Lost Federal gold: Myth or real?

I’m feeling a bit whimsical this Sunday, so instead of a cannon or marker post, let’s talk about some legend of lost gold up in the hills of Pennsylvania.

This story made the rounds back in February:

It’s a mystery going back more than 140 years. Many have searched, but no one has found the millions of dollars in gold lost during the Civil War in Elk County.

Now, one treasure hunting team from Clearfield says it knows where the gold is.

The story dates back to around the battle of Gettysburg in 1863. According to legend, Abraham Lincoln ordered a gold shipment to help pay Union soldiers and the route for the shipment came right through Elk County.

The soldiers transporting the gold made it to Ridgway and St. Mary’s, but after that they disappeared — except for the wagon train’s guide, a man known only as Conners.  (read more at WAJC TV.com)

The February 6 news story went on to indicate Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) would not grant permission to excavate.  Their permission was required as the site is on state land.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from earlier this month updated details on the case and provided more background details on the lost gold story, citing a Lost Treasure magazine article from 1983.  The legend holds that a shipment of gold from Wheeling, West Virginia bound for Philadelphia was ordered on a northerly route to avoid the Confederate invasion of June 1863.  So eight cavalry troopers escorted a ton and a half of gold through the mountains of western Pennsylvania.  Somewhere along the way, the escort met an untimely end and the gold went missing.  At least that’s the short version.

Last week, DCNR ordered the gold hunters, Finders Keepers USA, to vacate the site.  Dennis Parada, from the company, claims that ground penetrating radar and other sensors indicate something is buried there.  Furthermore, he claims to have recovered Civil War era relics.  DCNR disputes that, saying the relics were from the World War I time period.

So is there anything to back up this story of the lost gold?  The Post-Gazette asked Dr. Allen C. Guelzo, of Gettysburg College’s Civil War Era Studies Program.  Guelzo indicated no documentation supports the legend.  Indeed, there’s no record for a Lt. Castleton who is cited as the leader of the escorting cavalry detachment.   “There’s no documentation, description, letter, official report, no paper trail.”

In the first place, what was a ton and a half of gold bars doing in Wheeling in 1863?  And why only an eight man escort?  Heck, General Meade’s nightshirt had more escorting troopers.  And as Dr. Guelzo pointed out, where’s the paperwork?  Service records? Anything?

Heck if we know who the third man from the right was at Pickett’s Charge, then we should at least have a receipt for a ton and a half of gold….

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