Growing up in an area surrounded by reminders of war, it was common to hear about ghost sightings of Union and Confederate soldiers still wandering the fields and fighting their battles. Visitors throughout Virginia have reported feeling the presence of those who lost their lives during battles. Many of the mortally wounded were hastily buried in makeshift graves on the battlefield and others perished from illness and disease.
I grew up nine miles from Seven Pines National Cemetery, which is currently 1.9 acres and is surrounded by a brick wall. The cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Like other national cemeteries, the markers are in orderly rows, the grass is well maintained, and the mood is serious. These places reflect the belief that these are hallowed grounds where veterans’ sacrifices should be honored.
With hasty burials and the time that had passed, many of the soldiers’ remains were not able to be identified. In this cemetery, 1,216 interments are listed as unknown, which adds to the solemn feel. There are only 141 known dead. The name of the cemetery is derived from seven pine trees that were planted along the inside of the cemetery wall in 1869. A 1938 article notes that along with pine trees, there are seven cedars, seven hemlocks, and there is just one Ghost.
To tell the story of how a Ghost came to Seven Pines National Cemetery, we must start in Irwin, Pennsylvania, where parents Samuel and Mary had been married for a decade and were welcoming the birth of another child to a family with brothers and sisters. The year was 1843. President John Tyler was the nation’s tenth President, becoming the first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency after the death of his predecessor, President William Henry Harrison. That year, Edgar Allan Poe's Gothic fiction, "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Charles Dickens’ ghostly tale, "A Christmas Carol," were first published. Samuel and Mary’s baby, John, was born into a world that differed from the famous writers and politicians who traveled and read widely. John did not attend school but helped his father with farming; and by 17, he was listed as a farmer on the 1860 US Census. The next year, men were being recruited to join the Union Army and John, at the age of 18, mustered into service in Harrisonburg, Pennsylvania on December 11, 1861.
He served in the 103 Volunteer Pennsylvania Infantry, Company I, which included 105 men. The infantry advanced on Manassas and were then ordered to the Peninsula. The soldiers were involved in a skirmish at Yorktown, the Battle of Williamsburg, a skirmish at Fair-Oaks, and The Battle of Fair Oaks which is also known as the Battle of Seven Pines. The 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment lost three officers and 50 enlisted men who were killed or mortally wounded, and one officer and 352 enlisted men to disease during the Civil War. Approximately two-thirds of all the deaths of soldiers were caused by infectious diseases including pneumonia, dysentery, malaria, and typhoid fever.
Seven Pines National Cemetery was included in a Ripley’s believe-it-or-not cartoon because of John Ghost’s name.
The Seven Pines Cemetery got into Ripley’s believe-it-or-not cartoon…because it has a real ghost in it—Jno. Ghost, of Pennsylvania.
Most of the regiment was captured on April 20, 1864. Thirty died in Confederate prisons. Only eleven men remained to be mustered out.
John Ghost was a real person. In fact, his mother Mary Ghost, filed for a Civil War pension on June 28, 1880, after the deaths of her son and her husband. The family had been Germans who immigrated to America. With confusion, misunderstanding, and illiteracy, surnames were improperly spelled frequently. John Ghost’s ancestor, Kraffgoss became Kraft Ghost. Today, descendants use the last name Coast.