Volume 1, Issue 2
Monroe County Civil War Roundtable
Re: Stephen Vincent Benét (1898-1943) - Poet, author, Hollywood screenwriter, and Pulitzer Prize winner for John Browns Body (1928).
John Browns body
the best story of the war
Second-time presenter Bill Overlease held members and friends spellbound with his February program of readings from John Browns Body, the epic poem of the Civil War written by Stephen Vincent Benét in Paris during the 1920s and published in 1928 to critical acclaim, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1929.
Benét was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, into an army family. His father was Colonel J. Walker Benét. Frances Neill (Rose) Benét, Stephen's mother, was a descendant of an old Kentucky military family. Because his father was an avid reader, who especially loved poetry, Benét grew up in a home where literature was valued and enjoyed. Most of his boyhood was spent in Benicia, California. At the age of about ten, he was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. However, he preferred reading to athletics and did not like the insensitivity of his school mates. He later completed his secondary education in Augusta, Georgia, where his father had been assigned a new post.
Benét was rejected from the army in 1917 because of his defective vision. During the war he worked in Washington as a cipher-clerk in the same department as James Thurber, who also had poor eyesight.
He continued his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, where he lived a somewhat bohemian life and met his wife, the writer and journalist Rosemary Carr. In 1923 he returned to the United States and continued writing novels. In 1926 Benét then went back to France, where he lived for four years, and started to write his poem about the Civil War, John Brown's Body.
Already in his childhood, Benét had been fascinated by his father's old Rebellion Records and his Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. While working on the poem in France, he collected background material from libraries. John Brown's Body appeared with the acclaim of critics throughout the literary world. Seen from the perspective of a young, small town boy, the poem interweaves stories of historical and fictional figures, from the raid on Harper's Ferry to Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House.
A 1937 short story collection, Thirteen OClock, included the famous 'The Devil and Daniel Webster'. It was later made into a play, an opera (music by Douglas Moore), and a motion picture entitled All That Money Can Buy, directed by William Dieterle and starring Walter Huston as Mr. Scratch. Benét also made a number of radio broadcasts and worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter.
In the early 1940s Benét was a strong advocate of America's entry into the war - in the United Nations Day speech President Roosevelt read a prayer specially composed by the author. He wrote a short history of the United States for the Office of War Information which was translated and distributed in Europe. Benét died of a heart attack in New York City, on March 13, 1943.
Mr. Overleases interpretation of John Browns Body was both moving in an emotional sense and extremely evocative of the pathos and tragedy that was the essence of the American Civil War. Members and friends remarked afterward that it was a pleasant experience to have such a non-detailed accounting of the war read to you, as one person said, like my Dad read to me as a child, which fostered my life-long love of both good writing and history. Another listener commented that perhaps it was time for Benet to come back into fashion after years of being brushed aside. In the end, audio-visual aids and technology aside, there is nothing like a good read.
Join us in the coming months for these and other intriguing presentations:
· March 21 The Sultana TragedyA maritime death toll greater than the Titanic...but almost 50 years earlier!
· April 18 - The Civil War Homefront of the Ovid Butler Family Barbara Davis relates the story of one family and how the war affected it.
· May 16 - Story of the 42nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry Reenactor Stew Devane on a Hoosier unit in the war.
· June 20- Gettysburg, The Battle ContinuesLocal upcoming author Mark Acres on his book research at Americas premier battlefield park.
Hardtack Without the Worms
Modern, fresh hardtack will hopefully be an item on the menu at an upcoming meeting. One of the two original makers of the Civil War staple is still at it and a supply of this and other vintage vittles are available from:
Check it out and sample some soon!
It takes a little money to keep an organization like the Roundtable going. There are refreshments to be provided, postage, honorarium purchases, etc. If you are a regular attendee, or plan to be, and have not yet paid, please see Kevin Shiflet, our treasurer, at the next meeting.
March Dates of Note
March 9, 1862USS Monitor and CSS Virginia clash at Hampton Roads, VA. The first ever fight between ironclads.
March 11, 1862Lincoln relieves McClellan of command of the Army of the Potomac...the first time!
March 17, 1864 U.S. Grant assumes command of all Union forces.
March 22, 1817 Braxton Bragg is born in Warrenville, NC.
March 28, 1862Battle of La Glorieta Pass, New Mexico Territory.
March 29, 1865 -The Appomattox Campaign begins after the fall of Petersburg, VA.
Did You Know?
Shoddies was the nickname given by Union Soldiers to the poorly made uniforms produced by Northern clothing contractors at the beginning of the war. Made from wool scraps, the uniforms frequently fell apart when worn.