For more than a century, a ghost has haunted this lonely stretch of Route 146, formerly known as “Dug Hill Road,” in rustic Union County. Although sightings have become less frequent in recent years, the ghost of Provost Marshal Welch has earned an iconic place in the folklore of Southern Illinois.
Like many of its kind, this ghost story preserves the memory of a real event, an event that took place at a traumatic time in the history of our state and our country. But the details of this event have become murky and distorted. While Provost Marshal Welch was actually killed in 1863, every recent retelling of the tale places his murder in 1865.
At some point during the story’s reprinting, authors changed Route 146 to “Highway 126,” which has created a very confusing state of affairs for anyone wanting to visit the location. There is no Highway 126 anywhere in Union County. Complicating matters further, a quaint country lane off Route 146 is now the only feature in the area named “Dug Hill.”
To picture what this road must have once looked like at the time of the hauntings would take an active imagination, since the banality of its flowering fields, woods, and serine pond seem to evaporate any sense of foreboding.
According to Beth Scott and Michael Norman’s Haunted Heartland (1985), it is “the most notorious ghost in Southern Illinois.” As they described the incident, Union army deserters ambushed and killed a provost marshal named Welch in 1865.
In mid-October 1859, a wild-eyed, white bearded man and 21 accomplices seized the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia), in a misguided attempt to ignite a slave revolt. The man was John Brown, whose fanatical visage likened him to a Biblical prophet.
Brown was already known as an abolitionist who fought against pro-slavery elements in the Bleeding Kansas conflict of 1856, but the failed raid on Harpers Ferry made him a martyr and foretold the American Civil War.
Brown was tried for treason and hanged on December 2, 1859. The brick fire engine house where his followers and he made their last stand, later known as John Brown’s Fort, is now a popular tourist destination and interpretive center telling the story of the raid. It was relocated several times and now sits 150 feet from its original location.
The Battle of Cedar Creek (or Battle of Belle Grove) was fought in Frederick County, Shenandoah County and Warren County, Virginia on October 19, 1864 between Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 8,500 total casualties.
Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park was created in 2002 and encompasses over 3,700 acres, 1,500 of which are preserved and administered by partner sites, including the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, Belle Grove Plantation, and Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park.
Belle Grove Manor House was built between 1794 and 1797 for Isaac Hite, Jr. and his bride Nelly Conway Madison. Hite owned a general store, grist-mill, saw-mill and a distillery. 276 slaves lived at Belle Grove between 1783 and 1851.
In May 1668, Captain Robert Searle and 70 English buccaneers arrived at St. Augustine to sack the city. In the process, they freed Henry Woodward, first settler of South Carolina, from Spanish prison. In response to the daring raid, Governor Francisco de la Guerra y de la Vega ordered construction of a stone fort on the western shore of Matanzas Bay.
That fort was the Castillo de San Marcos, today the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. It was built between 1672 and 1695, and changed hands five times between 1763 and 1862.
The Castillo de San Marcos was designated a national monument in 1924 and is currently managed by the National Park Service. In addition to preserving a rich historical legacy, the fort offers beautiful views of Matanzas Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862 near Sharpsburg, Maryland, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. The battle ended inconclusively and resulted in approximately 22,717 total casualties.
Established August 30, 1890, Antietam National Battlefield preserves 3,230 acres of the original battlefield east of Sharpsburg. A self-guided driving tour of the park is 8.5 miles long with 11 stops. They also offer several smaller walking tours at principal battle sites, with accompanying full-color booklets. The booklets are available in the Visitor Center for $1 and offer detailed maps, photos, and a narrative of events. It’s a great way to experience the battlefield outside your car, and really understand the battle in relation to the fields, forests, and landmarks.
The Battle of Antietam unfolded in three stages: morning (north), mid-day (center), and afternoon (south), with three uncoordinated Union attacks. The much smaller Confederate army was able to shift forces to meet each attack individually. The fighting was desperate and deadly, some of the bloodiest of the war. Lee’s army was at a low point in terms of manpower because many Confederate soldiers had gone home to harvest their fields. General Lee believed Marylanders would join his ranks as he moved north, but with a few exceptions, they stayed home.
The Siege of Petersburg, encompassing several battles and smaller actions, was fought between June 9, 1864 and March 25, 1865, around Petersburg, Virginia, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The siege ended in a decisive Union victory and resulted in approximately 70,000 total casualties.
Today, only a small portion of the battlefield, mainly northeast of the city, has been preserved as Petersburg National Battlefield. It would be impossible to preserve all the extensive earthworks that ringed the city south of the Appomattox River, but many forts and landmarks have been turned into city parks. The battlefield has been divided into two fronts: Eastern and Western. The Eastern Front Driving Tour is four miles and the Western Front Driving Tour is 16 miles.
The Siege of Petersburg wasn’t technically a siege because the city wasn’t entirely surrounded, but it shared similar characteristics, including fortifications, mortar bombardments, and near-constant, low-intensity fighting. It lasted 9 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days. Over time, the battle lines crawled westward as Ulysses S. Grant tried to find a way to cut Lee’s main supply line to the west and south.
The Battle of Five Forks was fought on April 1, 1865, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, at junction of Five Forks in Dinwiddie County, Virginia between Confederate units under command of Maj. Gen. George Pickett and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s V Corps in the American Civil War. The battle was a decisive Union victory and resulted in approximately 3,700 total casualties, most of which were Confederate.
Five Forks National Battlefield is part of Petersburg National Battlefield Park. The park has a visitors center, several cannon and monuments (erected in the 1960s), and a driving tour. The tour consists of five stops. There hasn’t been much development in this quiet neighborhood, so the battlefield is remarkably preserved.