Imagine a town ravaged by war. The walls of civilian homes are punctured by bullet holes, and bodies of soldiers lay where they fell. Such was the aftermath of the infamous Battle of Gettysburg. The casualties of war are not strictly limited to those who fight, however.

There are unexpected ripples that affect the world in ways no one could have anticipated, like at the National Soldier’s Orphan’s Homestead, a Gettysburg orphanage that saw unbelievable suffering as a direct result of the war.

While many know the battlefield at Gettysburg to be haunted, this lesser-known location is full of its own spirits, eager to tell their story.

The Battle of Gettysburg

young soldier during the american civil war
The American Civil War was the greatest conflict our country has ever seen.

Though there were many contributing factors to the start of the war, the primary cause was the differing ideologies regarding slavery between the northern and southern states.

Over four long years and upwards of 10,000 battles, the war ravaged our young country, turning kin against kin. One of the bloodiest of these altercations was the Battle of Gettysburg.

On July 1, 1863, Union and Confederate soldiers met in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Over the next three days, homes and other buildings in town were commandeered by military officials to be used as makeshift hospitals or headquarters for generals and officers to plan their next attack.

When the battle ended three days later, between 46,000 and 51,000 men lay dead on the battlefield. Due to the massive bloodshed here, it’s no wonder that many places around town now report regular paranormal activity.

One of the most haunted buildings in Gettysburg is the National Homestead, also known as the National Soldier’s Orphan’s Homestead.

The Orphans of Gettysburg

A orphan girl sitting beside her parents grave
According to the Census Bureau, the number of children housed in orphanages rose from 7,700 in 1850 to a whopping 60,000 in 1880.

When the war finally ended in 1865, an estimated 620,000 men had lost their lives. This left an unprecedented number of children orphaned or with single parents unable to care for them.

Three such “partially orphaned” children were the Humiston children, Franklin, Alice, and Frederick. Their father, Sergeant Amos Humiston, had been found deceased, carrying no identification but clutching a photo of his children in his hands.

This heart-wrenching tale spread throughout the northern states until it reached New York’s Philinda Humiston, who recognized the photo as one that she had sent to her husband shortly before his death.

Dr. John F. Bourns, who had led the campaign to identify Sergeant Humiston, then asked Philinda if she would be interested in overseeing the new orphanage he was opening in Gettysburg.

The two-story brick building had originally been built as a private residence, but during the battle, had been taken over as the headquarters of Major General Oliver O. Howard, as well as serving as a field hospital. In 1866, the home was officially dedicated as the National Orphanage.

From Good to Pure Evil

Ulysses S. Grant with the boys and girls at National Homestead orphanage, June 21, 1867
Ulysses S. Grant with the boys and girls at National Homestead orphanage, June 21, 1867

Under Philinda Humiston’s supervision, the orphanage thrived. The children were well-fed, well-educated, and comfortably clothed. They were often seen outside playing and were generally happy and healthy.

The homestead was even visited by fabled veterans, such as General Ulysses S. Grant, as part of a campaign to raise support for the orphanage.

By 1869, the population of the homestead had risen to nearly 60 children, and a second building had to be constructed on the southwest corner of the original home.

Things took a turn for the worse, however, after Philinda remarried and moved to Massachusetts with her children and new husband.

rosa Carmichael

An old and scratched black and white photo of a spooky blonde girl in a dress
Dr. Bourns appointed a new headmistress by the name of Rosa Carmichael. For the first few years, it seemed that the standards at the homestead were being upheld, but in 1875, the people of Gettysburg began noticing changes in the children.

Their education was declining, they weren’t seen outside as often, and when they were seen, their clothing was in tatters. Calls to the doctor began to rise significantly, further raising concerns for the well-being of the kids in Rosa’s care.

Town residents tried to get inside of the orphanage to check on the children, but as headmistress, Rosa had total power over the building. This included the right to control who could or could not enter the premises.

The conflict between Rosa Carmichael and the people of Gettysburg came to a head on Memorial Day 1876.

Gettysburg National cemetery
It had come to be a tradition for the townspeople to parade to the orphanage, and the children would then lead the procession to the cemetery where they would place flowers on the soldiers’ graves.

For many of the children, this was especially meaningful, as the graves they decorated were their own fathers’. However, on this day, the children were locked inside of the homestead. They were forced to watch through the windows as other children distributed the flowers instead.

Outraged, the townspeople put Rosa on trial for charges of cruelty to children. She was found guilty, fined $20, and ordered to leave town. She refused to leave, though, instead barricading herself inside of the homestead and continuing to oversee the children as usual. The people in town were helpless to stop her.

On Christmas Eve of the same year, two men were walking near the grounds of the orphanage when they heard pitiful crying. Following the sound, they found that the source was a four-year-old boy locked inside of the homestead outhouse.

Despite being a bitterly cold December night, the boy was dressed only in a threadbare nightshirt. He told his rescuers that he’d been locked in the outhouse as punishment. This launched a brand new, in-depth investigation into Rosa and her alleged cruelty.

Investigators found the children shoeless and in rags, some in hobbling chains. There was significant evidence that Rosa had been locking children in a dark room in the cellar that she called “the dungeon.”

She had shackled children to the walls of the cellar, even going so far as to place them in vats of water until their legs gave out and they nearly drowned. Not only did the children report being beaten by Rosa herself, but also by a handful of 14 to 19-year-old boys that she had appointed to help her carry out her punishments.

Several children were even missing and never found, though no murder charges were ever pressed.

Rosa Carmichael was finally forced out of Gettysburg in 1877, and completely disappeared from the history books. However, the damage done to the reputation of the orphanage was irreparable.

The remaining children were sent to other facilities or adopted by Gettysburg residents, and the National Soldier’s Orphan’s Homestead was officially closed.

The Hauntings of the Orphanage

Shadowy figure, child behind glass
The cruelty endured inside the home left a lasting imprint, as the tortured souls of children still haunt the halls.

Visitors report the sound of chains clinking against the walls of the basement dungeon.

Voices of children have been heard and captured on digital recordings, as well as both the sounds of laughter and of crying. Toys are said to move on their own in the building, as if being played with by unseen children.

Child-like figures have been captured on camera when there were no kids present at the time the photo was taken. Other anomalies known to appear in pictures are orbs and unexplained streaks of light.

Additionally, there is a white mist that is said to appear and move around the basement. The full-bodied apparition of a little boy is frequently spotted in the shadowy corners, vanishing when he realizes he’s been spotted.

The kids are evidently not alone in the home, though. The face of an angry, mean-looking woman has been captured in multiple photos. It’s said that descending the stairs into the cellar causes a stomach-dropping feeling of anxiety.

See also: Gettysburg’s Haunted Hotels

Cold spots are experienced throughout the basement, accompanied by a general feeling of unease. A woman’s voice has been caught on digital recording, aggressively screeching, “Get back!” These occurrences are widely attributed to the spirit of Rosa Carmichael.

The Orphanage Today

For the paranormal enthusiasts hoping to have an interaction with either the children or their evil headmistress, 2-hour ghost tours are offered for $23.

These tours take you not only through the orphanage and its dungeon, but to another haunted location known as the Jennie Wade house.

For a more intimate experience, paranormal investigations can be booked as well, for $275 per two hours. These must be scheduled a minimum of 30 days in advance.