Thomas Freese & Bryan Bush,
Haunted Battlefields of the South
(Schiffer Publishing, 2010)

I was so captivated by Thomas Freese's later book, Shaker Spirits, Shaker Ghosts, I just had to buy Haunted Battlefields of the South to see what it had to offer. Ghost hunter Freese teams with expert historian Bryan Bush to bring us an interesting blend of true history and haunts that will make you think twice about the sounds of ghostly cannonfire and rifle volleys that have been encountered by many witnesses. Disembodied voices shout commands from the depth of an eerie fog, and phantasmic battalions grace the sweeping hills of the battlefields.

With the maggots, buzzards and surgeries lacking any type of anesthesia -- often not even whiskey -- Stephen King couldn't write fictional horror this gruesome. These poor souls still entreat us from their unmarked graves to, in one specter's words, "Never let this happen again." However, I was not nearly as taken with this earlier offering as I was with Shakers.

Bush sets the stage for the situations that most likely created the need for troubled spirits to return to the location of their suffering, both as a warning to modern-day people as well as an entreaty for remembrance. Nevertheless, the history here is very long, dry and extremely detailed, and I fear that an appreciation for the intricacies of battle will be lost on the casual reader, such as myself, and would be better absorbed by a Civil War enthusiast. The historical accounts also make up the bulk of the book. The comprehensive introduction provided at the beginning of the book would have been adequate for me. I found it impossible to keep track of the many players who were involved. The generals, battalions and regiments go on forever, and I just couldn't keep up.

Freese picks up where Bush leaves off. He investigates spirit encounters involved with the battlefields that Bush has examined. However, these sections weren't quite as complete as I had hoped. Many tales start with, "A re-enactor said ...." Is the author speaking directly to a re-enactor who was a first-hand witness, or is this a tale that's been tossed around for years? Not that there's anything wrong with folklore -- I just like to know up front which I am reading. I found this uncertainty a bit disappointing.

Yet, we do have some interesting first-hand accounts in which it is clear that Freese interviewed the eyewitnesses himself. There are some intriguing encounters with phantom cavalries and vanishing cannon crews, as well as lots of soldier sightings, even one Confederate soldier who stole an apple from a group of re-enactors. Unfortunately, however, some of these tales that do not directly involve a battlefield are a bit mundane, ranging in scope from footsteps upstairs to a doorbell that rings itself. I would have thought these areas would have been teeming with people who would love to share their fascinating tales, but apparently a lot of these people were in hiding when the author was there.

Although this tome was a little too laden with detailed history and a little too light on the ghost stories for me, the authors did accomplish what they set out to do. Haunted Battlefields of the South gives us an appreciation for the sacrifice made and horror encountered by these Civil War soldiers, the depth of which can only be imagined. The Civil War was a horrible tragedy, causing unnecessary death, misery and hardship to countless soldiers and their families. It's sad, really, that these echoes in time still ring out after 150 years, and that these restless spirits are unable to sleep. These battles and their respective ghosts are to be remembered with the respect, humility and reverence they deserve.

book review by
Lee Lukaszewicz

22 April 2017

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