Source: Sherman Publications

Letter to the Editor: A Gettysburg horse (or ghost) story

July 10, 2013

July 1 was the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg and in honor of that, I wanted to write about my experiences riding Eli on the battlefield in April 2002.

First, who is Eli?

He is my 21-year-old (equal to 63 years in human age) equine partner. He is an appaloosa gelding. His full name is Eli Whitney. I found him in Joppa, Alabama in March 2000. The local farmers were working their fields preparing to plant cotton and he’s named for Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin in 1790.

Eli and I were well bonded by the time we got to Pennsylvania in April 2002. The shying was pretty well gone and he was beginning to trust me more. A horse shying at things can be very dangerous to themselves, but more particularly to the rider. It can cause the rider to come off the horse. Thru my horse magazine I found a place to stable Eli and where I could camp. It’s located across from the south end of the battlefield, it’s known as Artillery Ridge Camp Grounds.

We arrived at Artillery Ridge late at night. The wind was blowing very hard. The next day was absolutely beautiful. I saddled up and we were off right after breakfast. I always feed Eli first; after all he’s doing all the work.

We crossed the road and were on the land where the great battles took place July 1-3, 1863. We traveled along a wooden trail checking out the monuments honoring the various regiments, along the way I would stop and chat with people. Everything was fine.

We came out of the wood where the statue of General Lee on his horse (Traveler) is located, which was donated by the state of Virginia. I rode around by the statue of the soldier holding a flag. There were several skirmishes to be sure. The area I was getting ready to cross was an open field. Some people have referred to it as a cow pasture and I would agree that’s what it looks like.

We were in the area of the famous Picket’s Charge. General Lee underestimated the strength of the union army. To say the very least it was a mistake, it has been called wholesale slaughter. In the three day battle an estimated 29,000 southern soldiers and 21,000 northern soldiers were killed. It is considered the worst battle of all time. What is not widely known is there was an estimated 50,000 horses killed. In ones of President Lincoln’s speeches he said, “Don’t send more men, send more horses.”

I was not aware of some of this information at the time I asked Eli to cross the battlefield. Eli didn’t want to go. I urged him on and he finally started to cross the battlefield. He acted like a horse that is afraid of something. He would turn his head back and forth, like a young inexperienced horse will do when going thru a forest when they’re afraid something may jump out from behind a tree. The old time horsemen call it huntin’ boogers. The only difference is it was all open land.

Oh! I forgot to mention that the stench was so bad that a town 20 miles east or down wind came and burned the carcass of the horses. Since horses live by their senses, was Eli seeing, sensing or smelling something I couldn’t see? I was not sensing anything. The hair on the back of my neck did not stand up, no strange sensations, but every once in awhile Eli would stop cold and not move and I would have to urge him on.

About halfway across the battlefield a paved road crosses east and west. Eli didn’t want to cross the road. Usually he doesn’t mind crossing roads, but not this day. After much urging he finally crossed the road , then we had to cross the other half of the field.

Finally, we got back to that same wooded trail that we started out on and he took off like the Devil himself was after him. I had a hard time controlling him. When we got back to Artillery Ridge Camp Ground he settled right down and was OK.

There are people in Gettysburg who claim they see ghosts mostly in the old houses that served as hospitals. In one of President Lincoln’s early speeches during the Civil War he said, “Thank God for Michigan.” Michigan was one if not the first state to send troops.

I’m absolutely astonished that 20 men from Oxford lost their lives in the Civil War. To have that many men from a sparsely-populated area like Oxford lose their lives, blows me away.

The 20 soldiers from the Oxford area lost during the Civil War is even more surprising when compared to World War I where four were lost, World War II where 17 were lost and Vietnam, in which three were lost.

The two phrases used on the plaque in the legion touched my heart, how about you? “They gave all their tomorrows for our today” and secondly, “Lest we forget these Oxford military personal- gave their country the supreme gift, that of their lives we that we might live in freedom.”

Randy Davisson