Fort Magruder: Haunted Hospitality

Posted on August 15, 2017

FORT MAGRUDER HOTEL AND CONFERENCE CENTER – WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA

Hotel guests still encounter Civil War spirits.

“Stroll along our sidewalks and enjoy the beautiful trees that surround the hotel which are beautiful each season!” – Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center
“Stroll along our sidewalks and enjoy the beautiful trees that surround the hotel which are beautiful each season!” – Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center

Image Source: Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center

A few months into the American Civil War, Major General George B. McClellan was put in charge of all Union armies by President Abraham Lincoln. McClellan was known for being a particularly meticulous and cautious commander; yet, despite his due diligence, his famous Peninsula Campaign proved inconclusive at best. The operation’s goal was to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia from General Joseph E. Johnston and his troops.

Major General George B. McClellan, Union Army general-in-chief from November 1861 to March 1862.
Major General George B. McClellan, Union Army general-in-chief from November 1861 to March 1862.

Photography by Mathew Brady (1822-1896) / Image Source: Wikipedia

The two armies initially collided at Fort Monroe, located right at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Fighting would continue to push the Confederates farther inland. Fort Magruder, where Major General John B. Magruder had placed a small division of his team, was next to be hit by Union troops. Despite being forced to ultimately withdraw, Magruder’s soldiers did well in delaying Union General Joseph Hooker from advancing quickly to Richmond.

The Peninsula Campaign, map of events leading up to the final battle at Seven Pines.
The Peninsula Campaign, map of events leading up to the final battle at Seven Pines.

Image Source: Latinamericanstudies.org

After the Seize of Yorktown, the Confederates would again prove to be worthier opponents than McClellan had first expected. One of the most significant battles during the campaign, the Battle of Williamsburg, for instance, has arguably no clear victor. On May 5, 1862, the two armies resumed bloody combat, this time near Williamsburg. It was the campaign’s first pitched battle (in other words, a planned, not serendipitous, encounter), and it left 1,682 Confederate and 2,283 Union soldiers dead1. Despite his greater losses, McClellan would dub this as a “brilliant victory.”2 Supporters of the South, on the other hand, would applaud Johnston’s ability to meet each Federal onslaught with great efficiency and tact, thus preventing the Confederate army from being completely annihilated. Some, such as author of Civil War Williamsburg Carson Hudson, say its inconclusiveness is in fact what lends the Battle of Williamsburg its significance:

“Williamsburg was an accidental battle. The outcome wasn’t clear-cut. And partly because of that its significance has been overlooked.

“But if you look at the figures who stood out on the battlefield, this is where the war started to sort out who was brave, who was a coward — who was good, and who wasn’t — in the two most important armies of the Civil War, and every soldier here knew it.”3

A painting portraying General Hancock's charge during the Battle of Williamsburg.
A painting portraying General Hancock’s charge during the Battle of Williamsburg.

Image Source: Library of Congress

It is this “unique and exciting piece of history”4 that affords Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center to be a popular tourist destination. Not only did the Battle of Williamsburg occur on its grounds, but the hotel itself has become a museum for its artifacts. From old musket balls to hand-stitched quilts, there are plenty of Civil War era relics on display.

The hotel’s lobby proudly showcases physical remnants of our nation’s history.
The hotel’s lobby proudly showcases physical remnants of our nation’s history.

Image Source: Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center

Guests can also pose in front of authentic cannons and explore the various earthwork fortifications which still stand the property. One of the most popular redoubts at the hotel, Redoubt #3, for example, was a major part of the Williamsburg Line; guests can walk along its secluded path and envision what it was like to be a Civil War soldier marching through the area’s surrounding ravines.

Hotel guestrooms boast spectacular views of Civil War redoubts.
Hotel guestrooms boast spectacular views of Civil War redoubts.

Image Source: Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center

“Built on historic ground5, the location of our hotel makes it easy to imagine the drama of the Battle of Williamsburg… rain-soaked Confederate soldiers crouching behind their redoubts, flashes of gunfire through the trees, the thud of boots as troops engage the enemy.”

