Frederick County Legends: An Old Wise Tale

June 16, 2020

This story comes from Ghosts and Legends of Frederick County, by Cannon and Wise

Battle of South Mountain Facts & Summary | American Battlefield Trust
not my image

“Early one evening, Mr. Wise was sitting on his porch smoking his pip when he saw a man dressed in a gray uniform coming up the road from Middletown. As the man drew closer, he appeared to be gliding along the road, his feet not quite touching the ground. Suddenly, old Mr. Wise sat up and stared. He could see clear through the man. As the man approached, Wise heard him say, “I’ve come to have you turn me over, Mr. Wise. That’s all I want done.”

Mr Wise was frozen in his chair, unable to speak.

“Why not, you threw me down the well. I was the last one in and you’ll find me right on top. I’m very uncomfortable down there, lying on my face. Really, Mr. Wise, I can’t rest – I can’t get my breath.” The ghost of a man continued.

“How can this be?”Mr. Wise asked. “You were dead when I put you in there.”

After the battle of South Mountain, Mr Wise was paid five dollars per man buried. He was eager to have the money, but, at the same time, reluctant to provide the service. He quickly placed as many bodies as possible in an old, abandoned well. Sergeant Jim Tabbs of Virginia was one of the men he buried, one Mr. Wise now faced.

“The soldier replied, “That’s true – I am dead. I’ve come all this way just to have you turn me, Mr. Wise. If you don’t, I’ll come back every night until you do. You’ll do it tonight, won’t you, Mr. Wise?”

“I’ll do it! I’ll do it if it kills me!” He knew it would be an unpleasant task, but if there was to be any peace, he knew he had to.

Satisfied that Mr. Wise would keep his word, the dead soldier turned and walked down the road. “Remember, I’ll be back every night ’til you turn me over, or you’re dead.”

Mr. Wise went to bed, but was unable to sleep. Just before sunrise, he took up his spade and headed to the old well. The well was dry, and was now the final resting place of fifty Confederate soldiers.

Mr. Wise began digging, driven by fear of what would happen if he didn’t. Finally, he reached Mr. Tabbs, the first body he came to, and the last he had placed in the well. He tured the body over, straightening it as best he could, then replaced the earth he had dug up.

Having accomplished this task, Mr. Wise was greatly relieved and returned home, thinking this ordeal was over.

More trouble was soon to follow…authorities soon discovered the mass grave and the Confederate soldiers buried in the old, abandoned well. They forced him to provide a proper grave for each soldier.

The ghosts of Jim Tabbs and his Virginia company were finally at rest. Mr Wise never returned to his cabin.

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