Georgia ghost story of a Civil War relic hunter who stumbles across the haunted “Hell Hole” from the Battle of New Hope Church. Written by Craig Dominey, told by John Gentile.
NOTE: While our story is fiction, there is an actual Hell Hole in New Hope, Georgia. Read on after the story to learn more.
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Hell Hole – Battle of New Hope Church – Audio Story
They say there are places on this planet which have seen such tragedy and sorrow they are forever cursed. It’s as if the earth itself holds some dark supernatural force beyond our understanding. A few years ago, I found such a cursed place just a few miles west of Atlanta, Georgia – a tiny hamlet called New Hope. And even though many people don’t believe the story I’m about to tell, my visit there haunts my dreams to this day.
At one time, I was a 35-year-old small business owner living in a tiny town in rural Virginia. I didn’t have a brilliant business mind. But my father, a rabid Civil War hobbyist, had taught me to do one thing very well – hunt for Civil War artifacts. Bullets, belt buckles, coins, uniform buttons – the Virginia battlefields were full of them. Collectors from as far away as Germany and Japan paid top dollar for these rare artifacts. So I created a website to hawk my latest finds.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit it now, but profit was much more important to me in those days than respect for the dead. It didn’t matter to me if a battlefield was located on protected land or not. Under cover of darkness, I would sneak onto the property with my shovel and trusty metal detector. I would steal away as many artifacts as I could find. But other relic hunters quickly got in on the act, and competition became fierce. Verbal threats and fistfights became common amongst rival hunters, and I knew it was time to hunt for relics elsewhere.
I remembered studying about Union General William T. Sherman’s devastating “March to the Sea” in Georgia. I figured somewhere along that long path from Chattanooga, Tennessee, down through Atlanta, and south to Savannah there must be a treasure trove of artifacts. So that spring, I hopped in my truck and drove south to Georgia to see what I could find.
I was especially interested in a small town located near the Pickett’s Mill Battlefield called New Hope. It was here one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War took place – the Battle of New Hope Church. And to understand my story, you must understand the carnage that took place there.
It was May 1864, and General Sherman had begun his relentless march toward Atlanta. His men were hungry and battle weary. But they knew to destroy Atlanta would mean destroying the heart of the Confederacy and finally bringing an end to this horrible war. Standing in Sherman’s way was a stubborn Confederate Army led by Joe Johnston. Johnston’s men resisted the Union onslaught, forcing Sherman into flanking maneuvers. But like a bloody chess game, Johnston countered each of Sherman’s moves, slamming his army into the Union forces day after day.
It was during one of these flanking maneuvers that Sherman’s men marched into the area of New Hope Church. What they didn’t know was Confederate forces were lying in wait with sixteen cannons and some 5,000 men. As the Union troops struggled through the thick underbrush into the clearing, they were suddenly hit by a vicious firestorm of artillery. Confederate guns and cannons blasted away at them from behind makeshift log walls. The Union soldiers were sitting ducks.
As the battle raged on, legend has it a vicious thunderstorm blew into the area – a storm unlike anything the men had ever seen. The skies turned black as night. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed around the battlefield, sometimes drowning out the relentless artillery barrage. Wounded Union soldiers desperately crawled through the torrential rain into a ravine to escape certain death from the Confederate guns. And it was said, even with the storm and battle raging around them, one could still hear the agonizing moans of the wounded soldiers rising from the ravine.
From that day forward, the Union troops gave a new name to the ravine near New Hope Church – “Hell Hole.”
Like other battlefields, the Hell Hole and New Hope Church were rumored to be haunted. It had a reputation amongst learned Civil War historians as being a creepy and unsettling place. But I had heard plenty of ghost stories about the battlefields in Virginia, and they had never stopped me before.
I drove into the town of New Hope just before sundown. It wasn’t as much a town as it was a country intersection, with a small auto repair shop, a couple of churches and a cemetery. But the historical markers lining the road betrayed its bloody past. I reasoned the Confederate battle lines once spread out across the area where the cemetery now stood. There was a heavily wooded area beyond the graveyard I reasoned must have been the location of the “Hell-Hole.” I spotted several homes on the other side of the woods. I decided to wait until nightfall to begin digging.
I parked across the street behind one of the churches and waited. An hour later, I was blessed with a beautiful, clear night sky and a full moon. As I crept through the cemetery with my equipment, I noticed the tombstones seemed to reflect an eerie white light from the bright moon above. More fainthearted relic hunters might have turned back at that point, but not me.I reached the woods and soon found myself struggling through a thick jungle of thorn bushes, vines and trees. For a brief moment, I thought about what it must have been like to have been a solider back then, already weary and hungry and now having to fight your way through this hellish Georgia forest. But then my thoughts drifted back to the business at hand.
