The White Sulphur Springs Hotel was the last “Grand Dame” of Appalachia. Located in the Great Balsam Mountain Range, her breathtaking vistas and cool breezes were a soulful tonic. Her lavish rooms were a playground for the upper crust. It was a private haven where the wealthy could unleash their high altitude dramas and render their wickedly drunken feasts. But she was also a neighbor to the most cursed site in the entire Balsams.
The hotel was located near hallowed ground, the infamous “Bloody Ridge,” site of a horrific battle fought during the waning days of the Civil War. It had been violent hand to hand combat, and the casualties haunted the area for years, refusing to accept their bloody demise. The entitled guests complained angrily about their sleepless nights listening to the soldiers’ horrible screams, endlessly fighting the unforgiving enemy in their brutal campaign.
The hotel was eventually taken over by the Army after WWI, and the hotel annex was converted into a rest home for soldiers who had been disabled by their terrible injuries. After that it was abandoned, a casualty to the changing times. Finally, it burned down to the ground, the final victim of its own violent past.
Private Arrowood’s Ghost
Decades later, during top-secret military maneuvers in the early years of the World War II, an elite Army combat unit and their officer were sent on a special training mission deep into the Great Balsam Mountain Range.
Led by a jeep, their “Six by Six ” truck towed a newly-developed, lightweight gun howitzer. The unit came to a stop late one afternoon, close to the forgotten ruins of the old hotel. The men set up camp while the truck slowly moved the experimental piece of artillery into a more strategic and defensible position on the ridge.
An unknown soldier, wearing a strangely familiar grey uniform, suddenly appeared in their midst. He addressed their officer in an urgent voice, practically choking on his hurried words. “Captain, our scouts have reported that an enemy brigade is just over the hill, coming directly to attack us. We have to protect the gold in the cannon at all costs – we must act at once!” Surprisingly, their officer responded to the soldier as if he knew him. “Quick, Private Arrowood, hide the cannon! Push it deep into the stream so the water will conceal it. We’ll come back for it later. All right men – let’s move!”
The soldiers looked at each other for a few bewildered seconds. They were wearing grey uniforms just like Private Arrowood. Their jeep and truck had been transformed into horses and mules and wagons. Their artillery weapon had become a bulky wheeled cannon sitting on the brink of a cold mountain stream, it’s muzzle tightly packed with a fortune in Confederate gold. They also heard the unmistakable sounds of Union cavalry from beyond the treeline, galloping straight towards them.
They moved to assist the captain, hoisting the big gun’s muzzle and shoving the cannon straight down the steep bank towards the water. Too late, Private Arrowood discovered that his clothing had become caught in the cannon’s wooden carriage. The weapon gained momentum and violently pulled him down as it plunged into the cold stream. His blood curdling shriek filled the air as he was dragged into his watery grave.
Unable to save him, the soldiers turned to fight. They tried to form a defensive line but the cavalry swept over them, and the quiet evening was filled with terrible screams as their swords clashed and rifles flashed. When it was over, the ground was soaked in blood and the men in grey lay still, steam rising from their fallen bodies. But as the smoke lifted they began to stir, and then arose from the ground. Amazingly they were still alive, once again back in their regular uniforms and carrying their modern weapons.
“Incredible,” the officer exclaimed. “I don’t believe what just happened. We were transported back to an old Civil War battle that was fought here. We were wearing Confederate grey. The attackers were Union troops. But they killed us all! There were no survivors!”
The officer looked around. “There was no one left to come back for that cannon filled with the Confederate gold,” he said. “It may still be here somewhere. Is that why Private Arrowood appeared before us, because he wanted us to find the gold and then finally set him free?” The men were so traumatized by the ghostly battle that they abandoned their secret mission and retreated to their base, where the commander reprimanded them severely. One week later, their battalion was ordered overseas to the killing fields of Europe.
World War II ended. The officer returned to the area years later, hoping to find the small mountain stream, but logging operations and new undergrowth had completely altered the landscape. He limped all over the old battle site, his body stitched together with painful scars from his many war wounds, but he never found a thing.
He haunted the area surrounding the ruins for years, riding an old mare in the torn and faded uniform of a Civil War captain, looking for Private Arrowood and the lost stream – obsessed with finding the sunken treasure. And then one winter’s day, after a great blowing snow storm, they found him lying in the woods under an ancient oak tree, frozen to death. No one knew where he came from, so they buried him on the outskirts of town in a pauper’s lonely grave.
The old timers still talk about the dazzling light from that ghostly battle. They say the clash of swords was like cold metal struck hard by lightning, sending up a shower of sparks that blistered the sky. And close by, they claim there is a long forgotten stream that never freezes over, no matter how bitterly cold it gets.
– Photographs courtesy of the Haywood County Public Library –