There are few conflicts in history that illustrate the horrors of war quite as spectacularly as the American Civil War, also known simply as the Civil War. Fought from 1861 to 1865, it was a fierce, gruesome struggle fought between the Union armies of the north and the Confederate armies of the southern states, in which hung the balance the survival of the Union, the secession of the eleven states of the Confederacy, the direction of the United States, and the future of slavery in America. The aftermath of the war would see slavery ended, the infrastructure of the South in ruins, and over 750,000 dead, and is by far the deadliest war in the history of the United States. Yet among all of the grim history of battles and death that hangs over the Civil War like a dark specter, there are scattered throughout curious tales of the strange, and it seems that there was more than just the enemy lurking about the battlefields of the era. Out of the war come stories of bizarre beasts that prowled through the wilderness to evoke curiosity, bafflement, and indeed fear in the bedraggled troops of both sides. Mostly lost to the mists of time, these perplexing accounts are a bizarre look into another, stranger facet of America’s bloodiest war.
Certainly one of the weirdest tales of mystery monsters to come out of the Civil War is that of a strange creature said to have the body of a dingo and the head of a crocodile, and which has come to be known as the Crocodingo. The creature was said to mostly prowl the area of Scott County, Tennessee, and although the legends of this weird beast had been around for years, the report which most propelled it into notoriety was that of a local from Huntsville, Tennessee named Hank Lemon. According to the eyewitness, on the night of July 31, 1839, a strange green glow was observed in the sky behind his house, and his dogs became extremely agitated at the time, barking and snarling uncontrollably. Lemon claimed that he at first took the glow to be something like the Northern Lights, and after a few moments of staring at it in amazement he began to trudge back to his house. It was then that a streak of light described as a “dead straight bolt of lightning” crashed down into the woods beyond his property, after which the glow in the sky abruptly vanished. Lemon stood there surveying the silent dark woods for awhile before suddenly a strange creature allegedly bolted forth from the underbrush. The bizarre monster was described as having the body of a large dog topped with a bulbous reptilian alligator-like head, complete with jagged fangs. Whatever it was, it reportedly moved very quickly, and was said to exude an unbearably horrid stench. Lemon said of the smell:
There was this horrible charnel stench in the air, and something else…a horrible thing….something that would drive a man crazy should he be exposed to it for too long a period.
This report marked the beginning of a whole series of sightings of the baffling beast between the years of 1856 and 1860, which was often seen prowling the muddy shores of creeks and ravenously eating fish. So voracious was its appetite for fish that it was claimed at the time by fishermen that the creature was responsible for ever dwindling catches. Many attempts were made to hunt down or trap the creature without success. Farmers also claimed to have shot at the beast without effect. During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers began coming back with accounts of seeing the monster while out in the field, darting through the wilderness, studying them from afar, or even growling in a threatening manner. In one such account, a Confederate soldier by the name of Roger Owens claimed to have come across the creature hunched over the corpse of a fallen soldier, apparently guarding it for some reason, possibly due to it being the thing’s kill as evidenced by the mauled state in which the body seemed to be. A follow up investigation into this sighting turned up blood in the vicinity but no body.
Sightings of the Crocodingo would continue after the war well into the 1900s, particularly in the vicinity of the town of Oneida, and it was rather oddly claimed by railroad workers at the time that the thing had a penchant for gnawing on freshly laid rails, on which it would allegedly leave deep teeth mark impressions within the solid steel. The creature was also reportedly fond of prowling through the dank darkness of the sewer system, and reports of strange snarls or howls from the black depths of the sewers were common. One sewer worker named Jack Bannister claimed to have gotten a good close look at the monster in 1943, when he spied it pushing off a manhole cover in a very dog-like fashion before disappearing down into the murky stench below. Bannister described the creature as looking decidedly “alien,” with the body of a “mangy wolf” and a misshapen head that resembled that of a crocodile. Sightings of a strange, dog or wolflike creature with a reptilian head have continued in the Oneida area right up into the 2000s. Theories on what the Crocodingo could be run the gamut from secret genetic engineering projects, aliens, or shape shifters, to mere misidentifications of coyotes and feral dogs.
