Strange screams coming from the woods late at night, dark figures and
headless phantoms lurking around an abandoned tunnel, mysterious ghost
campfires, marching dead Confederate ghost soldiers and smells of
rotted human flesh... these are all things one might expect to read about
in the pages of a Stephen King novel. According to some residents of Tunnel
Hill, Georgia, the same images also apply to their little town. Especially
when it comes to the long deserted train tunnel and the fields where some
of the bloodiest battles of American history were fought.
Ken Sumner of Woodstock, Georgia claims to have experienced numerous
ghosts in Tunnel Hill. Widely known in the area as a civil war
reenactor, Sumner became interested in the Western Atlantic Tunnel, more
referred to as the Tunnel Hill Tunnel, seven years ago.
Desolate and bordering on decay, the tunnel was in danger of destruction
and others set forth to save it. Rumors of ghostly presence in the
have circulated for years. It was during preservation efforts that
a bizarre occurrence first hand. While taking a group of people to see
Sumner was surprised to see a shape began to take form out of the fog.
"As we drew closer," Sumner said, "it became obvious that the shape was
distinct outline of a human male standing just inside the tunnel
Intrigued, the group began walking toward the shape, only to witness it
Because of the fighting that took place at and around the tunnel during
War, Sumner believes the presence witnessed by his group and himself
been the spirit of a long dead soldier.
Another possible explanation is given by 14-year-old Timmy Howe of
Howe, whose boy scout troop helps direct traffic at the Civil War
held near the tunnel, was told by a reenactor that a circus train passed
through the tunnel long ago.
As the story goes, one of the circus workers was riding on top of the
for some unknown reason. Another passenger attempted to alert the worker
the approaching tunnel but the warning went unheard under the noise of
moving train. At the last moment, the worker looked back at the tunnel
in time to glimpse his sealed fate.
According to the legend, he was decapitated.
"I believe the accident probably happened,"" says Howe. "I don't believe
ghosts and stuff, but I still wouldn't go through the tunnel by
According to an article that ran in the March 30, 1916 edition of "The
Dalton Citizen News," a showman employed by the Con T. Kennedy shows,
whose name was Walter Lewis, had fallen asleep on top of one of the show
wagons while passing through the tunnel en route to Rome, Georgia. The
article states that when the train entered the tunnel Lewis was suddenly
aroused and sat up, his head striking the top of the tunnel. He was
found in a semi-unconscious condition by a companion and was taken to a
nearby hospital. "His scalp was almost stripped from his head, and his
injuries were critical," according to the article. The newspaper did not
state whether or not Lewis lived or died.
The history of the tunnel, as well as its abandoned condition, promotes
an ambience of mystery and intrigue. But is it haunted? Those curious
won't have to wait long for a chance to check it out for themselves.
Reconstruction has already begun and plans for a historical park, which
will allow public access to the tunnel, are underway.
Not far from the tunnel lies property, owned by Kenneth Holcomb, on
which reenactment of Civil War battles periodically take place.
Civil War General Patrick Cleburne and his soldiers camped there from
1863 to 1864 during the coldest winter on record for the area.
Conditions were harsh. There were very few blankets and not much to eat.
Clad in ragged clothes, some of the soldiers didn't even have shoes left
on their feet. A lot of suffering took place there. In addition to the
winter cold and the lack of adequate supplies, there was always the
threat of Yankee invasion and possible death hanging over their heads.
Five to seven battles took place there, with 277 Yankee men killed in
one battle alone.
"There continues to be no truth to the rumors that this field is
haunted," Sumner, known as Captain of the 35th Tennessee Infantry
Regiment on the reenactment battlefield, used to tell newcomers to the
site. He doesn't say that anymore.
"The joke was on me because the field definitely is haunted," he now
claims. "Peculiar experiences began happening to me in 1993 and have
continued since that time with varying degrees of intensity."
Sumner and a group of fellow reenactors set out to clear an area for the
reenactment campsites. While walking through an extremely wooded area
Sumner was overwhelmed by a sickening odor.
