Civil War POW camps were some of the most terrible, squalid places of the entire war. Massachusetts’ Fort Warren was an exception, however. It was used to house Confederate political prisoners and other high-value persons. Among those held here was Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice-President, as well as Confederate diplomats and even the Confederacy’s Postmaster General.
Also, the black, ghostly spirit of a dead Confederate bride.
Legend has it that Melanie Lanier, the devoted wife of a captured Confederate troop, discovered his location via a letter he mailed her from the island prison. She immediately moved from Georgia to just outside Boston, Massachusetts, in the first step of an attempt to free her husband from the fortress.
One night, she boarded a boat that would take her to George’s Island – where the infamous prison camp and fortress were located. With the boat, she took a pickaxe, a pistol, and a length of rope in order to free her husband. She sat in the boat just offshore, waiting to hear any kind of signal from her beloved. That’s when she heard a common southern song, the signal that her husband was ready for action. But tragedy would soon strike.
As she and her husband made their way off the island and back to the waiting boat, she was surprised by a Union guard. She was able to subdue the sentry at first, using her pistol. But the guard only went along with the plot for so long. He attempted to overpower the woman and snatch the pistol away. In the scuffle, the gun went off, shooting her husband and killing him. She was overcome by the sentry and captured. Sent to the gallows, she requested to die in women’s clothing. All that could be found for her was a black mourner’s dress.
Melanie Lanier died by hanging not long after the botched escape attempt. Her body is said to be buried on George’s Island with others who died there. But unlike the others, Melanie is said to still be seen around the island at times, still clad in black and mourning her husband.
While many have claimed to see Fort Warren’s “Lady in Black” over the years, some doubt she existed at all. Such an escape attempt would have certainly ended up in Northern newspapers at the time, but no evidence of Lanier could be found. Furthermore, there’s another apocryphal story that could also be just as true. After World War II, the U.S. government was selling off all of its military possessions, and Fort Warren was one of those sales. Some say that in order to keep the historic fort from falling to a developer’s bulldozer, Edward Rowe Snow made up the story of the Lady in Black to make the island seem like much less of a steal.
It was later turned over to the National Parks Service.