The ground suddenly sloped downward, and I figured I was on the lip of the ravine. Since the forest now enveloped me, I figured it was safe to use my flashlight. Shining it around the ravine, my heart sank. Some of the residents were now using the ravine as a garbage dump. There was plenty of scrap metal scattered about, including a rusted old car. But I had come this far, so I was going to at least give the place a try.
I crept down into the ravine, chose an area that seemed the least polluted, and began clearing away some of the garbage. Once that was done, I swept the area with my metal detector and picked up plenty of readings. Whether or not this was from buried garbage I did not know, but I soon began digging in earnest.
In fact, I was so intent on my digging I didn’t notice a strange noise – heavy raindrops plopping onto the thick canopy of leaves above. This seemed impossible to me, as the skies were beautifully clear just a few minutes before. But as the raindrops fell harder, I looked up into the sky and saw a sudden storm front had blackened out the stars and moon, leaving me in total darkness.
A jarring blast of thunder shook the forest, and I quickly moved into the only shelter I could find – the inside of the junked car. I didn’t want to run out of the woods and be caught. I hoped this was one of those hit-and-miss thunderstorms so prevalent in Georgia. But the storm grew louder and more intense, the booming thunder shaking the earth, and the torrential rain drenching everything, even through the thick trees.
It was then I heard it – a low moan drifting out of the bottom of the ravine. At first I thought it must be some wounded animal, or perhaps a dog lost in the storm. But as it grew louder and louder, I realized the voice was definitely human. Soon I heard other agonizing moans. They seemingly fed off the horrifying thunder crashing around me. Then I smelled a repugnant odor I can only describe as the smell of rotted flesh. It must be from a dead animal, I thought, desperately trying to rationalize what I was experiencing. But the odor seemed to grow stronger and stronger as the moans grew louder.
A bolt of lightning suddenly illuminated the forest. In that brief second I swore I saw a shadow darting though the woods – a human shadow. As the storm reached its crescendo, the intense lightning lit the forest like some harsh florescent light. The gnarled trees taking on odd and terrifying shapes. My blood ran cold as I spotted more of these shadows darting amongst the trees, as if fleeing in terror from the storm. In the bright flashes of lightning, I began to notice details on the shadows – a military cap here, a rifle or bayonet there. They could only be one thing – soldiers.
But the worst was yet to come. The temperature seemed to drop twenty degrees around me. I was hit with the most sick and agonizing sensation I had ever felt. It was like a feeling of devastating loss and pain, as if I had learned my entire family had suddenly died at the same time. I couldn’t take it anymore – I kicked the car door open and hopped out into the storm. Then a debilitating feeling of exhaustion hit me, racing through my whole body, as if I had walked a hundred miles. I left all my equipment behind and desperately clawed and sputtered through the rain-drenched forest until the cemetery was finally in sight.
As I burst free of the forest, the storm inexplicably stopped. The clouds blew away, and I found myself standing in the midst of the glowing white tombstones. I had seen enough, so I crossed the street and ran back to my car. Only to spot the silhouette of a man standing beside it, peering into the windows. I stood frozen in my tracks until he yelled out in a warm, inviting Georgia drawl, “Hello there! I was getting worried about you!”It was the minister of the church. He had come out to check the building after the storm, and had discovered my car. Road maps and Civil War books scattered across the seats had betrayed me as the tourist I was.
I tried to avoid telling him what I was doing in New Hope by commenting on the thunderstorm that passed, and how I had never experienced such a ferocious storm. The minister chuckled and replied, “Yeah, we seem to get them this time of year, especially on this date. Some folks think this place is haunted, but I don’t believe in such things.”
My blood suddenly ran cold, and I heard myself ask him, “What’s so special about today?”
The minister cocked an eyebrow at me and grinned. “Well, from all them Civil War books in your car, I thought you’d know. Today’s May 26th – the Battle of New Hope Church was fought 136 years ago today.”
And that’s my story of the Hell Hole.
Where is the Hell Hole?
Georgia’s “Hell Hole” is located near the tiny community of New Hope (Google Maps), just over 30 miles west of downtown Atlanta. Part of rapidly growing Paulding County, New Hope at first glance looks like another casualty of urban sprawl, surrounded by strip malls and subdivisions.
But this ordinariness hides a dark past stretching across generations. Nearby were the sites of the Battle of New Hope Church and the Battle of Picketts Mill – two savage Civil War battles during General Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. The term “Hell Hole” describes both a cluster of battle sites (New Hope Church, Pickett’s Mill and the City of Dallas), and a specific ravine near New Hope Cemetery off Old Cartersville Road. The massacre of Union troops mentioned in our story occurred in this ravine by some accounts.
