500,000 page views

Blogger’s dashboard includes a couple of statistics, including total pageviews, and a little bit of other information.

The total views for this blog just went over 500,000! 

I realize that may be peanuts for some websites or popular blogs, but it is an impressive number for this blog, as far as I am concerned. That is over half a million views! I guess some of those are my own (even though I keep checking “don’t track my views for this blog”) but that seems like a high number for little old me, just plugging away here when I find something to write about.

I guess this is a self-congratulatory post, perhaps not the best idea ever, but I think it is worth a brief post here. When I started this in 2009, I had no idea what the future held, or how long I would keep trying this, but here it is 2018 - and I’m still here. My postings may not be as frequent as in the past, but I’m happy with a couple per month, at least most of the time.

We’ll see how the future goes, but I have no plans to go away anytime soon.

This blog just reached a nice milestone. Hopefully more will keep following. 

American Battlefields Trust Coming to Lexington, Ky 2019

The American Battlefields Trust, formerly known as the Civil War Trust, will host in 2019 Annual Conference, Kentucky: Bluegrass Turned Red, in Lexington, Kentucky, less than two hours from my home. I’m thrilled to see  this happening and really hope to attend. It will take place from May 29 to June 2, shortly after my birthday. Attending it would be a wonderful present for me.  :) 

Actually, I feel like I need to be there, especially with my friend Darryl Smith, owner of Walking With History, LLC and publisher of the Ohio at Perryville blog, being on the list of confirmed speakers.  He will lead a tour, at a still-to-be-determined site - Perryville, Cynthiana, Wildcat Mountain or elsewhere. He has given many tours and  will do a great job of showing some of what Kentucky has to offer a group of Civil War enthusiasts. I likewise trust that  Lexington will be a fine host. It hosted the conference a few years ago but I did not attend.  I really hope to make up for that, but life sometimes gets in the way.

Hopefully the weather at that time, still in the middle of spring, will cooperate and give visitors the chance to experience at least one of Kentucky's Civil War sites and help this conference be enjoyable and productive. I have never been to something like that, but it is a goal for 2019.

The link above has current information on the event, though, of course, details may change over the next 8 or 9 months as that time arrives, but this should be a good opportunity for Kentuckians - and those in nearby states - to attend a big national event and for non-Kentuckians to learn more about Kentucky in the war and witness some of the remaining sites from that time. I am proud of my state and hope others will see its beauty like I do.

Book Review: Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth

(C) 2015
By Terry Alford
Oxford University Press

John Wilkes Booth was human. He had friends, he had hopes, he had love, fears, ambitions, dreams. 

He also had flaws and his share of struggles, from family issues to establishing a career, to finding the perfect love to, money problems.

That might be a surprise to those who know him only through the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, but this book, by Terry Alford, rescues Booth’s humanity from the shadows of infamy and demonstrates that Booth was a man, a mere mortal whose short life was more than one night in April of 1865. That is the heart and the strength of this biography - the life, career and evolution of John Wilkes Booth in the eyes of people who knew him and in history.

Alford’s book is a fine addition to a Civil War or even Abraham Lincoln library. He obviously researched Booth’s life deeply, using a wide selection of letters, diaries, books, and newspapers to uncover aspects of the young actor’s life, career, and the memories that his friends, colleagues, and associates held of him. It includes endnotes and a wonderful section of photographs and illustrations. The writing is very readable, a fine style that makes this book a quick read and that lacks typographical or editing errors.

This book explores Booth’s entire life, including his family history. It describes his father’s successful career, which three of his sons followed, but also addresses flaws that Junius Booth displayed, and how those imperfections affected his reputation and his family, particularly John. The discussion of how John wanted to make his own name and succeed on his own ability, not his father’s reputation, was enlightening, especially as the author showed how John frequently used stage names like J.B. Wilkes to show he was his own man, though some theater goers still knew he was Junius’ son. This is not something often associated with Booth, and definitely adds a sense of the reality of Booth’s life. He was not simply born a monstrous killer; he grew up as people do, and had challenges to face, obstacles to overcome, again just like people generally do.

Booth was physically gifted, quite fit, strong and athletic, good at riding horses and using guns and swords, which came in handy in his chosen career. He was ambitious, competitive, handsome, a ladies’ man, and, according to the author “loved being in love.”  He made friends with his  personality, displaying a good sense of humor, enjoying playing jokes and pranks on colleagues. Many people considered him a gentleman.

He was also well-liked by many fellow actors and was willing to offer advice to younger thespians once he had started to establish himself as a star.

In other words, in his early adulthood, John Wilkes Booth was quite a people person and comes across as even likeable in this work, though every now and then small examples of erratic behavior - reminders of his father’s troubles and, in hindsight, possible foreshadowing of his own future - made themselves evident.

One flaw he did possess was explained in a line from page 151: “Booth never had a new thought after his core opinions were formed in his teenage years.” It contrasts his close-mindedness and tendency to hold grudges to the abilities to grow and forgive of his nemesis, Abraham Lincoln. 

The exploration of Booth’s career, from being one of many players in a stock company, to his days as a star and his decision to end his stage work is another helpful theme of this work. He was born with great physical gifts and was not a person naturally inclined to study, but he loved his profession and as he matured, he did work harder at his craft, though he never quite arrived at the point where he strived to be the very best technician. The brief section about whether he was truly great and what defines acting greatness was enjoyable, and the mention of Booth’s ambition and love of applause, showed another human sign of this man.

