Stories of buried treasure—and ghosts who guard it—are found in legends from many countries. In the South, many such stories date to the Civil War, when families hid their money and most precious possessions from Union troops or Confederate guerrillas; or, alternatively, the stories deal with Confederate gold, used for soldiers’ payrolls or to buy supplies, which was hidden from Union troops and never recovered.
One of the strangest such stories comes from North Carolina’s Uwharrie Mountains.
The Uwharries are an unimaginably ancient mountain range. Five hundred million years ago, they towered as high as the Himalayas above a coastal plain; tectonic movements pushed them to their present location in central North Carolina, and time and erosion reduced them in size to mere shadows of their young selves; no single mountain now stands much over eleven hundred feet high. The region, peopled first by Native Americans some eleven thousand years ago, followed by, successively, Germans coming down from Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century, then Scots-Irish, English, and French Huguenots from farther east, has produced a unique folklore. This story of a lost Confederate treasure was collected by Fred T. Morgan for his 1968 book GHOST STORIES OF THE UWHARRIES.
A Confederate patrol was making its way through the Uwharries, sometime around 1863. They were wary and kept a close eye out for approaching Union troops, for they were transporting gold coins to their army, which hadn’t been paid in awhile. Late one sticky-hot summer day, they made camp by a little lake, deep in the mountains. They had stored the gold in, of all places, the barrel of a great wheeled, horse-drawn cannon, and plugged its muzzle. The cannon sat backed up to the lake.
Just as camp was about made and the soldiers ready to have supper and then post guards around the cannon, one of their scouts rushed in to report a Union force approaching, many times larger than their little troop. Their one thought was to hide the gold before the Yankees arrived, and, with noplace else to put it immediately, the big gun, with its hidden load, was shoved into the lake. In that great effort, one soldier, an Irish boy called Corriher, got his trouser leg caught in the cannon’s chassis. He couldn’t get loose, and went into the lake with the gun and gold. He drowned.
His commanding officer told his remaining troops, “We’ll come back for it later—” And then the Yankees were upon them. In the skirmish that followed, the Confederate unit was wiped out to a man.
For eighty years, people in the Uwharries whispered of that lost Confederate gold, but no one tried to find it. They said a guardian ghost kept watch over it. Sometimes, they said, he would set off a flare of some sort, trying to attract attention. He was waiting for someone to find the gold and let him rest.
During World War II, a unit in training came to that part of the Uwharries. They stopped by a small lake on the backside of nowhere. Then, everything went mad.
They were, like the Confederate troops long before them, about to set up camp when, out of nowhere, a very young, very pale man in ragged Confederate gray walked into their midst. He walked up to their commander, a Captain Severs, and told him that Yankees were approaching. ” The cannon, sir! What should we do with the gold?” the boy asked.
The WWII trainees were horrified to find that they too were now dressed in Confederate gray. Not only that, but their big gun, a howitzer pulled by a truck, had changed; it was now a wheeled cannon, with a plugged barrel.
Captain Severs, also, oddly, in gray, said to the strange soldier, “We’ll push it in the lake, Private Corriher. That’s about all we can do for now. We’ll come back for it later. Remember the password?”
Corriher nodded, and the captain and troops helped him push the cannon into the lake. They saw him caught in the cannon’s chassis. They couldn’t save him. In any case, they were in trouble. No sooner had the cannon gone into the lake than Yankee troops, out of nowhere, swept in.
The WWII troops, in their Confederate gray, were “killed”—to a man.
And then the Yankees were gone. The trainees picked themselves up off the ground. None were wounded; they were back in fatigues; their gun was still there, hitched up to the truck.
“What the hell—”
It was Captain Severs who suggested that, somehow, they had been transported back in time to that Civil War battle. He opined that, since it appeared no one had survived from Corriher’s unit, Corriher had appeared to them, hoping they would find the gold he had spoken of, and relieve him of his long duty.
Severs’s trainees, badly spooked, weren’t interested. Instead of completing their exercise, they returned to their training HQ. Their story of a ghost battle was met with derision, Severs was reprimanded for abandoning his mission, and in very short order all of them were in battle for real, in Europe.
Captain Severs came back from the battlefield a wounded veteran with several decorations. While recuperating, he had had time to study some Civil War history, and decided he was right; the treasure was there, and if he could find it, not only would he be a wealthy man, but he would be helping Private Corriher to rest at last.
So he returned to the Uwharries, and he tried, diligently, to find the lake, and Private Corriher, again. A few times he saw the flare, but logging operations had changed the landscape beyond recognition, and he could never quite track it to its source.
Then he had an idea. He went out in authentic Confederate uniform, on horseback, one day, to the area he thought most likely to be where he and his men had met Private Corriher. That time, he got lucky. As he rode down a now-deserted logging road, Corriher stepped out of the underbrush in front of him.
Severs told him, “I’m your captain, Corriher. I came back for you and the gold. Show me where it is.”
Corriher replied courteously, “What’s the password, sir?”
Despite his bravado, Severs had never known the password, couldn’t guess it—and Corriher vanished in disgust.
Severs never saw Corriher again, although he kept trying to find the gold. He finally was killed by a hunter who mistook him for a deer.
Sometime in the 1960s, another military unit, from Fort Bragg, came to the Uwharries on manuevers, and was accosted by the ghost of a Confederate soldier, who asked them to help him hide the gold.
It seems Private Corriher is still on guard duty.