Some time ago I found myself visiting Dallas, GA, riding along with the sons of the Confederacy as they refreshed the flags on their ancestors’ graves. They were a dedicated group of guys, and our journey took us into the most remote corners of Paulding County. At the end of the day we found ourselves in the parking lot of the New Hope Church, site of a bloody Civil War battle in 1864. They had finished their task and called it a job well done, so we celebrated with a cold coke and handshakes all around. As we spoke, they pointed out the monument and flag across the street, a testament to the hundreds of Confederate soldiers who died in that bloody battle.
For no other reason, I took out my old Polaroid and snapped two quick shots of the defensive entrenchments behind the memorial. They were among the last of the crumbling earthworks used during the Battle of New Hope Church, fought hard and won strong by the South on May 25-26, 1864. I downed the coke and then glanced at both photos, noticing that a gust of wind had lifted up their venerated battle flag in the second photograph – but I didn’t remember any type of blowing breeze. It had been an unseasonably hot day, sticky and steamy with no wind at all. I looked at the second picture more closely, and what I saw in the background blew me away. It was the image of a Rebel soldier wearing a mismatched uniform, standing eyes front and at ease, staring straight at me. (see the photos below)
I was speechless. I looked carefully at both photos taken just seconds apart, but it was unmistakable. The soldier wasn’t present in the first one, and in the second one he was staring right at me. I had heard stories about New Hope’s grim past – that ghosts haunted this rural community, site for both the bloody Civil War battle and a horrific commercial airplane crash in April of 1977 – and here was the unmistakable proof.
I walked over and showed the photos to the two remaining sons. They glanced at each other and then excused themselves, stepping into the woods to talk privately. The two men had a heated discussion, but afterwards they grudgingly agreed to reveal the truth about what I had just witnessed, as long as I promised never to disclose their names or the exact location. They said the memorial was going to be removed because it was drawing far too much attention to an area that was never meant for prying eyes.
They explained that I had captured the image of a ghost soldier posted on sentry duty – a still vigilant casualty from the Battle of New Hope Church. They told me that hidden away among the remains of those hastily dug entrenchments was the entrance to an underground tunnel, a closely guarded secret among the many descendants of those who had fought there. The tunnel runs under the ruins of the original church and beyond to the graveyard, located diagonally across the street from the main intersection. It passes directly under the area that the Union troops later referred to as the “Hell Hole,” where in May of 1864 they engaged in a hellacious battle during an unholy thunderstorm while the canister and shrapnel tore them to pieces.
The sons stated that the tunnel had been discovered and used by the Cherokee during the Indian wars until they were forced westward in 1838 on the Trail of Tears. After that, the tunnel lay abandoned for over two decades. It was rediscovered in the early days of the Civil War, and then strategically employed by the fully entrenched Confederate forces during their resounding victory at New Hope. They claimed it allowed the outnumbered Rebels to appear like ghosts during the bloody onslaught before vanishing just as quickly back into the smoke and mist. It surely allowed Hood’s well-served artillery to inflict heavy casualties on Hooker’s corp of battle hardened troops.
My friends admitted they have never been inside the tunnel, but they both claim to have witnessed the sentry standing silent guard from their earliest days, just as their fathers and grandfathers had before them. They also told me that he is the last remaining defender of a secret storeroom underneath the present day New Hope First Baptist Church – a hidden chamber overflowing with a king’s ransom of gold and silver, zealously protected by that forgotten soldier for over 150 years. The old timers predict the fortune will be returned to its rightful heirs when the time is ripe, but until then the Ghost Sentry will continue his lonely vigil, and remain steadfast and strong at his forsaken post.
“The Ghost Sentry”