The New Hope area still contains visible trenches dug by both armies over a century and a half ago. In 2004, the Civil War Preservation Trust listed the Hell Hole sites among the 10 most endangered battlefields in the nation. While the State of Georgia turned Pickett’s Mill into a state historic park, the Hell Hole ravine became an illegal garbage dump for local residents. Until the Georgia Battlefields Association took ownership of the ravine, maintaining it to this day.
Where Did Our Story Come From?
While the Civil War collector in our story is fictitious, his experiences at the Hell Hole and sites from the Battle of New Hope Church are based on a family story from the 1960s.
As reported in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, two noted Civil War collectors, Beverly M. DuBose Jr. and Sid Kerksis, went relic hunting in New Hope one summer in the mid-1960s. At that time, the area was mostly private farmland. They got permission from a local farmer to hunt for relics on his property, somewhere around New Hope Cemetery.
According to family lore, DuBose Jr. and Kerksis noticed an odd smell of decay, which they thought came from an unseen dead cow nearby. This was followed by a vicious thunderstorm, turning the area pitch dark. Blinded by lashing rain, the men next heard loud cries and moans of agony, more human than animal. DuBose Jr. would later tell his son he could “feel the suffering of the wounded.” (Warner, Jack. “An Eerie Tale of Paulding County Ghosts Lives On.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 30 October 1996, p. C2)
When the two collectors told the farmer about the incident, he claimed to never let his cows wander into the area. Also, his father and grandfather never let their kids play in the ravine thought to be the Hell Hole. Furthermore, the farmer said these strange events happened every spring – around the anniversary of the Battle of New Hope Church, when a similar thunderstorm blew in.
According to the story, the spooked collectors never returned to the Hell Hole again. Today, Beverly M. DuBose Jr.’s Civil War artifacts are on display at the Atlanta History Center.
There was no recording of the exact date, location nor events of that day, only verbal recollections. DuBose Jr. and Kerksis are long deceased. So it’s difficult to know if elements of the story were exaggerated over time. DuBose Jr. was a combat veteran who hunted Civil War relics across the South, day and night, and would seem the last person to be frightened by rumored ghosts.
But another violent event would impact New Hope – also, it turns out, in a thunderstorm and near the anniversary of the battle.
Crash of Southern Airways Flight 242
On April 4, 1977, New Hope was the site of one of the worst plane crashes in Georgia history. Southern Airways Flight 242 en route to Atlanta from Huntsville, Alabama crashed in New Hope, with 81 passengers and 4 crew members on board.
While the weather that fateful day was idyllic in New Hope, an intense thunderstorm system was brewing to the northwest. Air traffic control warned the pilots and crew of Southern Airways Flight 242 (a Douglas DC-9-31) of the storm system while in the air. What they didn’t know was a squall line had formed, with little space to fly through.
Over Rome, Georgia, the pilots navigated through what was misidentified as a low intensity area of the storm system. Instead, they slammed into intense rain and hail, which shattered the windshield and flooded the engines until they flamed out. Now without power and already past the closest airports, they attempted a forced landing on what was then Georgia State Route 92 Spur (now Dallas-Acworth Highway), which ran through the center of New Hope.
Upon descent, the plane struck a local convenience store, igniting the gas pumps and killing 7 members of one family in their car. The impact caused the plane to swerve into nearby forest, striking additional buildings, trees and utility poles before breaking into pieces near the homes of local residents.
Witnesses recounted a hellish, apocalyptic scene, with dazed passengers wandering about in burning clothes. Black smoke and flames were everywhere, the surrounding pine trees burning like torches in the darkness. Both pilots died on impact, ejected from the plane still strapped to their seats. 61 passengers and 9 people on the ground also died, either from impact forces or fire.
Miraculously, 20 passengers and 2 flight attendants survived the crash. Despite limited training in crash scenarios, the flight attendants were hailed as heroes for calmly preparing the passengers for an emergency landing and helping them evacuate, likely saving lives.
Today, the community of New Hope hosts an annual memorial and survivors reunion around the anniversary of the crash. In April 2021, a permanent Southern Airways Flight 242 memorial was placed in the southern corner of New Hope Cemetery, mere yards from the crash site.
New Hope, Georgia has witnessed a stunning amount of tragedy for such a small community. Especially noteworthy is that its most famous stories, real and folklore, revolve around violent thunderstorms. Though the South is no stranger to spring storms, when the Battle of New Hope and the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242 both occurred.
Is New Hope haunted then? Probably not by specific ghosts. But for those who look closely enough, the markers of its turbulent history are still present.
Written and Directed by Craig Dominey
Told by John Gentile
Music by Les Scott
Photography by Craig Dominey
Sound Design by Henry Howard