Monday, September 30, 2013

"We scared those Rebs right out of their boots."

 I was going to post last night, then I changed my mind and am risking doing everything out of order and hoping I can still get it all done. It is just that today is my best friend's birthday and it would be weird to not give him the special post I've been planning.

 October First has been a very special day to me for the last six or seven years. When I was younger I was even shyer than I am now. I was so bad I would never even have dreamed of starting a blog and talking to people online. So while I might not be sociable, I am much better than I used to be.
 Outside of my siblings, who I bickered with more than got along with, I had no friends. (Don't worry, my siblings are my best friends now and we only bicker when my temper is short fused and it never lasts long, because I have cool siblings.)
 I spent a lot of time alone when I was younger, probably more time than was healthy for me, and I was never without a book. So, it can be understandable that books became my friends.

 There was one book, however, which stood apart from all the others. One person trapped in pages of black and white who became a better friend than any of the fictional characters I met. (There, you needed a bit of poetic sappiness.) And if it is possible to have a best friend who lived 151 years ago than I do.

 The book I fell in love with is called Iron Scouts of the Confederacy. It is based on a true story of two brothers who fought together during the Civil War, though it is more about the younger brother, Ben Fane.

 The story begins in 1862, a year after the start of the Civil War. Ben was fourteen at the time, an orphan living alone with his older brother Gant in Alabama. They were cotton farmers, not rich like the Plantation owners who lived around them, but content. Ben likes his simple life, but it all changes when a stranger shows up and convinces Gant to join the war. (Gant had been putting it off because he didn't want to leave his younger brother behind, alone without anyone to look after him.) However, when he decides it is his patriotic duty, he leaves Ben in the care of their rich neighbors and rides away.

 Right away Ben knows he will never fit in at the plantation, and when life becomes too miserable he runs away, coming to the conclusion that it would be better to lie about his age and fight beside his brother rather then sit at home worrying about him.
 And, basically, that is the start of his adventures.

 Now I get to the part where I try to explain how I ended up considering Ben a friend and not a hero to fan girl over like certain other men from the past. (Nathaniel Hale, Wallace, Bruce, Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan, John Mosby, Wade Hamption...I guess I like to fan girl over soldiers.)
 I suppose part of it was because I was around Ben's age when I read the book. He wasn't like all of the men in the histories books, generals and captains and lieutenants who lead armies and changed history by standing in the front lines for all to see.
 No, Ben was a normal kid. He liked climbing trees, he ran around barefoot in the summer, he fished with his big brother, loved riding his horse, and playing with his dog. He went to school, sometimes did badly in school, and worked hard at something he enjoyed.

 And yet, there was so much more to him then that. That was what first made me like him, but I don't think it was that which caused me to consider him a friend - though it helped. It is easier to like someone who seems normal then the generals with their gold buttons gleaming as they sit on their horses with their sabers drawn.

 You see, Ben was a lot like me. He was short for his age, and teased for it. He didn't fit in at school, and rarely seemed to fit in anywhere at first. He complained more than was necessary sometimes. He did foolish, sometimes even stupid, things which almost got him killed more than once. He was awkward, scared, preferred either his own company or his brother's, and just when you'd think he'd started to grow up he do something so childishly ridiculous I'd be left grinning and giggling and loving him even more for being so human.

 There was another side to him, of course. The times he acted childish were always balanced out when he'd do something heroic and unexpected. Ben was one of those people who saw characteristics in people that others miss. Throughout the book he learns to overlook first appearances and find out what a person is truly like. What first started this was when he met his real life best friend, Jack Lewis - eh, what can I say? There is more meaning to my pen name then meets the eye, but I'll get to that later.
 Jack was a Yankee. He was fighting on the other side, he and Ben were supposed to be enemies. But when they first meet they realize they are just two ordinary boys who like a lot of the same things. (Jack, like Ben, lied about his age to get into the war. I should say, like Ben was planning on doing. He never actually had to lie.)
 Throughout the story, their friendship plays an important role as both willingly risk their lives to help each other out.

 But Jack isn't the only one Ben had compassion for. He is often mistreated by a snobbish lieutenant, but when he has a chance to get back at him he doesn't. He helps out Yankees sometimes because he feels it is the right thing to do. He takes it upon himself to keep Gant alive, even though at times Gant proves to be very reckless and seems determined to get himself killed.

 Of course, through the war he does grow and changes. He becomes wiser and braver, he understands more of what is going on around him and faces some of his worse fears to keep his friends and brother safe. But he always somehow stayed Ben. And, at the risk of sounding like a sap again, it was very inspiring for a girl who was too shy to even say hi to people she knew. If Ben could join the war at Fourteen, get over his awkwardness, become a soldier, and still coming out with his quirky sense of humor then I could learn how to talk to people without shaking and wanting to cry.

 So, I suppose that kind of sums up why I consider him my friend, even if he was dead years before I was ever born.

 Now you might be wondering why I bothered to write this at all. Well, I have two reasons.
 Today, October First, is his birthday and it didn't seem nice to skip it without at least mentioning him. (It is his 165th.)
 Also, one of the questions asked for my new Home Page was how I came to be called Jack Lewis. And while, at the time, it had little to do with Ben's real life friend, Jack Lewis has always been around since I read the book because - he was Ben's friend and I'd always wished I could have lived at the same time to have had the same honour. (The means of getting my pen name was a long, complex journey and this was just one part of it, but it answers at least a little bit of the question.)

 Quote is taken from the book, after Ben looses his boots while hiding from a band of Yankees up a tree. It is one of the most quoted lines I use, and usually at the most random times.




  1. I have never heard of this book!! It sounds awesome and I am off to look it up ASAP!!

    Happy 165th birthday to Ben!

  2. That is a unique but meaningful way of selecting your pen name. Happy birthday, Ben.

  3. well, good to see how much a book can effect your life,right? thanks for sharing that personal moment with us.

  4. Wow, sounds like a great inspiring story! That's really cool.

    Hmmm... I forgot about the questions! Now I'll have to come up with one or two. What's your favorite food? Favorite word? Favorite quote(s)? And one final one... I know you can really whip out first drafts like crazy - what keeps you motivated? Both to get your books done, and in the editing process.

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Jack. As a kid I was a bookworm in ways I am not these days - basically my nose was ALWAYS stuck in a book. Nowadays, I cannot read for hours on end though still I enjoy it. :)

  6. Happy birthday Ben. I probably ought to seek out that book and read it. It sounds pretty good! I prefer ancient and medieval history, but I do enjoy more modern ones if they're good.


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