Another strange creature that reared its head during the Civil War was an alleged enormous amphibious monster that inhabited the White River near Newport in northeastern Arkansas. The thing that has come to be known as the White River Monster was first brought to public attention in July of 1915, when a plantation owner spotted a a huge monster with rough, grey skin basking on the shore of the river. The report generated a good deal of excitement, and there were even plans to make a large rope net to capture the beast. Although the creature could not be captured, its trademark three-toed footprints were often seen along the river’s muddy shores, as well as trees that had been bent out of shape and brush that had been plowed down flat by something very large and heavy.
A further sighting would be made in 1937, when another plantation owner named Bramlett Bateman saw a creature which was reported as being 12 feet long, with skin like that of an elephant and with a face that looked like a catfish. Bateman was so upset by the presence of the creature in the river that he had had plans to blow it up with explosives until authorities put an end to such ideas by denying permission to do so. The monstrous creature would be sighted nearly a hundred times after that, and in 1971 there was a series of other high profile sightings which described the monster as being up to 20 feet long and having smooth flesh and some sort of bone protruding from its forehead. It was also said to produce vocalizations that sounded like the mooing of a cow or the neighing of a horse. Oddly, some of the reports described the creature to be apparently molting, with patches of skin sloughing off of it; an interesting detail to mention that seems to somehow give it some weight as to being a real creature since how many witnesses would think to add on such an odd observation? Sightings got to be so prolific that there was even legislation passed to create a refuge for the monster in 1973, which states that it cannot be harmed within the area’s borders, which stretch from an area known as “Old Grand Glaize” and a point on White River known as “Rosie.” It is an interesting case of an unknown animal being protected even in the absence of proof of its existence.
Although the White River Monster was brought to the public consciousness in 1915, there are supposedly reports from even earlier, during the Civil War, when the mystery monster was said to occasionally overturn boats used for shipping supplies and for transportation of troops. Some boats at this time were reported to have been smashed from underwater by some sort of large, aggressive creature, which would cause damage or even sink them. There is even a report of Civil War soldiers firing upon a large “elephant-like” monster on the shores of the river, which seemed to be unfazed before submerging and swimming off. It is unclear if these accounts really happened, or if they were fabricated later to match the growing amount of sightings of the purported beast in the early 19oos. Although it is unknown just what sort of creature was prowling the White River, one popular theory is that it was wayward elephant seals far out of their normal range.
Another water monster seen during the Civil War was the well-known Chesapeake Bay monster, also often called “Chessie.” Chessie is said to be a long, serpent like beast that is reported as being anywhere from from 25 feet (7.6 m) to 40 feet (12 m) long, and has been seen in the bay for years. One of the earliest purported photographs of this creature, if not the earliest, comes to us from the Civil War era. In a book by Edgar Riley called “The Civil War of the Worlds: First-Hand Accounts of UFOs and Other Mysterious Phenomena During America’s Civil War,” there is among all of the compiled tales of historical high strangeness of the era a curious photograph taken City Point, Virginia in 1864, at Chesapeake Bay. The photograph is of several Union ships loaded with supplies for the Federal army, but off to the left the head, neck, and even a hint of perhaps a body underwater of some strange sea creature can be seen emerging from the water. Could this be Chessie? According to Riley’s book, the photograph has been examined by experts and there is no sign that it has been doctored in any way. If it is real, then it would certainly be one of the earliest photographs we have of Chessie, or indeed of any cryptic for that matter.
