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BOOK REVIEW: "Haunted Ozark Battlefields" by Steve Cottrell

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BOOK REVIEW: Haunted Ozark Battlefields by Steve Cottrell (Pelican) 2010/2007

Clocking in at just a little over 100 pages, this slim volume from Missouri-based writer and historian Steve Cottrell covers a lot of bloody and spooky ground in the Ozarks region of southwest Missouri, northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma, where the “dark menacing clouds” of the American Civil War had Union and Confederate soldiers battling it out and dying on the rocks and soil of this corner of war-torn USA and CSA between 1861 and 1865.

Cottrell’s book, which is a very basic sort of history book, likely geared toward younger readers, will no doubt interest older readers looking for a book giving a quick overview of reported hauntings at structures, areas and battlefields in this region.

Cottrell introduces a battle fought at, say, Pea Ridge in Arkansas or Wilson’s Creek in Missouri, and give an overview of the battle, most which occurred earlier in the war. And then he will share the “ghost story” angle related to said battle, people seeing specters in Civil War-era clothing appearing and disappearing (some appearing in photographs, as reported at the Prairie Grove battlefield site in Arkansas), or children reportedly hearing “screams” at a battlefield site, even though no one is there – no one they can see, anyway.

One site, near Joplin, Missouri (in a part of the Show-Me State said to be an equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle!) African-American Union troops of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry were massacred at the old homestead site by pro-Confederate “bushwhackers” who  killed and mutilated the soldiers.

Later, Union troops arrived at the site and burned the remains of the soldiers in a pile and then sought vengeance by burning down homes of Southern sympathizers. Ever since, the site is said to be haunted and in 1937, a new family, living on the site of the horrors decades earlier, had their house mysteriously burn down. It is thought to be connected to the tragedy that took place there so many years before.

And here in Oklahoma - Indian Territory in those days - there was activity as well in the eastern part of the territory. Confederate Cherokee Brigadier Gen. Stand Watie, a master of guerilla warfare, was notable in that he was the last Confederate general to surrender, on JUne 23, 1865. 

"The war in Indian Territory," Cottrell writes, "Had become a deadly conflict featuring small but vicious engagements where Indians were frequently pitted against other Indians. Often members of the same tribe held each other in their gun sights. They too experienced the true tragedy of the American Civil War."

And hauntings have been reported at various battlefields in present-day Oklahoma, with the author featuring a photograph of a strange fog or mist appearing out of nowhere at a Confederate cemetery in Atoka. 

And so, having taken a great interest in the “border battles” that took place particularly along the boundary between the free state of Kansas and the pro-slavery state of Missouri, there is a lot of dark energy along that boundary of 94 degrees longitude west, echoing from the distant past. Having visited to Bushwhacker Museum in Nevada, Missouri last year, I picked up the Civil War journal of Wisconsin federal soldier Charles W. Porter, In the Devil's Dominions: A Union Soldier's Adventures in 'Bushwhacker Country', who kept details of his time in the area of Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Indian Territory, fighting to keep the Union united.

And yes, the horrors of war left a dark stain on this region, as Porter can attest from his first-hand accounts of what took place while he served in the Union Army. Does it surprise me that Cottrell has uncovered so many examples of hauntings in the Ozark region where so many horrific, bloody battles took place? Not at all.  In the Devil's Dominons gives people in our current time a better idea of what day-to-day life of a soldier in the Civil War was like. Marching for miles. Out in the elements. It’s a good companion book to Haunted Ozark Battlefields, in my opinion.

As a side note, Cottrell includes information about the famous "Spook Light" which appears with regularity on a road (Spook Light Road or the Devil's Promenade - the word "devil" is common in this region, and for good reason, it would seem) in far northeastern Oklahoma, near the Missouri state line and the former community of Hornet. While not directly related to the Civil War battles in the area, the light did seem to be noticed with more frequency in the years after the Civil War. Could it be related? Who knows!

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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