Ghost Excavations at Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland

The Sounds “Unsilenced”!

On a Civil War battlefield, most of what these soldiers understood as a “visible” landscape came in partial glimpses between volleys of firepower. What happened there in the past also occurs today in the present. The “hiddenness” of an “apparitional experience” on “haunted” ground takes the form, not of invisibility but the inaudibility of this remaining Civil War presence. The contemporary battlefield landscape is, like its past presence, a soundscape. This soundscape was (is) a space of articulation, emplacement, and performance cues which link past and present “fields” of military behavior and sound.

For the (“past”) Civil War soldier, and the present (emplaced) investigator, a soundscape is constructed out of the interface between two kinds of sonic experience: a distant codification of ambient sounds (rifle/cannon fire), and a proximate sensed experience of verbal (and mimetic) vocalizations (officer commands; EVP). This can be a resonating experience for both the investigator and the “ghost”!

On a Civil War battlefield, the implications of “emplacement” were compressed for the soldier: you survive or you die! There may have been a “middle ground” for some: you die, but you “survive” (as a form of “afterlife consciousness”). This is the liminal state of a “battlefield haunting”. This transformation to “ghost” is NOT an “evolving”. It is an “involving” – a recognition of “cues”, and a recall of memory.

On a Civil War battlefield, it is the recognition of the landscape as a soundscape. On the contemporary battlefield, the soundscape became a “hauntscape”, cued to contextual battlefield “soundmarks” that recalled the orientation of the soldier, like a “map”, through an obscured vision of place toward the military objective. It is this cultural (“sounding”) map that we use in a “ghost excavation”. With us, using this “auditory cue”, we explore “who” remains from these horrific battles of sound, fury, and death!

The Civil War battlefield, as a soundscape, imposes a reorganization of sense and sensitivity, such that the physical landscape is explored (and documented) in a way which identifies “haunted” space as a sense of the auditory. This transformed sensibility has enormous consequences for the way we do fieldwork on these battlefields. It means that the documentation of objective presence (“apparitional experience”) is defined in terms of “audibility”, not “visibility” (or “sensation”).

Our emplaced, empathetic scenarios, “targeting” specific individuals, and aided by sound “cues” (“soundmarks”; bugle calls; drumming; etc.) resulted in contextual responses (“EVP”) to these investigative resonances. Examples of these responses can be heard in the following recordings of “Antietam audio”. Like the Civil War soldier, hearing is essential! It defines the “experience” of the battlefield!