When Milky and I went to Gettysburg last month, we visited The Devil’s Den, the site of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. It was so named after a vicious snake that lived among the piles of rocks known as glacial erratics, large boulders pushed forth by the movement of glaciers. These rocks turned out to be a perfect vantage point for snipers as infantry fought to control Little Top, a hill with a strategic observation point covering much of the battlefield.
The site is best known through a photograph taken after the battle of a Confederate sniper by a makeshift bench rest made from a rock shelf. It is believed to have been posed by the journalists, so we’ll never know if the fallen soldier was a sniper at all. He’s just one of the hundreds of thousands of men who died in one of the bloodiest battles in history.
Here is the same spot today. The rocks have been cemented to dissuade souvenir hunters, though there are plenty of pebbles around the site if you want one.
We decided to visit the site that night after dark, after we missed two ghost tours around town, which seemed kind of lame anyway. I don’t want to pay $9 to walk around and hear stories by candlelight! I want to visit the battlefield, which is open to the public until 10pm. The information desk lady sneered at me with that Pennsyltucky inhospitality when I asked about night tours, so we did it on our own. After a quick dinner at the Appalachian Brewing Company- a pork chop & bacon sandwich to fuel the ghost hunting fires- we drove the Blue Meeny into the dark twisting roads of the Gettysburg battlefield.
That’s the view of the Den from Little Top, where cannon rained grapeshot and canister down on the men charging the hill, tearing them to pieces.
Imagine charging up that hill under fire, with snipers on those rocks behind you. Not a pretty sight. We arrived in darkness, with flashlights. Milky’s the ghost expert. I left the spook summoning to him. When he called upon the spirits to contact us in some way… it began to rain. So the ghosts apparently wanted us to leave, or buy parkas. I got a chuckle out of that. But more interesting, when we left in the sudden downpour, we saw a large black snake crossing the road. A descendant of “The Devil?”
Well, that one wasn’t going to spread his demon seed. He slithered right under my tires and felt like a firehose when I ran him over. I felt bad but I wasn’t going to go check on a wounded snake in the rain. It was probably a rat snake, but it was one of the biggest snakes I’ve seen in the wild. Maybe the rain was a good thing. It didn’t look like a poisonous species, but I could only judge size and color in that brief glimpse. But I wouldn’t want to have stepped on it in the dark!
And that is the nearby Wheat Field, the site of the bloodiest battle of the war, where it was said you could walk across the field on the bodies of the slain and wounded. Men lay for days before they were tended to, as wild hogs rooted through the corpses and fed on living and dead alike. It was one of the most horrifying tales of modern warfare. Even the wheat seems reddish in hue, as if the blood from all those men still steeps in the soil. Sometimes history is scary enough without ghosts. But of course there were no ghosts to be seen. No orbs. I keep my lens clean.