"It's like a death stench, the smell of rotted human flesh. On the first
occasion I was affronted with it, only myself smelled it. None of the
other men did, even though they were only a few feet away from me,"
Sumner relates. "Since that time, many others have smelled it. Sometimes
as many as five or six at a time smell it," he said.
Strangely, each time the death smell presents itself, some people on
location can experience it while others cannot.
In the heat of the battles fought in Tunnel Hill, countless soldiers
were slaughtered. The smell that has come to be known as "the death
smell" is a constant reminder of the tragedies that took place.
Several reenactors have seen ghost campfires over the years. On one
occasion campfires appeared along the side of a hill. Sumner and another
man when to check it out.
"When we got about 75 feet away, we saw legs in gray uniform pants
behind the fire. A set of hands reached out to the warmth of the fire.
Then we saw another set of legs. As we approached the fire, the legs
disappeared without a trace. Then when we retreated to the top of the
hill, the fire reappeared," Sumner said.
That night the fire lasted two and a half hours, but the soldiers
materialized for only a few minutes.
"It was a cold December night. Most of the sightings I've experienced in
Tunnel Hill happen in the coldest part of winter," Sumner relates.
On that same night Sumner witnessed a Confederate solider walk the
length of the picket fence behind his tent.
"It was a particularly windy night. Every so often the wind would just
stop without warning. It would get dead still. That's when I heard the
footsteps. It got a little scary that night," he relates.
Sumner believes the ghost he heard and saw that night was that of a camp
guard, because it was performing the duties of a guard.
"I've seen solider ghosts walk around the perimeter of the camp in
spring, around a big fog that rises up that time of the year on the
battlefield. It's a circular type of fog that surrounds the camp. They
just walk around the edge of the fog like camp guards securing their
posts. I've also seen some of them trying to get in and that gets scary,
but they haven't ever really bothered us," Sumner says.
The ghosts have gotten so bad in one particular area that some of the
reenactors won't go back there. Some of the things the ghosts do to
scare their human visitors include banging pans together, banging logs
against trees and generally just walking around. Once a group of people
witnessed a ghost lantern floating across the field, and campers have
reported hearing strange screams coming from the woods at night.
The ghosts are most commonly described as dark figures in human form.
Their faces are hard to distinguish, according to Sumner.
The reenactors wear Confederate uniforms that look authentic. When they
camp out, it sometimes feels as if they have been transformed back in
time. It's not always easy to distinguish reality from supernatural.
For example, one night a Confederate soldier walked out of the fog
beside a reenactor sitting on a gun position. The reenactor thought it
was a buddy until the solider disappeared before his eyes.
On another occasion
a group saw a Yankee solider lying beside the road
at the campsite. He had his head lying on the pack and had apparently
fallen asleep. The group carefully passed him, in an effort not to wake
him, only to look back and see him gone.
"Last year at the 7th annual reenactment a Whitfield County historian
informed me that where I built the artillery fort is where the actual
fort was located during the war," Sumner says.
Sumner named the fort after a captain he admired, a man by the name of
Keys. It became "Key's Battery Fort."
Sumner could have been knocked over with a feather when he learned the
name of the fort had actually been "Key's Battery Fort."
"This is something I just learned last year. Prior to that I had no
knowledge," Sumner insists. "Strange parallels continue to amaze us as
we research the area history."
The artillery fort is where most of the hauntings occur.
"Out here your imagination can get away with you," Sumner says. "But
when groups of people see the same things it's pretty clear something is
"Ghosts have to remind everybody `Hey, we suffered here.' If you're
sincere they pretty much leave you alone. If not, they try to run you
off. If you don't hold reverence, they aren't always pleasant. I've seen
people run out of the woods screaming," Sumner says.
He believes the ghosts just want visitors of the fields to remember the
suffering they endured. He believes they want the war participants to be
remembered, whether northern or southern. But most of all, he believes
they want us to learn from and never repeat what happened to them long
Sumner will continue to camp the battlefields of Tunnel Hill. He expects
to see ghosts.
Especially if it's cold and windy.