There seems to be a national trend right now in the nation to remove all monuments and statues that were put up to honor the memory of the short lived "Confederate States of America" while in this piece, I will not express my personal views on the matter. I will say this, removing them will not remove the ghost the "American Civil War" Created. My hometown of Benton, Mississippi a small township located in a bend of the Big Black River, like many small towns and villages in Mississippi has its own monument to honor the fallen sons of the south. A statue of a bronze confederate soldier dressed in full uniform with a rifle in one hand and a blanket wrapped around around his shoulders. The soldier is being handed a banner or battle flag by a woman. The monument was donated to the town in the autumn of nineteen ten. The monument is supposed to honor the perpetuate memory of and I quote, "The perpetuate memory of the noble courage and self-sacrificing devotion of the woman of the Confederacy.".
The twenty four foot tall thing sits right across the street from the town's Episcopal Church, "St. Mary's Episcopal Church" and beside the town's library that is named after the Confederate general who commanded the town's defense in the "Battle of Benton Road" General Albert Sidney Johnston. I mention all of this, because while they may remove monuments, the graves and change the name of certain buildings, they will never remove the stain or cleanse the sin. The war between the North and the South ripped the heart out of our nation, it pitted brother against brother, son against father, father against son, mother against daughter and daughter against mother. The war spawned a hundred thousand of ghost too. Every major battlefield and every minor one is supposed to claim its fair share of ghosts. From the high bluffs of Vicksburg that overlook the mighty Mississippi River to the rolling farmlands of Gettysburg, stories of ghosts are abound. Serving future generations of Americans a perpetuated reminder of the horrors of war.
Now that we got that out of the way, I can tell you about my ghostly encounter, this is my third story, I've added to this little collection of ghost stories and urban legends. My story today focuses on a little bayou that is located twelve miles from town. That twelve miles as the crow flies, its more like twenty five if you follow the winding course of the river. If you were, by chance to go down to the court house right now and look up the survey maps for this region, you will find the bayou I'm talking about. It's called "Millers Bayou'' on those government survey maps. But the locals in Benton call it a different name, the name we go by is always 'Haunted Bayou" and there is a reason for that. Now when I was a young man, I had been taken under the wing of several local commercial fishermen who earned their keep by harvesting catfish from the many bayou's, channels and cut offs that dot this region. It was on one such night that I spotted the ghost of the old Confederate ironclad, the CSS Arkansas.
But before I tell you about that, I feel I should tell you a little about the history of the doomed ship the CSS Arkansas and how it came to rest at the bottom of this tiny bayou located some miles from town. Now in this region, a region that at the time of the American Civil War lacked railroads and had only a handful of roads, and what few roads that existed were hard packed dirt roads that often kicked up a dust storm during the dry winter months and became deep rutted holes in winter. And so the various rivers and waterways chief among them in this region were the Sunflower, Little Sunflower, Big Black and Yazoo these four rivers quickly became the main means of moving people and good from one small settlement to the other, these small river front settlements would over time become the first true towns and cities in this chiefly rural area. Anyway as the fortunes of the southern armies faded more and more columns of Federal forces pushed into this region. Yazoo City soon fell to advancing Federal Forces, their objective was to capture and destroy the make-shift shipyard there. They failed and the bulk of the garrison some six hundred rag-tag, threadbare soldiers, many of them lacking shoes and many of them armed with old flintlock muskets withdrew from the town and moved down the Yazoo and then finally the Big Black till at last they reached the safety of Benton.
Once they reached Benton, they were joined by several hundred "Volunteers'' and formed a chain of defensive works including trenches and rifle pits. The outline and remains of these old earth works can still be seen in the field and woodland east of town. That is, if you look hard enough and know were to look, many have been plowed under, but many still remain. Once these crude and one would say primitive defenses were in place, a small make-shift shipyard was thrown up. A historical mark stands at the sight of the old shipyard right now. Only one ship would ever be built in the yard though before an attacking Federal column would come crashing through the ill constructed and undermanned. The column would as history records put the town to the torch, houses would be burned, business looted and warehouses filled with cotton taken. All told over two million of dollars of damage would be done. Anyway returning to the story, there would be only one ship built in that yard and she would be called, CSS Arkansas. She was named in honor of her state where construction on her first began. Professional and amateur Civil War historians both agree that the ship was doomed from the start, her boilers had been made of salvaged copper, the wooden planks used to construct her keel and hull had been savaged from scrap, the metal plates attached had likewise been savaged from a dozen or abandoned projects.
She was not a beauty nor was she easy on the eyes, she was a squat square of a ship. Neither was she fighting fit, her crew was ill trained and morale was low, despite these well known facts, she was ordered forward to help with the relief efforts of Vicksburg, that had been placed under siege by Federal Forces, she never made it. Accounts from the period say she took on water and sank in "Millers Bayou" others say a fire doomed her, whatever happened, the ship never reached Vicksburg, and two hundred men perished with her.
Anyway it was a moonless night, and the water was smooth as glass. I can remember how my old aluminum pirogue cut through the murky waters. The wind was motionless, the area silent as the grave, only the faint sound of my old wooden paddle being dipped into the water broke the quintessences that hung over the area. I was about to haul in my last net when it happened. I swear to you on the Holy Bible, the water started to boil around me. And I mean that, the water started to boil, and boy it boiled like water in a copper kettle over an open flame on a gas stove. Then, a sudden and powerful wind rose up from the east and pushed the dark clouds away from the face of the moon.
Streams of pale, broken, silvery moonlight then started to stream down from the heavens, I could see the reflection of the moon and how it shone on the pale, glassy water and the water just kept boiling away, then I saw it, right out of the corner of right eye, the water broke and then from its muddy depths of the bayou there came a old smoke stack, bent and half and hanging low. Soon the whole of the ship popped up from the water and then she started to float. She was surrounded by a light greenish glow.
I just sat there in my old pirogue, my fingers wrapped tightly around the paddle, my eyes glued to the phantom ship. My mouth hung open, my eyes became as wide as saucer plates and the warm blood that flowed in my body became like ice. And I swear to you, I felt the front of my bluejeans become soaked with pee as that ship just floated along, no waves she made and then it happened. When she reached the deepest part of the bayou, the place I had cast my nets and put out a few lines. I saw sheets of fire, orange and yellow shoot out from her side, fire balls the size of a bulls head burst from her decks and shot into the night sky like fireworks on the fourth of July. A second later, I heard a big old bag, like somebody had mashed two pieces of iron together. That was followed by a big old boom, the boom echoed across the water and nearly caused me to lose my balance.
And then I heard it, a sound I can only say sounded like the screams of the damned, screams of men who were trapped below, a horrible noise of pain and suffering, a noise that rose as the flames licked away at their flesh and burned away their clothing.
And to my horror, humanoid shadows started to fill the night, these humanoid shadows were covered in flames, they illuminated the night and the smell of roasting human flesh that filled the air, though phantom made me toss what little supper I had into the water. And then as quick as it appeared it vanished. Well, I soon collected myself and paddled away, I left my lines and my nets there. I've never been back to collect them, too scared to. And so, I end this story like I started it. You can remove the flag, tear down the statues, remove the headstones and do all that. But the ghost will still remain. I'm telling you, that war left a stain on the fabric of this nation. And nothing, I mean nothing is going to get that stain out, those ghosts will keep reminding us of our sins.