I’ll be honest. I never really did like camping. The pitching a tent and toting great bags of amenities into the woods always seems so fake to me. So actual camping I have very little experience with. Many times as a kid I would run away from home. I would have my book-bag, 2 changes of clothes, canned food, can opener, matches, and a bar of soap. (And of course Buddy) Sometimes I would run to a friends, or just stay in the woods. Take a different bus to a different place and walk until I was lost. This was all incredibly dangerous even in the early to late nineties. (I should probably have said especially there…) So I don’t recommend it to anyone. Suffice it to say I took a very different approach to camping.
I digress… While I didn’t camp normally when I was a child, when I was a bit older a few friends talked me into going to Fort McAllister for a night of bonfires and drinks and scary stories. Of course they could have approached it in a better way then “Lets camp at that place those people died”
“Did you not pay attention to history at all?”
We arrived in late afternoon. Pitched a tent, and took a tour. I hoped this would open my friends eyes to why they should be more respectful of those who died there. We learned that over 360 Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives in a battle that took only 15 minutes. Of that number 230 Confederate soldiers, every soul that guarded this base died.
It was eerie even before the sun fell. The barracks were cold, because they were built under ground. It still seemed odd in the ninety degree Georgia summer afternoon. My friends were quite the adventurist bunch. The girls went fishing, while the boys hunted, we later found out all of that was very illegal. So I guess it’s good we had no luck that day. We didn’t think much about that since we were there to get drunk underage anyway.
When it finally got dark enough to start a fire we did. We drank and danced and sang our favorite songs, to the dismay of our older sleepy neighbors. After getting shushed for about the millionth time we decided to go for a walk. One of the guys stayed behind to stoke the fire quietly. “Sure, stay with the booze” I remember saying. Truth was he was afraid of what might reach out in the dark.
And reach out it did.
While we walked, the warm balmy air was somehow electric. I attributed this to the coastal breeze coming in off the nearby Atlantic ocean, or the Ogeechee River. We saw some lights white and blue coming from what used to be a proud and strategically important base. “Flashlights probably, making sure no one is still on the site” My friend said.
“Lets go check it out!” Said another running full force towards the source of our curiosity.
We took off after her. Giggling and tripping over unseen obstacles in the dark. Had anyone really been up on the mounds of earth covering the fortifications, surely our joviality would alarm them and bring down some sort of security or authority to stop us from entering the historic place.
No such hindrance came. We reached the source of the lights the three of us had seen and found nothing. From on top of this mound covering what used to be barracks we had a decent view of the whole base by moonlight. No flashlights could be seen, anywhere. “Well that’s weird…”
“Lightning bugs maybe?”
“Or maybe they went inside. We should go look.”
“I didn’t like being in there in daylight what makes you think, OH!”
Just then I felt a sharp breeze move by my right arm, the same feeling as if someone walked past you in a hurry. “Did you just walk past me?!”
“What? No… I’ve been over here the whole time” He said crouched and looking over the base. I turned to my female companion.
“You?” She was already finding her way down the side of the mound. “Uh… I don’t like this at all anymore.”
He walked up to me and wrapped an arm around my waist. “Don’t be a chicken, I got you.” So we followed her down, and hopped a rope into the barracks. The inside was lit from bulbs strung along the inner wall. I was right, it was even worse at night. Even though I was quite buzzed from the bottle of rum we had finished between the four of us before our little adventure, I felt as though I was sensing everything so very crystal clear. The chill of the underground seemed unearthly. Some of the straw mattresses were not replicas but relics. The very same that were here that fateful night. Stains that could only have been blood present some of the dozens of beds lining both walls.
She had run ahead of us. I assume to hide under one of the beds, and jump out right as we walked past or some other sort of completely inappropriate prank. I couldn’t see her from where we stood a few steps past the rope meant to keep us out. I felt an overwhelming amount of disrespect… not towards my person, but to the place. “This isn’t right we need to go.” I turned to look my friend still holding me close in the eyes. Trying to convey my complete discomfort and overwhelming sense of worry. “This has to be trespassing and if it isn’t… I feel like it really, really should be.”
“GO GO GO!” Came the shouting and screaming, previously missing third of our little group. She shot past us and tripped over the rope on her way out. He followed behind her and replaced the barrier to it’s original position. With a glance back to see if I was coming, or still there perhaps he continued his pursuit of our so obviously frightened friend.
Alone, I turned around. I stared for a moment at the beds, and the lights strung along where lanterns likely held their places long ago. “I’m sorry… for being a dumb kid. I’m sorry if we disturbed you. I’m sorry… for the awful way you died.” I whispered.
The lights flickered and shut off completely. I should have been scared out of my wits, but in the same moment while my eyes adjusted and I stood stiffly awaiting what ever awful thing I felt I deserved to happen, I felt an oddly warm sense of being protected wash over me. Like my apologies had been heard, by something, and the electric hostility in the air completely ceased to be. I carefully exited the barracks walking towards the dim blue light from the moon. I assumed someone had cut the lights for the exhibit, as it was likely well past 10PM. I wasn’t even unnerved as I walked back through dark woods towards the camp site.
When I finally got back to the rest of my little group, my friends embraced me and offered a drink. Short of the ‘I was so worried about you’ and ‘never disappear on us like that again’s we didn’t talk about what had happened. We didn’t even tell ghost stories that night. We just drank, and talked about other things. Who liked who, and what we might do next week.
Hours later a blue-white light approached us. I was well wasted by then, and went to hide in the tent. A security officer asked us to cease and desist our little party as it was annoying the other campers around us. One of they boys assured them that we would. The security guard was a real hard ass. “You will put this fire out and stop your little party or I will have an officer of the law come out here and card everyone of you. I’m sure you don’t want to go to jail for the intentional intoxication of minors.”
“I’m not a miner, I’m a waitress.”
“Yeah and we are both 21” The boys said pointing to one another.
“Enough is enough, douse the fire and get to bed young’ns” I said from the tent in my best old lady voice.
“Well, you heard the lady. Good Night sir.”
“I better not get one more complaint from this site.”
The next thing I knew was daylight. I slipped out of the tent unnoticed and cleaned up most of the mess. I packed what I could without disturbing my friends and we all exited the site by the 11 AM kick-out time. In the years to come my friends would visit the site again. Both with the intention to party and in reverence. I refused every invite.
While I will never be able to say for sure that anything paranormal really happened that night, I do know this. That piece of the past wants to be, not forgotten… but left alone to rest. Given time to fade, and not glorified as history and heritage… or trampled on by tourist and hoodlums alike. May all the soldiers who died in the battle of Fort McAllister Rest in Peace, I surely won’t be a dumb kid trespassing there ever again.