Bigfoot was not above making an appearance during the Civil War either, with a few notable sightings of the creature made during these years. One such account was found amidst a large collection of old letters from the war found at an estate sale in Hartford, Connecticut in 1999. Among the various correspondences between Civil War soldiers and their loved ones were found some written by a Private James Moore of the Pennsylvania 67th Infantry Regiment, Company K, addressed to his wife. One of these letters described an incident which occurred while he was on guard duty along a railway at Harper’s Ferry, in West Virginia. In the account, some of the men had started yelling excitedly that a hairy man-beast was prowling about, and shots were even fired. The creature was supposedly 8 feet tall and covered in thick layers of matted dark hair. The mystery beast apparently climbed the guard post walls and raided the food stores.
Another harrowing encounter with Bigfoot during the Civil War written of in “The Civil War of the Worlds: First-Hand Accounts of UFOs and Other Mysterious Phenomena During America’s Civil War” occurred during the Battle of Chickamauga, a major battle which was waged in southeastern Tennessee and and northwestern Georgia from September 19–20, 1863, and marked one of the most horrific, bloodiest battles of the war, second only to the Battle of Gettysburg in terms of the sheer number of lives lost. On the eve of this maelstrom of fighting and death, two Tennessee infantry men by the names of privates Ott Morton and Billy Chandler reportedly had been on picket duty when they heard an ear piercing, otherworldly shriek coming from the forest beyond. The two startled men went to the edge of the woods to investigate, and that was when they encountered a creature the likes of which they had never seen before, or even imagined. The ape-like beast was reported as being 10 feet tall, with “eyes like hot coals and breath like the smell of rotten meat.” The soldiers ran back to camp to tell their superiors, but no one believed them. The next morning, the two unsettled privates were still in a profound state of fear and panic, so a sergeant went out to check it out. When he arrived at the edge of the forest where the creature had been seen, he allegedly discovered huge, human-like footprints in the mud which measured 22 inches long.
This particular battle is the origin of yet another, even more bizarre report of a monstrous abomination that is really hard to classify. In the area of Georgia’s Chickamauga Creek, also at the site of the epic, bloody Battle of Chickamauga, a strange creature was said to lurk about the battlefield in the aftermath of the ferocious fighting, prowling and flitting amongst the fallen corpses and feeding on the dead, particularly in an area known as Snodgrass Hill. The thing was described as being vaguely humanoid, with glowing green eyes, waist length yellow hair, and disproportionately large jaws filled with formidable looking sharp teeth, and would come to be nicknamed “Green Eyes.” Interesttingly, the beast would be sighted from time to time even long after Civil War hostilities ended. In 1981, a park ranger by the name of Edward Tinney gave an account to the author Richard Winer, which described a rather harrowing encounter with the creature. Tinney claims that as he was walking through the park one evening in 1976 at about 4 AM he was overcome by an inexplicable chill and heavy sense of dread, soon after which he witnessed a bizarre monster stalking through the woods. Tinney would describe the encounter thus:
When it passed me, I could see his hair was long like a woman’s. The eyes -I’ll never forget those eyes- they were glaring, almost greenish-orange in color, flashing like some sort of wild animal. The teeth were long and pointed like fangs. It was wearing a dark cape that seemed to be flapping in the wind, but there was no wind. I didn’t know whether to run or scream or what. Then the headlights of an approaching car came blazing through the fog, and the thing disappeared right in front of me.
Was this the same entity seen by troops feasting on the corpses of the dead on desolate battlefields during the Civil War? It is really hard to categorize what this strange phantom could have been. Was it some kind of a vampire, werewolf, alien, or something else entirely? Did it ever even really exist at all? Whatever the case, it ranks among the most bizarre stories of mystery monsters from the Civil War. Unfortunately, as in many cases of strange creatures seen during wartime, these accounts have become obscure and forgotten over time, lost to the tides of history. There is little to be done to to truly follow up on or come to an understanding of these phenomena, and it is unclear just how much of these reports is credible and what has been exaggerated or even fabricated over time. These bizarre beasts remain there among the fighting and fallen dead, their memories kept alive solely through obscure old written and oral accounts which are a challenge to further analyze. However, such reports remain a tantalizing look back into this era, gems of strangeness hidden throughout the rough, ugly realities of battle during one of the fiercest wars ever fought.