Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Ghost of Rosemere Cemetery - Opelika, Alabama

There is a little known story from Opelika, Alabama about the historic Rosemere Cemetery. Most cemeteries located in the rural south are teaming with the spirits of Civil War soldiers, mostly Confederate given the demographics of the region. However, this story is a bit different.

During the Civil War, a few locations in Opelika and Auburn served as Confederate hospitals and temporary encampments. Wounded soldiers traveled down the rail way system to small towns where they were treated and cared for and later sent back into the field with make shift units of men from different regions. Opelika’s railroads were important during the war. Supplies to locations were crucial and the railroad system was the fastest way to get them out. In the summer of 1864 General Lovell Rousseau, led a campaign, under Sherman’s orders, to destroy all the railroads in the Confederate territories, from Tennessee to Georgia.
Rousseau carried out his orders without hesitation, burning and destroying railroads from Nashville to Montgomery that summer. Rousseau’s men never stayed in one location very long. They spilled blood when it was necessary and paid little regard to the casualties of war on the Confederate side. Though his Union forces, accompanied by General James Wilson, greatly outnumbered most of the southern settlements that fell under their raids, they progressed throughout the South and were very successful in the destruction of the Montgomery and West Points Railroads.
Union General Lovell Rousseau
At some point, during the time that Rousseau camped in the Lee County region, a few of his men became extremely ill from prolonged bouts of “camp fever”. This infection, also known as Typhoid, is caused from drinking or ingesting food or water contaminated with the deadly bacteria. This was a common ailment during the war and more men died from communicable diseases than from battle. Extreme stomach cramps and rash coupled with diarrhea and vomiting, in many cases, led to delirium and hallucinations from lack of hydration and nutrients. Doctors treated the illness with mercury, chalk, opium and even morphine. Battlefield doctors were unskilled by today’s standards and war time medicine was harsh. Soldiers often died due to accidental overdoses of pain medications and from mercury and lead poisoning.
Occasionally, hospitals were set aside during battle and some opposing General’s felt compassion enough not to destroy them. Opelika had several make-shift hospitals, perhaps the most noted was in Auburn, at the Methodist Church, also known (then) as the Texas hospital, and today as University Chapel. At one of these camp hospitals, a Federal soldier came to pass. He met his demise under mysterious circumstances and was buried in the Rosemere Cemetery in Opelika. Several unknown Confederate soldiers are buried there as well and they have been moved from their original burial, at the front of the cemetery, to the back. Divided in death, just as they were in life, the soldiers are still segregated. The 14 or so Confederate dead are located on the right side of the cemetery (from the front gate) and the single and lone Union soldier buried on the left.
His grave marker reads, “William Alder U.S. Army, Civil War, A Union Soldier”. Sadly, his demise and circumstance are as lost to history as he is to life.  Occasionally, a reluctant story is told from people who have seen a spirit at the Rosemere cemetery. He is described as wearing a blue uniform, indicative of the Union Infantry men. He’s been spotted wondering next to his grave and others have seen him huddled against the headstone. Its unclear what his business is here on this earthly plane. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge the living at all.
The spirit of William Alder, a Federal soldier buried at Rosemere Cemetery in Opelika, Alabama awaits his final destination.
Is here looking for something; his way home perhaps? Does he seek out the rest of his unit, who has now moved onto the spiritual realm? Reasons beyond suggestion may keep him at Rosemere, lost and out of time, he is trapped there, destined to remain cut off from his fellow soldiers and from the afterlife as well. A poor, destitute, residual spirit, waiting, looking, hoping and perhaps even praying, for a way out.