November 6, 1860

As  we Americans have another chance to  vote for many leadership positions, though not the Presidency, let's remember a pretty big day in American history, 158 years ago. Some say the election of Lincoln was what caused the war, though I prefer to look at the reasons why his election would lead South Carolina and others to draft and announce ordinances of secession. That, however, is a topic for another discussion and time.


Battlefield Benefits in Kentucky

I shared this on the blog’s Facebook page, but thought i should copy and paste it here. This is good information

Kentucky Civil War Sites Association 
Contact: Joni House


PERRYVILLE – Kentucky has long been a battlefield, seeing action during the Revolutionary and Civil wars all across the Commonwealth. From state parks, historic sites to non-profit groups, people have worked to preserve the state’s war sites. Visitors to these sites have a profound impact on the state and local economies, generating more than $10.1 million annually.  

The Kentucky Civil War Sites Association conducted a 2017 survey on the economic and cultural impact of Kentucky’s Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields and related historic sites. The study was based on results from the 2017 Visitor Survey commissioned by the Kentucky Civil War Sites Association and funded by a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) of the National Park Service. 

Statistics from the survey show visitors came from Kentucky, plus 43 other states and five countries during the survey period, from April to October 2017. More than half came from outside Kentucky, travelling more than 200 miles to experience of Kentucky’s Civil War or Revolutionary War historic sites. Of Kentuckians surveyed, 65 percent strongly support the use of tax dollars being spent to preserve Kentucky’s battlefields and related historic sites in the state. 

“Historic sites need a dedicated funding stream to remain viable and support tourism activities in the Commonwealth,” said Civil War Sites Association President Joni House. “This study certainly illustrates the economic importance battlefields and related historic sites bring to local communities and Kentucky.” 

Out-of-state tourist spending boosts Kentucky’s GDP by $7.1 million, generating over $1 million in state and local tax revenue. For more than half of all visitors, visiting the specific historic site was one of the main reasons for coming, including 3 out of 10 who said it was the primary reason they came to the area. Visitors were relatively affluent, with 42 percent having an annual income of $75,000 or more, including 22 percent with an income in excess of $100,000. Overall, site visitors were well-educated, with the majority having at least a four-year college degree, with more than 20% having studied beyond college. 

Kentucky residents who visit battlefields and related historic sites who stay overnight in paid lodging have an economic impact of  supporting 42 jobs with labor income totaling $1.1 million and value added of $1.8 million.

Civil War and Revolutionary War sites in the Commonwealth were nearly universally enjoyed by visitors, 98 percent had a positive experience at the site they visited, and over nine out of 10 would likely recommend a visit to the site to friends and family. “Being here makes understanding it much easier than reading from a book,” one visitor wrote.

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.

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