Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Folklore, Social History and a Haunted Village---Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg, Maryland

Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg, Mark P. Brugh and Julia Stinson Brugh, History Press, 2015, 130pp, 40 b/w photographs, bibliography, index, $19.99.

Keep in mind that a Pennsylvania court decision states that in terms of copyright, ghost stories are folklore.  The authors of Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg seem to have this in mind when they state that "...  another perspective gathers in and attempts to understand that impact [on a community] by combining eyewitness accounts, personal experience and the logical consequences and resulting folklore." (p. 16)

Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg provides brief discussions of the historic architecture and ironwork of the village and sketches of the effects of battle upon the civilian population. Relying upon period press coverage of the desolation wrought by war, the authors offer concise descriptions of post-battle injuries, sickness and deaths among the civilian population.  Striking are the stories of hasty Confederate burials and later disruption of graves by dogs and hogs, farmers and weather. "Flooding from heavy rains and fast snow melts sometimes washed Confederate bones . . . [and] brought the bones directly to the town square, where they floated and bobbed in a slow-draining temporary pond that would form." (p.40)

Among the 26 short chapters are 14 that contain ghost stories.  In the table of contents, the authors have placed an asterisk beside each of those 14 chapters. The other chapters focus upon men, women and children who lived through the battle and left a record of their memories, a few of which supply background information regarding a ghost story in another chapter.

The bibliography offers an indication of the authors' diligence in research: a booklet published in 1868 regarding Confederate burial places, Kathleen Ernst's very fine Too  Afraid To Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign and Wilmer Mumma's essay The Aftermath among others. Items which would have enhanced Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg are a map of the village with the locations of those houses and farms and a map of the battlefield with those nearby villages mentioned in the text. Additionally, a brief history of the founding and the growth of the village  would have benefited the work. Overall, the authors have set the folklore of hauntings with the context of a major historical event.

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