When Jacob Alexander Sipe returned to Gettysburg to pay homage to his dead Civil War comrades, something strange happened to him. He heard the faint cries of the dead 40,000 men buried there and saw an apparition of a dead Union soldier cross before him.
It was not the first time visitors heard the sounds and saw the ghost of a Union or Confederate soldier walking the battlefield. Many of his old Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry buddies experienced the same thing. And nearly a century later, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had retired to Gettysburg, trusted a colleague not to tell anyone what he saw and heard.
Jacob Sipe is my great-great-grandfather who entrusted this experience to my mother when she was only 10 years old. She used to ride with him in his horse and buggy and he told her they were going to Oklahoma.
Shortly thereafter, Sipe, a farmer by trade, would pull up at his patch of land and both would retrieve strawberries, tomatoes and potatoes.
Jacob had survived four years in the bloodiest war than all American wars combined. So many Union and Confederate soldiers were killed at Gettysburg that they were still finding them as late as 1996 when tourists discovered the remains of a young soldier.
Of the 94,000 Union troops with my grandfather in the July 1-3 Gettysburg battle, 23,000 became casualties. Of the 73,000 Confederate troops, 28,000 were casualties.
Thousands were buried on the battlefield in ad-hoc graves. In their haste to bury the dead, some critically wounded but unconscious soldiers, were mistakenly buried alive. Corpses were later exhumed and Union soldiers were reburied with honors in the National Park Cemetery. Over a decade later the remains of dead Confederates, often discovered in trenches with Union dead, were reburied in Richmond, Savannah and Charleston.
When Jacob became 100 years old the New Castle News of Pennsylvania interviewed him. When asked if he had seen any military action “the old man straightened up and with a proud gleam in his eye said, ‘You bet I was. I was with General Phil Sheridan in the old Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry and I served in every battle that General Phil was in. I was with him on the famous destructive ride south by General Phil. Every engagement he entered I was with him.”‘
When Jacob was born, George Washington was still fresh in the minds of Americans. Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Monroe, Andrew Jackson, all of these men were still living or had been dead just a few years.
He had seen America emerge as a struggling frontier country to the most powerful nation in the world. He saw the western frontier pushed to the Pacific Ocean. He saw the addition of Louisiana and many other states added to the nation. He saw America defeat Mexico, helped put down the Rebellion, and the first World War.
The man had never seen an electric light, an airplane and any other modes of transportation except for his horse and buggy and canal boats propelled by mules, and many of the other conveniences we enjoy today.
Jacob never forgot his Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalrymen or the ghosts of Gettysburg. He told a neighbor he felt that he would soon be joining them on the battlefield. The next day while still plowing his field, he suffered a stroke and died in his bed a day later at 104 years old. All of the newspapers called him the oldest working man in the United States, still plowing his field and hauling produce and bags of coal. Others reported him as the last Union veteran of the Civil War.
The little great-grandchild he told of the Ghosts of Gettysburg became my mother and she passed down to me his kepi hat with the insignia of “The Grand Army of the Republic” on it, his revolver, his two Cavalry sabers and the Civil War medal awarded him. I am also responsible for two books on the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry and Commander Emeritus of New Jersey’s Lincoln Camp of the “Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.”
Anthony Galli lives in Pennington. He has authored four books, including two on the Civil War exploits of his great-great-grandfather with his Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry in Virginia and Gettysburg. He has worked for UPI, TIME magazine and Sports Illustrated with hundreds of his bylined articles appearing in magazines and newspapers across the country. He is a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II.