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Ghostly Soldiers Pay Re-Enactors A Courtesy Call


By Terry Shulman


Ghosts will be ghosts: they're fickle, elusive and painfully shy, especially when it comes to actually showing themselves and, in doing so, getting us to admit that they really do exist. So when an army of Civil War spirits rides in like gangbusters, as the men of Palmetto Sharpshooters say they did on June 5, 1996, it's nothing to sneer at.


Naturally, those who were present that morning remember the occurrence vividly. At about 5:00 a.m., says Don Windley, a re-enactor with the Palmetto regiment, he and his comrades awoke to an inexplicable commotion at their campsite on the southern edge of the Piedmont battlefield.


The group slept there, beside the Middle River Church of the Brethren, the night before their annual anniversary observance of the battle.


"We heard what sounded like three or four wagons," Windley recalls. "You could hear chains rattling. You could hear horses whinnying. You could hear hooves pounding. You could hear wagon-wheels creaking."


Joe Drega, another member of the unit, walked up to the fence-line to investigate. Then suddenly, Windley says, "he was looking awfully weird and his eyeballs were really big. As we all walked up to the fence-line and the noise got louder, Joe's mouth kind of dropped open and he was looking in bewilderment at the forest."


At first the Sharpshooters thought they were being paid a surprise visit by another group of re-enactors. "Myself and Sergeant Scott Harris stood there with Joe and his son, Josh, who climbed over the fence and walked toward the forest to greet the wagons as they came into camp.


But when he reached the forest-line all the wagon movement and sounds stopped on cue, as though a conductor was orchestrating it. For two or three seconds there was dead silence, then the birds started chirping and everything went back to normal."


A moment later, New Hope resident Joe Drega realized it couldn't have been a group of re-enactors after all. "Joe turned and looked at us and said 'Boys, there's no road in that forest anymore.'"


While exploring the woods they saw that he was right, though they did discover an old, overgrown road trace that Drega said had been there at the time of the battle.


Drega couldn't be reached for comment, but Windley's story is corroborated by both the unit's Captain, Brocky Nicely, and Scott Harris.


"I was asleep and the sounds woke me up," Nicely remembers.. "What I heard sounded like wagon-wheels creaking and leather gear pulling on single-trees, the bars that connect the horses to the wagons. At a reenactment you normally don't pay attention to stuff like that, so when I heard it I thought somebody had brought up some horses. Then I turned over and went back to sleep."


Harris, who was unaware that the other men had been interviewed for this story, gives an identical version of events: "It all hit everybody at once. Everything went deathly quiet and we heard what sounded to us like wagons rolling up a rocky, dirt road. We walked up to the fence line . . . we all kind of looked at each other. My hair stood on end and I got a cold chill."


Windley says that nothing like this has happened to the Palmetto re-enactors, before or since. "It was a fluke. I'm usually skeptical about such things, but if you had been there it would have made you a believer in the paranormal."