Doc Amiss’ ghost story

Posted on October 3, 2010 by

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I’m really not a fan of modern ghost tours and “ghosts of history”-type books. For one thing, I get the impression that the stories being delivered are so incredibly embellished over the years, that they miss the meaty content of the stories told in years past; more fluff than solid content. I know, I know… some “happenings” that are mentioned are those that have happened in more recent times, but I have a hard time buying into the more modern stories. I think I’ve grown more skeptical with age.

That said, however, the stories of old still hold my interest. This particular story, I think, is a rare treat. Why? O.k., let’s start here… take a look in Bob Krick’s Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain, pp 376-383. Some may already be familiar with this story… no, this isn’t the ghost story, but it sets-up familiarity with the main person in the ghost story I’m going to relate to you.

 

Richard Snowden Andrews in later years

 

Doctor Thomas Benjamin Amiss may be best known in Civil War circles for his battlefield medical care administered to Major Snowden Andrews, after Andrews received a nasty wound at Cedar Mountain (aka Slaughter Mountain). Andrews commanded the artillery of Stonewall Jackson’s old division. Bob writes:

As Andrews galloped behind his guns not far south of the Crittenden Gate, a piece of shell tore apart the wall of his abdomen on the right side. The major had enough presence of mind to press one arm over the gaping wound and clutch his horse’s neck with the other in such a fashion that he could fall to the ground without entirely being disemboweled.

Pretty gruesome stuff.

Doc Amiss was a native of Rappahannock County, Virginia, but at the time was serving with the Thirty-first Georgia Infantry as surgeon. His brother, William H. Amiss, also a doctor, was serving with the Sixtieth Georgia Infantry. The brothers were dispatched to see to Andrews, and found the wounded man… well, I’ll let Bob tell the story…

“completely disemboweled, his intestines covered with dust, hen grass, sand and grit.” The surgeon turned to his brother and suggested more pragmatically than sensitively that Andrews was entirely beyond their capacity to help. Andrews retorted angrily that he had been hearing that for some time, “but if you damned doctors would do something for me I’d get well. I once had a hound dog that ran a mile with its guts out and caught a fox, and I know I am as good as any damned dog that ever lived, and can stand as much.” To that spirited entreaty Thomas Amiss responded by punning to his brother, “This man is full of all kinds of grit,” meaning physical stamina as well as literal sand.

Ultimately, they did patch-up the major, and he even returned to command.

I highly encourage reading the full details in Bob’s book (published in 1990), if you have an opportunity (sneak-peak here).

Oh, and one other thing from Bob before I go on to the ghost story… he briefly mentions the location of Doc Amiss’ practice in Page County after the war…

An account of their [the doctor brothers] performance by Andrews himself described, with carelessness bordering on ingratitude, Doctor “Amos” as a country doctor. Thomas B. Amiss practiced in Page County, Virginia, for almost half a century after the war, and Page County counts as country by almost any geographical or demographical standard.

Clearly, Bob did his homework, and has been to my home county…

So… the ghost story…

In his “Home of the Birds” column from the May 9, 1930 issue of the Page News & Courier, Jacob R. Seekford recounted a story told by Amiss while practicing in Alma, in central Page.

 

Thomas B. Amiss, ca. 1869

 

I must write about the great spook story told by Dr. Tom Amiss back in 1874 in the old Alma store.

Doc was a doctor in the army. He got a furlough to come home. The army was encamped down near Richmond. At the same time a friend, Jim Weasel Greene [like Doc Thomas Benjamin Amiss, also a Confederate surgeon] was furloughed and accompanied him.

Both started for Slate Mills, Va., the home of the Amiss family. They rode all day. Late in the evening, they came to a very swampy country. Only a house now and then. Clouds came over the sky and it looked like rain.

Doc said he came to a very old log house, stopped and called and found the house was vacant and rode on about a mile and came to a log house and called when a man came out. Doc asked the man if he could keep them over night. The man said he had a large family and would not have room. He then asked about the house they had just passed. The man said, ‘it is my house, but I could not live in it.’ He said about eight years before there had been a dance in that house and some of them fell out and four were shot and killed in the front room, and no one could live there any more. He said he had to leave the place and move to his present cabin.

Doc asked the distance to the next house. The man then told him he would come to a house occupied by very poor people about five miles up the road.

Then Doc asked if he could go back and stay at the old house. The man said, ‘You are welcome to go back and stay, cut corn and feed your horses and eat all the corn you want. I will give you an axe, some bread and salt. You can cut up some wood and make a fire in the front room.’

On getting back, Doc cut corn and feed for the horses and cut green wood and made the fire. Then both got supper and eat. Doc said his friend always carried a little Bible.

 

Doc Amiss in his U.C.V. uniform (atypical pattern), ca. 1910

 

After supper Jim read several chapters, then making a bed on the floor out of some broom sedge, they lay down for a good night’s sleep, but about ten o’clock the spooks began to come in the shape of large cats, some as big as large dogs, about 25 or 30, some white, some black, some gray, and some yellow. All the spooks sang and danced. Finally, the spooks fell out and went to fighting. They kept up the racket until after midnight when a large man came down the steps with long white hair and beard. He called for order and told the spooks to go to their homes over in the grave yard and not come back until he let them know. Then the old man sat down and asked Doc and Jim Weasel Greene many questions. After telling them of a woman that had been killed in the old house, he said, ‘She may come here tonight, but if I meet her on my way back home in the graveyard, I will tell her not to come in tonight, Now I bid you farewell, sleep and take your rest.’

Of course everyone that heard Doc tell this spook story believed every word of it.

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