TMP photo by Kelly Hite. This cannon sits among the grave stones at the Stones River Battlefield National Cemetery.
Andrea Lankford doesn’t believe in ghosts.
She’s a skeptic but takes pleasure in hearing the stories. Like most park rangers, Lankford is realistic and well grounded, but after listening to so many tales over the years she does believes that death can leave something behind.
Lankford, who worked 12 years as a park ranger, has traveled the country compiling these stories of hauntings at more than 50 trails and parks. They appear in her book “Haunted Hikes: Spine-Tingling Tales and Trails from North America’s National Parks.”
In seeking out these stories, Lankford only has one personal incident to share; her encounter happened at Stones River National Battlefield.
About 10 years ago, she spent the night at her friend Gib Backlund’s former residence near Stones River National Cemetery.
Lankford was lying on the couch preparing to go to sleep. The living room window was open. Backlund, who serves as director of operations at the Stones River National Battlefield, was in his bedroom reading.
“I hear these loud explosions, which to me sound exactly like cannon fire.” Lankford said. She assumed the noises came from a battle reenactment or maybe from a car backfiring.
Wanting confirmation, Lankford walked down the hall to Backlund’s bedroom and asked him, “Did you hear that noise?”
To which, Backlund’s reply was “What noise?”
Lankford said there was no way Backlund could not have heard the blasts.
This gave Lankford an unsettled feeling.
“What bothered me was that he didn’t hear it,” she said.
Whether you are a skeptic or not, it is reasonable to suspect that if any place in Murfreesboro is haunted it is the Stones River National Battlefield where more than 3,000 soldiers were killed during the battle — one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Civil War.
Legends surrounding the battlefield tell of a mysterious soldier who has appeared to visitors and reenactors alike. The soldier disappears after apparently being shot.
The sound of solders marching has also been heard, according to other tales.
Park rangers and visitors also supposedly have had rocks thrown at them from the woods.
Jim Lewis has worked as a park ranger at Stones River National Battlefield for 10 years and has never seen anything that would make him suspect any paranormal activity.
For many of those years, he lived near the cemetery and never saw anything abnormal, he said. His dog, however, would stop and stare at unseen things in the open field from time to time.
Park rangers were given a video once that was said to contain the image of a headless horseman, Lewis said. None of them saw the rider or his horse.
“The Slaughter Pen has the most sense of activity,” he said, which is located near the intersection of Thompson Lane and Wilkinson Pike. “It is the most removed (from the city). You can dispend your disbelief and can feel like you have been transported back to the Civil War.”
The Slaughter Pen, which is Stop No. 4 on the battlefield walking or driving tour, was given its gruesome name because a third of Union Gen. Phil Sheridan’s division and three brigade commanders were killed in the cedar forest there after Confederate soldiers took them by surprise.
Many visitors report they leave the area with a “chill bumpy feeling.” Lewis said.
The Stones River National Battlefield receives numerous requests especially around the Halloween season from paranormal investigators wanting to gain access to the national park at night.
The National Park Service requires groups wishing to use the park after dark to apply for a special use permit. The permit requires a $50 non-refundable fee application fee. If approved, the group must also pay for a park ranger to escort them through the park.
The park rangers currently working at the national park didn’t know of any paranormal investigating group that had completed the process.
Local ghost hunter Terry Mayo has had numerous encounters with the paranormal at the Slaughter Pen. He leads a paranormal investigating group called the Society for Paranormal Investigations & Research in Tennessee (S.P.I.R.I.T.).
Mayo believes there are literally thousands of spirits walking around the Stones River National Battlefield. They don’t know they are dead, he said, due to the violent nature of their demise.
He said the prime location to feel the process of spirits is in the Slaughter Pen area, about 300 feet on the right hand side of the road after taking a left onto Wilkinson Pike from Thompson Lane.
“That is probably the favorite place when we take people,” Mayo said. “You know you are going to experience something there.
“There is not a night that goes by that you won’t get things in your camera,” he said speaking of orbs or strange lights that will appear in photographs.
Sometimes if they ghosts aren’t appearing in photographs, then they can be called from the gate near the road.
“You can call for them and in just a few minutes all of our equipment will start to go off,” Mayo said. “It will last for as long as you talk to them, but when you get quiet they will disappear.”
S.P.I.R.I.T. member Melissa Johnson is a believer.
She has visited the Slaughter Pen area several times over the last seven months. She has photographs that show what looks like a burning campfire and another shows what looks like red eyes in the darkness.
Mayo, who claims to have a sixth sense, said he feels an electrical current when he is near the battlefield.
“The reason for that is the electromagnetic field that the ghosts give off,” he said. “They take energy from us, batteries or any electrical energy that is near them.”
Sometimes, in the distance, he has seen apparitions walking around.
“It is rare,” Mayo said, “but if you keep your eyes focused you can see them as if they are walking around their tents or their campfires.”
Erin Edgemon can be reached at 869-0812 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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