Note: If you choose to explore this area, remember it is a battlefield and it does deserve respect, so please give it the respect that it deserves.
I arrived at a small parking area along Colgrove Avenue – just across the roadway was Spangler’s Spring. Located on the southeastern edge of the battlefield, Spangler’s spring is located at the base of Culp’s Hill and in recent history, has become a part of the lore regarding the Battle of Gettysburg.
As I got out of the car, I instantly recognized Randy, a gentleman I’ve known for a couple years now. He had emailed me a couple weeks before and wanted to know when I had the time to visit: he had some new stories he wanted to share. Knowing I was going to be in the area, I instantly made plans to stop by on my trip.
After the usual small talk, we turned our attention to the stone arch in the field that marks the location of Spangler’s Spring. We crossed the road to investigate the area – though I had visited the battlefield numerous times in the past, this was the first time I stopped to visit this site.
The stone arch structure that covers the spring was erected in 1895 to protect it from visitor damage. On the stone structure are three plaques that announce this as Spangler’s Spring, the fact it was used by both Union and Confederate troops, and a memory to those who fought and died during the Civil War. Although the spring was covered in 1895, water could still be obtained by visitors through a metal grate. Note: When the National Park Service took over the park, it was decided to stop visitors from drinking the water due to concerns of water contamination.
Over the years a number of stories about the spring have surfaced in the lore of the battle and its aftermath. The most common legend is that on the evening of July 2, 1863 Union and Confederate troops engaged in a temporary truce. During this truce soldiers from both sides gathered around the spring and shared stories and fellowship until the early morning hours. As the sun began to peak over the horizon, both sides returned to their lines and prepared for another day of fighting.
The death toll in the area of Culp’s Hill brings doubt to the story. If there was a meeting between the two sides as they filled their canteens under the cover of darkness, it was more than likely by accident. The legend seems to have started sometime in the late 1800s – some sources state that it first appear in the 1880s and others first tell the story much later. While this may be the oldest legend involving Spangler’s Spring it is not the only story that has been told about it.
“There are the ‘normal’ ghost sightings that surround the spring,” Randy informed me.
“Normal?” I questioned.
“Well as normal as you can expect with ghost stories. People claim to see both Union and Confederate soldiers. People say they’ve heard the sound of gunfire. Gunfire isn’t the only thing they hear: people have heard mysterious voices, especially one of a female.”
“More recently there has been a lot of talk of the woman in white,” he continued. “She’s been written about in a couple of those ghost books, so you have all sorts of people now out here at night trying to see her.”
According to legend a ghostly lady dressed in white haunts the area of the spring. She appears first as a mist that rises up out of the ground before taking the shape of a lady dressed in white. People who have witnessed her claim the feeling of a great sadness fills the air around her.
“Exactly who she was when alive is not known, if she even existed at all. Word of mouth states she committed suicide here after her fiancée broke off their engagement,” Randy spoke. “I have not been able to find any definite proof that somebody actually committed suicide here. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, I’m just saying I have not been able to verify the events.”
“All these stories seem to happen at dusk or at night, but let me tell you about one I recently heard.” The sighting happened one afternoon in early autumn 2015. The story Randy had been told was: a couple doing the battlefield tour on bicycle had arrived at the spring to see a young lady dressed in a white gown standing near it. They stopped to take a picture of the spring and turned their attention away from the woman for a moment. When they looked back, she was gone.
“I’ve tried to debunk it, but really, there’s no place for a person to hide in the immediate area of the spring. For a living person to get to a good hiding place…well, nobody can run that fast if they were only distracted for a moment,” Randy said. I had to agree, there were no good hiding places near the spring itself. The nearest place to hide was roughly fifty yards away. If it was an actual person, then she would have had to sprint past the couple to arrive at the nearest place. If the person was wearing a dress like the couple claimed, I would imagine it would be hard to sprint away and successfully hide.
After looking around for a couple minutes, I mentioned to Randy the one thing that bothered me and asked him: How much time actually passed between noticing the figure and then realizing it was gone? Were the couple at the spring longer than they assumed? If they did not pass the figure, it is possible that they took a different road from the area of the spring. While the timing of the sighting and the outfit that the figure was wearing is interesting, I dismissed this sighting as a misidentification – there are too many factors that makes me think that this particular sighting was merely a person out walking.
But then again, maybe – just maybe – they did have a brief encounter with the unknown that autumn afternoon.