By Paul J. Forti, Ph.D.
The Battle of Ball’s Bluff, occurred on October 21, 1861, in Leesburg, Virginia, and it was one of the first Civil War battles that tested the strength of the Confederacy. They did well, sending the union Army running scared back across the Potomac. During the battle, Union colonel Erasmus Burt of the Mississippi was seriously wounded. The evening of October 21, he was taken to an upstairs bedroom in Harrison Hall, a house located about a mile from the battle. Burt died the following day, and several years after the war rumors about his ghost roaming Harrison Hall were heard throughout the community.
Those stories continued into the current century, although ownership of the house changed several times. Once a private residence, it became a bed-and-breakfast, business conference center, a career management consulting firm, and then changed its name to the Glenfiddich House in the early 1990s.
For a period, the owner lived in the top floor of the home with his wife, whom I’ll call Ms. Smith. The first time I stayed there, in the spring of 2006, she told me about her experiences with the colonel. During the late 1990s, back problems forced her to remain in bed for several months in the room where Colonel Burt had died. She swore she heard and saw the colonel on several occasions.
I didn’t hear or see anything unusual during my stay,. The owners gave me a tour of the home and told me its original owners were distant relatives of General Robert E. Lee visited several times during the war, and in 1862 he planned the battle of Antietam in the dining room with his staff, including Stonewall Jackson.
The history intrigued me, but I remained skeptical about the colonel’s ghost, even after hearing that other visitors saw him walking down the hall in his leather boots, rattling his sword. My feelings changed in August 2006, when the owners invited me to stay at the Glenfiddich House again.
This time, I had Colonel Burt’s old room. After getting into bed at eleven PM, I awoke two hours later to a strange sound down the hall. I attributed the noise first to heating pipes (before remembering it was summertime) and then to air-conditioning (it was a cool evening, and there was no need for it). I became concerned – I was the only person in the house and had no idea where the sound was coming from. I listened closely but didn’t hear anything else, so I relaxed and began to fall back asleep. Fifteen minutes later I heard what sounded like footsteps coming down the hallway. As they got closer, I could hear the dull clang of metal as it rubbed against leather bootstraps. It sounded like the steps of a person wearing riding boots.
At first I was too scared to get out of bed, but I forced myself to do so, turning on the lights in my room. The sound promptly stopped. I grabbed a flashlight, opened the bedroom door, and walked around upstairs, but saw nothing. Back in the room, I left the light on and got back into bed. Ten minutes later, I again heard heavy boot-clad footsteps walking down the hall. I called out, “Who is there?” and the sound stopped. Once again, I got out of bed, opened the door, and shouted out, “Who is there?” but heard nothing.
I climbed back in bed and fell asleep, only to awaken to footsteps at about four AM. I went through the same drill as before, but this time I stood at the door and shouted: “Go away, whoever you are!” It must have had an impact, because now I could make out the faint figure of a man walking down the steps to the first floor. I immediately turned on every light and went downstairs, finding nothing.
A few hours later I got dressed and went downstairs, where Ms. Smith had arrived with breakfast. When I brought up my overnight experiences, she said, “I guess you finally met the colonel.” He told me he usually appears after he is comfortable with a guest, and even though mischievous, he’s not harmful. After her encounters with the colonel, he no longer bothered her.
I was alarmed and excited by what had happened, but I managed to finish my business in the area that day and headed home. A few weeks later, I received a certificate from the owners saying that I survived a night with the colonel.
I don’t know where Colonel Burt is buried, but I can tell you where he’s waiting for his next guest. As for me, I don’t plan on being anywhere his boots will be walking again. Should I return to the area, I will stay someplace that has no ghostly claim.
The Glenfiddich House is home to a private business and is not accessible to the general public.