Real life, of course, could not avoid interfering even with the make-believe life of the world of acting. As sectional tensions began to bubble across the country, Booth’s political preferences started becoming evident as well, specifically his support of the Southern cause, though he hated extremists on both sides, both those favoring secession, and, especially, abolitionists. His love of the union as one whole nation was a surprising revelation of this book.

As much as this book reveals the normal challenges Booth faced, it also describes his evolution into the bitter, angry man who committed the assassination. Booth favored the South, supported slavery, and felt the North was badly mistreating his beloved region. He usually tried to avoid having political discussions and hearing news about the war, but that was impossible in such times and his anger grew and became more well-known. A bitterly heated argument with his brother Edwin was one example of his political beliefs affecting his life.

Booth began drinking more frequently as life and the war continued, though alcohol apparently energized him more than it made him drunk. It almost was like his version of Red Bull. His behavior became more erratic, as he sometimes surprisingly ignored or rudely treated old friends.

The book’s description of this slow change in Booth is a real strong point of this work, but it also shows that Booth still retained his full mind until near the end. His planning of the plot to kidnap Lincoln and recruitment of the associates whose assistance he wanted shows that he was not completely mad, and that he still maintained the capacity of logical thinking, at least in planning the kidnapping plot, even if focusing on such a deed was not logical to most people.

This changed, however, when the kidnapping plan failed and Northern victory in the war became a reality. Booth then became significantly more angry and bitter, almost a Mr. Hyde-type monster in terms of his red-hot hatred towards Lincoln. While the early parts of this book showed a gentlemen and a likeable person, perhaps a Dr. Jekyl, the later pages describe the Booth that most people think of when recalling the assassination. 

The book ends with a discussion of Booth’s attempt to avoid capture, including discussions of how several people  assisted him, especially David Herold. Booth was surprised that the nation, or at least the South, did not regard him as a hero, expressing frustrstion and disappointment over how people perceived his deed.

The author also includes an overview of the myths involving Booth’s rumored escape from capture, the supposed misidentification of his body by Federal authorities, and his continued life in many cities around the world. Arnold debunks these stories, sometimes with harsh and/or sarcastic language, and shows how authorities identified the corpse and secured it in the days after Booth’s death.

I have tried to highlight the main points of this terrific book, but others also populate the pages, describing how John Wilkes Booth was all-too-human, how he evolved into the man who committed a nearly unspeakable action that has come to define him. As I think about it more, a comparison to Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, over a period of years, seems appropriate. 

This is a wonderful biography and exploration of a subject who somehow remains both infamous, yet not well-known. I gladly and highly recommend this book.

I thank Oxford University Press for a review copy of this book. I have given my completely honest thoughts on it.

Pardon the Dust...

Soon after I first started this blog in 2009, I made frequent updates to the theme, changing colors and other details of the layout and features, but in 2011, I found one combination I really liked and ended up sticking with it until now.

Over the past few months, I thought about trying to redesign this site. I mainly wanted to change the background picture, but could not do it  on the same theme. Yesterday, I finally decided to change the theme and see what happened.

My first attempt was very different and I did not completely like it, so I kept working on it and, soon enough, ended up with the current configuration.

Of course, this looks very similar to the previous theme, with the same background picture and similar colors. I just like the color blue, so it is not surprising that I kept it, but I am a little surprised that I did not make any more major changes, though a late addition of a photo behind the blog title seems pretty nice right now.

I may keep playing around with different themes, settings, layouts and background pictures to see if I like something else better, so please forgive me if you look at this on different days and see what looks like a different blog. I have no definite plans other than to play around and see what I like.

A Bit of New Information for my Civil War Genealogy

While working on another project, I just discovered this article about some activity of Company D of  the 7th West Virginia Cavalry. I had seen the website before, but overlooked this story until now. When I did see it, however, it caught my eye immediately as my great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Davis, pictured below, was a member of this company.

Here is an excerpt from the article concerning this company’s assignment. It is gratifying to see such a specific report of where my ancestor probably was and the kind of duties he performed. That is more than I knew before, so I am thankful for the people who run that site and did that research and writing.  the presence of the internet and the ability to share information like this is remarkable, a fact I like to remind myself of occasionally. Twenty years ago or so, I may never have been able to find information like this. I appreciate my luck compared to researchers and historians of the past. 

The link I added above includes more details, including a description of the fighting. 

Company D of the 7th West Virginia Cavalry had been ordered to Winfield primarily to protect steamboat traffic on the Kanawha River, which flows past the town...

A secondary role for the Union troops at Winfield was to guard the Putnam County Courthouse and the town of Winfield from Confederate attack, not an unpopular task since many of the men in the company came from Putnam and surrounding counties. The men of Company D dug rifle pits and entrenchments adjacent to a mill, around their campsite, and in the vicinity of the brick courthouse, situated on a small rise overlooking the small town and the river behind it.

Putnam County was Benjamin's birth county, so I can only imagine how it felt to be so close to home when so many soldiers travelled so many miles during the war. Benjamin, born in in 1844, survived the war and lived until 1917. 

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