But perhaps the hotel’s efforts to preserve the past have proven just a bit too successful. There have been several reports of paranormal activity within the hotel, most likely caused by soldiers who feel more than welcome where they are so celebrated.According to Colonial Ghosts6, one unfortunate female guest at Fort Magruder was interrupted from her sleep by a red-headed Confederate soldier, perched upon her bed. Indeed, besides picturesque views of battlegrounds, the hotel’s guestrooms offer so much more.

But you won’t just see apparitions at Fort Magruder Hotel – you more than likely willinteract with them as well. This was certainly the case for science fiction and fantasy fans who attended the annual MarsCon7 event, when the convention was held at Fort Magruder. But what else would you expect, when you’re led on ghost hunting expeditions by paranormal expert and author of Virginia’s Haunted Triangle – Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown & Other Haunted Locations, Pamela K. Kinney?

A DVD copy of Pamela K. Kinney’s supernatural adventures at Fort Magruder.
A DVD copy of Pamela K. Kinney’s supernatural adventures at Fort Magruder.

Image Source: Pamelakkinney.com

During three of these investigations, several people got up close and personal with spirits. Colonial Ghosts continues:

“Someone took a picture at the one on Friday night and in the photo, the lead investigator had a figure behind her. It wore a hat and its hand rested on her shoulder…”8

“[A professional videographer] had a ten-hour battery that before and after the investigation, lasted its ten hours of filming. That night, the spirits sucked it dry in two hours. […] Before that night, he had been a non-believer, after that night, is no longer…”9

But it is not just guests and ghost hunters who have encountered spirits at Fort Magruder Hotel. Hotel housekeepers have experienced similar spooky run-ins, with some ghosts even presenting themselves as maids. Visitors to the hotel thus have to play a guessing game: who’s really alive, and who’s just pretending?

The hotel’s lobby and lounge are also frequented by unsettled spirits. Employees have seen figures walk through windows, discovered doors mysteriously unlocked, arcade games moved, and broken glass scattered all over the floor. It’s moments like these that make staff wish that their hotel didn’t have such a close connection with history.

Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center, lobby.
Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center, lobby.

Image Source: Facebook

When you visit Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center’s website10, the offers it features certainly don’t advertise all of this supernatural activity. Instead, it tells guests that what they will experience are romantic dinners, exceptional golf getaways, some quality family bonding… etc., etc. Of course, you can enjoy all of these… in the light of day. But sunlight doesn’t last forever, and no amount of modern accommodations can erase the property’s haunted past. At Fort Magruder, hospitality versus unsettled spirits has a clear winner: the ghosts.

Fort Magruder Hotel and Convention Center, today.
Fort Magruder Hotel and Convention Center, today.

Image Source: Perfect Resorts

So perhaps during your swim in the hotel’s indoor pool, you’ll find something not of this world lurking in the water. Or when you turn off the lights at night and sink deep into your standard double bed, you’ll wake up to someone lying beside you. Just hope that when you go to tip that housekeeper, your money doesn’t fall right through her hands!

 

Works Cited

  1. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign. Ticknor and Fields, 1992. Page 82.
  2. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign. Ticknor and Fields, 1992. Page 82.
  3. St. John Erickson, Mark. “1862 Battle of Williamsburg: An iconic clash between the blue and gray.” Daily Press. 18 August 13. Web. 7 August 2015. Para. 9-10.
  4. “Our Unique and Exciting History!” Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center. Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center, n.d. Web. 7 August 2015.
  5. “Come Soak Up the Civil War.” Fort Magruder Sentinel. Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center, n.d. Web. 7 August 2015.
  6. “The Dead Don’t Stay Dead in Williamsburg!” Colonial Ghosts. Colonial Ghosts. 23 October 2013. Web. 7 August 2015.
  7. “What Is MarsCon?” MarsCon. MarsCon, n.d. Web. 7 August 2015.
  8. “The Dead Don’t Stay Dead in Williamsburg!” Colonial Ghosts. Colonial Ghosts. 23 October 2013. Web. 7 August 2015. Para. 3.
  9. “The Dead Don’t Stay Dead in Williamsburg!” Colonial Ghosts. Colonial Ghosts. 23 October 2013. Web. 7 August 2015. Para. 3.
  10. Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center. Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center, n.d. Web. 7 August 2015.