September morning in 1862, that the Civil War would bring together two armies of men, citizens of the same country, to battle on a day that would leave so much blood soaking into the ground that one would think the corn that would grow here again would bear red ears.
Major General George McClellan began leading his Union Army of the Potomac into the Sharpsburg area on September 15th and the build-up continued through the 16th. General Robert E. Lee had gathered his Confederate Army on the high ground west of Antietam Creek on September 15th. Lt. General James Longstreet was a successful Confederate general and Gen. Lee referred to him as his "Old War Horse." It would be Longstreet who would tell Gen. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg that his strategy was wrong, but he would go on to supervise the disasterous Pickett's Charge. He was at the Battle of Antietam and wrote on September 15th, "On the forenoon of the 15th, the blue uniforms of the Federals appeared among the trees that crowned the heights on the eastern bank of the Antietam. The number increased, and larger and larger grew the field of the blue until it seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see, and from the tops of the mountains down to the edges of the stream gathered the great army of McClellan." The Confederates were clearly outnumbered.
Rain fell on the night of the 16th, seemingly foreshadowing the devastating battle to come. Both sides gathered their troops and readied. Men slept with all their gear on, among the rows of corn in David Miller's fields. Pvt. Miles C. Huyette of Company B of the 125th Pennsylvania Infantry wrote, "We were massed `in column by company' in a cornfield; the night was close, air heavy...some rainfall...The air was perfumed with a mixture of crushed green corn stalks, ragweed, and clover. We made our beds between rows of corn and would not remove our accouterments." One can only imagine what the residents in the area were thinking on that evening knowing that the next day would bring much bloodshed to their community.
Close your eyes for a moment (if you're driving keep them open!) and let us set the scene for you of those first shots fired, according to the record of the 35th Massachusetts Volunteers: "Our first fire was rattling volley; then came the momentary interval occupied in loading. The rifles were, of course, muzzle loaders, with iron ramrods; the cartridges were new and the brown paper of the toughest description, so that strong fingers were required to tear out the conical ball and the little paper cap of gunpowder. Emptying these into the muzzle and ramming home and capping the piece took time---seemingly a long time in the hurry of action." Smell the gunpowder in the air. Hear the shots fired and the voices of men screaming. There are orders being shouted from all around and you are just trying to get your gun loaded again. Your fingers tremble, gunpowder spills down the leg of your pants and you see a cannonball hit the ground far too close to your position. Smoke is everywhere and as well as those screams, the screams of the dying. Before the day ends, thousands of those screams will have quieted forever.
Union Major General Joseph Hooker's forces began Gen. McClellan's plan of attack to go after the left flank of Lee's forces. Gen. Hooker had 8600 men under his command, which wasn't many more than the 7700 men belonging to General Stonewall Jackson, whom they were looking to attack on the left flank. When Hooker's men emerged from the woods, they were met by what Gen. Lee himself later referred to as "Artillery hell." As the majority of his men were entering the cornfield on the battle site, Hooker noticed the glint of Confederate bayonets in the field and immediately called back his infantry. He then unleashed his own barrage of artillery, and the field was said to have erupted into mass chaos. The air was covered by a thick layer of smoke and artillery fire, causing low visibility at points and lack of efficient hearing. Men were beating each other to death with the butts of their rifles and bayonets were slashing through the air all around the men. Officers were riding through the mess shouting orders to the men, all of which fell on deaf ears as they could not hear over the blasts and may have been more concerned with the fact that their rifles were overheating from constant fire.
Confederate Lt. Col Sandie Pendleton served under Stonewall Jackson and had served with distinction at the Battle of Bull Run and at Harper's Ferry. He would ultimately accompany General Jackson's body to Lexington for burial after the General was killed at the Battle of Chancellorsville. He wrote of his experience at Antietam, "Such a storm of balls I never conceived it possible for men to live through. Shot and shell shrieking and crashing, canister and bullets whistling and hissing most fiend-like through the air until you could almost see them. In that mile's ride I never expected to come back alive." General Jackson's group were fighting in the area near the Dunker Church. Pvt. J. D. Hicks of Company K of the 125th Pennsylvania Volunteers wrote, "Under the dark shade of a towering oak near the Dunker Church lay the lifeless form of a drummer boy, apparently not more than 17 years of age, flaxen hair and eyes of blue and form of delicate mould. As I approached him I stooped down and as I did so I perceived a bloody mark upon his forehead...It showed where the leaden messenger of death had produced the wound the caused his death. His lips were compressed, his eyes half open, a bright smile played upon his countenance. By his side lay his tenor drum, never to be tapped again."
In a scene fitting for a battle area outside a church, Army correspondent Charles Coffin wrote, "I recall a Union soldier lying near the Dunker Church with his face turned upward, and his pocket Bible open upon his breast. I lifted the volume and read the words: 'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.' Upon the fly-leaf were the words, 'We hope and pray that you may be permitted by kind Providence, after the war is over, to return." Dunker Church was built by Dunker farmers in 1852 on land donated by Samuel Mumma. The church would become a field hospital for the Confederate side. When the Confederates left, the Union used it as an embalming station. The church was heavily damaged, but after major repairs, it continued to serve the area as a place of worship.
After two hours of fighting, the Union had lost 2,500 men in the cornfield alone, and more would perish as the field remained a bloody stalemate. As Hooker's men pressed on to another area of the field of battle, a Confederate sharpshooter couldn't help but notice Gen. Hooker's conspicuous white horse and managed to fire a shot off that hit the general in the foot. He was removed from the field of battle and this was considered a huge loss to the Union forces. After four hours of fighting, it appeared that this battle would end in a stalemate with neither side accomplishing any kind of decisive victory. Army correspondent Charles Carleton Coffin wrote of the battle he was witnessing, "It was no longer alone the boom of the batteries, but a rattle of musketry--at first like pattering drops upon a roof; then a roll, crash, roar, and rush, like a mighty ocean billow upon the shore, chafing the pebbles, wave on wave, with deep and heavy explosions of the batteries, like the crashing of the thunderbolts."
