By: Steve Cottrell
Publisher: Pelican Publishing
Publication Date: August 2010
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: January 23, 2011
The origin of the name “Ozarks” is up to debate, but there is no question that the Ozarks “was a volatile and strategically important region when war cast its dark shadow over the landscape in the spring of 1861.” (pg. 8) The battles began with the secession of eleven Southern states who soon became known as the Confederacy. They declared war on the United States, the Union, who were more than happy to fight back. It was not long before “the state of Missouri had become a battleground,” with both sides vying for its land. A brief skirmish between both sides resulted in rioting that killed more civilians than soldiers, which riled the opposing factions. Federal commander, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon was quick to see an easy opportunity and moved his troops to Jefferson City, Missouri’s “undefended” capital. No shots rang out nor were there any casualties to count. An easier victory would never be seen again during the deadly Civil War.
Any truce was out of the question and the landscape began to be peppered with battles, large and small. Lyons would soon encounter Colonel John S. Marmaduke and his band of Rebels at Boonville. The Brigadier General’s troops let loose “several noisy shells from [his] artillery” forcing them to retreat. “Their frantic retreat came to be known as the ‘Boonville’ Races,’” an embarrassment to all involved. (pg. 12) This skirmish, and others to follow, left behind memories that would come down through the ages. They were not in written form, nor oral, but came in another form altogether … they were the ghostly, eerie remnants of soldiers and civilians who in all likelihood perished in the battles of the Civil War.
The Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri was one such place that these specters could be seen. A Civil War soldier was often seen on the grounds as “countless students witnessed the uncanny specter sporting an old fashioned uniform.” He would not be the last to appear on or near Ozark battlegrounds. In Haunted Ozark Battlefields, the reader will swirl through several brief histories of battles and then meet the ghost stories attached to them. You’ll travel back in time to Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, the now defunct Sherwood, Baxter Springs, Carthage, Tahlequah, Cabin Creeks, Newtonia, Indian Territory, and the banks of Turkey Creek. You’ll meet ghostly, ghastly presences of all kinds and as the author so aptly states, “Having a close encounter with the spiritual world is a rare and special occurrence that a person normally remembers for the rest of his or her life.” (pg. 51) These are stories you will certainly remember the next time you are around a campfire!
This is a great book to spend a day with if you enjoy reading about ghost stories, but even better if you are a Civil War buff. I was surprised that once I got into the book I found myself enjoying the historical vignettes of Ozark battles even more than the ones about the eerie visitations. There were many interesting mini-tales interspersed in these pages. For example, I learned that Johnny Fry, “Pony Johnny,” the first Pony Express rider perished at Fort Blair. Perhaps one of the more interesting “battles” was a guerilla raid in which the Confederate forces attempted to capture three hundred supply wagons. No spoilers here, but it was an exciting bit of history. We hear about everything from African-American troops, an exorcism, guerilla warfare, Indian Territorial excursions, to the lawless Jayhawkers and blood curdling massacres. The book is short, but long on fun and could easily spur an interest in researching both Civil War battles and/or ghosts. There are numerous black and white photographs that will give you a bit of food for thought.
Quill says: If you want to spend a day with some spectacularly interesting specters, you’ll love taking a trip down memory lane with Steve Cottrell and his Haunted Ozark Battlefields!