Pegues’ Ghost: Version One
From the mystical shadows of long ago comes the memory of one of those strange, mysterious, uncanny phenomena connected with this place that sometimes happens to astonish the most materialistic, and which at the time of its occurrence caused much interest and speculation even among the most intelligent and best-informed citizens of Cahaba.
In the spring of 1862, on one of those brilliant moonlight nights, a night “in which nature seems in silent contemplation to adore its Maker,” a young lady and gentleman, promenading near the maze of cedars, turned to enter one of the circular walks leading to the center of the labyrinth, when they were startled to see a large white, luminous ball moving a few feet above the ground in front of them, apparently floating in air. This ball would dart first on one side of the walk and then on the other, approach close enough to almost touch them, recede and disappear in the shrubbery, to suddenly be seen again floating beside them. Thinking the apparition was a trick of fancy or was caused by some peculiar phase of the moon’s shadows, they turned to retrace their steps, when again it appeared in front of them, going through the same gyrations. The gentlemen now determined to test the materiality of the object; but just as he attempted to grasp it, it darted beyond his reach and disappeared, to be seen no more that night.
On several occasions this apparition appeared to other parties, and became known as the “Pegues Ghost.” No one could ever definitely explain what it was, but general opinion finally concluded it to be one of those strange phosphorescent phenomena so often read of but rarely seen, known as “will-o’-the-wisp” or Jack-o’-lantern.”
Pegues’ Ghost: Version Two
One famous event during Cahawba’s Civil War-era was the arrival of the town’s first apparition, the will-o’-the-wisp wisp known as the “Pegues’ Ghost.” In 1862, on a moonlit night, a young couple was walking behind Colonel C. C. Pegues’ home, ambling about the thick stand of cedars when a glowing ball of white light suddenly appeared before them. Flashing from side to side a few feet above the path, the apparition moved so close that they could almost touch it, then quickly disappeared in the undergrowth only to reappear beside them moments later. When the gentleman tried to touch the object, it disappeared — much like the town itself was soon fated to vanish.
One cannot help but wonder about the historical circumstances and coincidences that surround the Pegues’ Ghost story. The home of Colonel Pegues, the leader of the Cahaba Rifles, Fifth Alabama Regiment, was the social center of the town during this time. The large grounds with their forest of cedars, magnolia trees, Lombardy pines, scented flowers and fountains describe the ideal retreat for lovers desperate in escape the harsh realities of war. The home was a place to court and to forget. But significantly, it was Colonel Pegues that would return home to recruit more men for his Cahaba Rifles. Was the young man in the story a recruit?
That the apparition first showed up in 1862 seems undeniably significant, for at the Battle of Gains Mills in Virginia on June 27 that very same year, Colonel Pegues was fatally wounded. He died two weeks later. Was the apparition a warning to young recruits? To Pegues himself?
No matter. The first Cahaba ghost story presaged more than the inhabitants could have realized: Cahawba like the Pegues’ Ghost, was soon to become immaterial, a place owing more to the past than the future, a place inhabited primarily by the events of its former glory days. Cahaba would soon become a ghost story itself.