In the center of the battlefield was the Sunken Road. It was a key defensive position and the Union forces led by General Sumner managed to pierce the Confederate forces under General Daniel H. Hill that were holding the road. Even though the Confederates were taking heavy loses, Col. John B Gordon of the 6th Alabama told Gen. Lee that, "The men are going to stay here, General, till the sun goes down or victory is won!" Gordon himself would be wounded six times. The final shot knocked him out causing him to fall to the ground with his face in his hat that was quickly filling with blood. If not for a hole in the hat, Col. Gordon would have drowned in his own blood. There were so many casualties on the Sunken Road that it has come to be known as Bloody Lane. On either side of the road were the farms of the Mumma, Roulette and Piper families. These would become field hospitals. The Union lost 3,000 men on Bloody Lane and the Confederates 2,600.
Snapshot of some devastating numbers:
- The 6th Georgia entered the cornfield with 250 men and left with 24. The rest of the Georgian troops lost 50% of their men and all of their field officers.
- The 1st Texas Infantry lost 82% of its men.
- There were 36 casualties a minute for 12 hours.
Even though there was no clear winner, the Battle of Antietam gave President Lincoln the leverage he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He had wanted to do it earlier, but he did not want it to appear to be a desperate measure. The Executive Order was given on January 1, 1863. The proclamation changed the legal status of enslaved people to free. This gave freedom to slaves in ten states. States not in rebellion were not included. This freed three million of the four million slaves in the country, but it did not outlaw slavery and did not give slaves citizenship. These would come later. It guaranteed that any slave that could make it to the North, would be free. There are some who wonder if President Lincoln had done this because he wanted to save the Union or because he sincerely wanted slaves to be free. President Lincoln had written to Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation:
"If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.... I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free."Some point to this as President Lincoln just caring about the Union. The truth was that the President was a brilliant strategist. He knew he needed to get the white supremacists in the North on his side and he believed cloaking the proclamation in a goal of saving the Union, would make it palatable to everyone in the North. The President clearly stood on the side of abolishing slavery as he had made it well known when he campaigned and throughout his presidency that he desired for all men to be free in America.
With all the pain and loss that took place on that day in 1862, it is no wonder that there are reports of strange occurrences around the battlefield. The notorious Cornfield itself was planted upon pure limestone and the bridge had limestone deposits all around it. The battle began with some of its first shots being fired from Dunker Church. Some of the most memorable photos from this battle, include the Dunker Church in the background. Many EVPs have been recorded at the church. There are multiple reports of a shadowy figure being seen in the left corner of the building. People have reported strange sights at Burnside's bridge, which was mentioned earlier, as well. This was a site of great loss in the battle and many soldiers were buried in large unmarked graves near the bridge. Visitors often report seeing blue lights dancing around the bridge and the sound of a military drum cadence. Disembodied shouts and screams break the silence.
The Sunken Road area of the battlefield, also known as Bloody Lane, is believed to be the most haunted location on the site. Bodies were stacked four and five feet deep when the fighting was done. People claim to hear gunfire and smell gunpowder when walking the road. There are no fires nearby or guns being fired, so there is no reason for these sensory experiences. One man reported a scene in which several men were running down the road toward him dressed in Confederate uniforms. He stood and watched the men, excited that he had stumbled across re-enactors on his visit. He was then shocked as a few yards in front of him, the men vanished. There was also a report of strange singing in the field surrounding the road. Some Baltimore schoolboys were walking the road one day, when they thought they heard a group singing Fa-la-la like in the Christmas carol "Deck the Halls." They saw nobody around and only later were told that this was the site of the death of an Irish brigade, the Fighting 69th of New York, who were known to sing a Gaelic battle song that went Faugh-a-Balaugh (Fah-ah-bah-lah), which means "Clear the way!" in Gaelic.
The Phillip Pry House overlooks the battlefield. General McClellan claimed the house for the Union and General Israel B. Richardson died inside the home. The Pry House caught fire mysteriously in 1976 and it was during the restoration that people started experiencing eerie things. A woman in old fashioned clothing was seen by several different people. One time she was seen by workers standing at an upstairs window in the room where the General died. The workers ran up to get her out of the house. Not only did they not find her upstairs, they realized that the floor had been ripped up, so there was nowhere for anyone to stand. It is believed that the woman is General Richardson's wife. She had stayed at the house and cared for him for the six months it took for him to die. Phantom footsteps are heard on the stairs as well.
St. Pauls Episcopal Church was used to treat the injured during the fight. People report lights moving about in the tower and in different areas of the church. Even more terrifying are the cries of pain, fear and death that many people claim to hear in the church or coming from the church, in the evening. There is just something terrifying about haunted churches! Another site used to help tend to the wounded was Grove Farm. The claim here is one we have heard before at other locations. It is that the floorboards have bloodstains on them that cannot be removed, EVEN WHEN THEY SANDED THE BOARDS DOWN. They have remained for 153 years.
Has the bloodiest day of battle in American history led to hauntings? Does the blood of the dead cry out from the land? Are soldiers continuing to knock about Dunker Church and the fields that were once a battleground? Is the Antietam Battlefield haunted? That is for you to decide!
An interesting article on geology and battles, specifically Antietam: http://www.historynet.com/theyre-called-killing-grounds-for-a-reason.htm
And the hauntings: http://www.prairieghosts.com/antietam.html