From a letter from James P. Peck to his Uncle and Aunt Snidow. Peck is thought to be James Polk Peck who died at Gaines Mill on June 3, 1864. He may be the James P. Peck who served in the 23rd Virginia Battalion.
Camp Fort Spring
Greenbrier Co., Va. September the 18th, 1863
Dear Uncle and Aunt Snidow,
I this evening seat myself to write you a letter for the first one since I have been on service but you must excuse me this time and I will try and write oftener. I am well at present and hope this may find you in good health.
There was something mysterious seen near Lewisburg and at different places in the County. I will give you the particulars. One Tuesday the 1st of this month Mr. Dwyer, A Gentleman residing near the Kanawha turnpike happened to be at a neighbors (Mr. Piercy's) sitting on the porch with Mr. Piercy's family when one of them called his attention to a body of mysterious rectangular objects moving vertically through the air just above the trees in the Sugar Orchard. These objects were apparently Eight feet long, two and a half in width and one inch thick. They were tinged white a little with green. They moved directly North in a column of about fifty yards wide with the order and regularity of Soldiers. The rear was nearer the ground than the front and consequently had to pass through the Orchard. In emerging from the trees they resumed their original order and so remained until out of sight.
Immediately following but a little further West was seen a vast army of men dressed in white and moving in quick time and in as good order as Soldiers on dressparade. After passing any obstacle they would resume their places in ranks. Thus passed the entire column occupying more than an hour and presenting a scene of awful grandeur and sublimity to those who beheld it. Whether this be a dream, an optical delusion, or means used by Omnipotence to fore shadow events and to strengthen his suffering people, I will not endeavor to determine. I will state however, that those who know the parties well, give them Credit for candor, intelligence, and veracity.
I will now bring my letters to a close. Aunt, I am much obliged to you and Lewis for the cheese and sugar. So nothing more but remain with respect,
You obedient nephew,
James P. Peck.
P.S. Give my respects to all my relations and friends. James P.
So, what are your thoughts? I initially thought of kites and I've seen those dragon kites the Chinese are famous for, but for a formation of flying objects to break up and resume order requires some skill and if it through an orchard, risks have the lines ensared or the handlers being seen. I dunno.
As for the phantom army, I dunno.
I found this gem on page 158 of Jane Echols Johnston and Brenda Lynn Williams' book, Hard Times 1861-1865, Vol. 1, (1986).