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The Civil War: What Did the Women Think?

There are a lot of books out there about the Civil War, so it can be hard to know where to start if you want to learn more. If you’re looking for some unique books about the time period, you’ve come to the right place! These three books follow the lives of four women throughout the war by looking at the writings they left behind.

Cover of Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War   Cover of Cecelia and Fanny  Cover of Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary

  • Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire: First published in 1867, McGuire’s diary provides an intimate view of daily life in the South during the war. She wrote about her hardships, past triumphs, and family activities alongside reports of military rumors and life behind the lines of battle. Her actual entries are pretty fascinating, but James I. Robertson provides additional information that helps explain where Judith’s story fits in the wider narrative of the conflict.
  • Cecelia and Fanny: The Remarkable Friendship between an Escaped Slave and Her Former Mistress by Brad Asher: Letters from Fanny Ballard to her escaped former slave, Cecelia, illuminate the friendship these two women maintained throughout the upheaval of the Civil War. Fanny’s family lived in urban Louisville, and her letters provide a rare glimpse into the urban context of slavery and the resulting social atmosphere of the city. It was pretty rare for an escaped slave to become friends with their former owner, and rarer still that letters exist between the two. Another unusual aspect of this book is that it focuses on slavery in an urban context, instead of plantation slavery.
  • Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary by Josie Underwood: The politically prominent Underwood family of Bowling Green, Kentucky, played a vital role in ensuring Kentucky remained in the Union – despite the facts that they disapproved of Lincoln and owned slaves. Twenty years old at the start of the war, Josie details her opposition to the Confederate occupation of her city and her heartbreak that so many friends and family members were on opposite sides. Josie also wrote about her daily life, arguments with her family, and her personal hopes with the future – she was like any young woman today struggling to find her place in the world.

The Civil War section of your bookseller of choice can be intimidating at first, though more options means more chances to find the story you’re looking for. Hopefully these books help you along in your quest for Civil War knowledge!

If you’ve read these three, which one was your favorite? Or, if you haven’t, do you keep a journal for history? Let us know in a comment below!


William H. Mumler: One of Photography’s First Forgers

Ever heard of Spirit Photography? The occupation entails exactly what it implies: the attempt to capture paranormal entities on film. The field has been disregarded completely now, and all of the photographs have pretty much been disproven, but it’s regarded as one of the biggest hoaxes in the early days of photography and one of the first instances of photography forgery. So in honor of the holiday that revels in bamboozlement, let’s take a look at these incredibly fake, but still uncanny, photographs.John_J_Glover

While it is common knowledge now, the idea of double exposing photos was a foreign concept when Spirit Photography came to public’s attention. After taking a self-portrait of himself in the early 1860’s, William H. Mumler (pictured below) discovered the outline of a figure standing behind him.

gm_10226501Mumler thought nothing of it, but the people he showed the photograph thought it resembled the likeness of his deceased cousin. Seeing the opportunity to make a profit, Mumler started his very own Spirit Photography business, operating as a medium for families that lost family members in the Civil War. His charade didn’t last long however; Mumler was brought to trial in 1869 on accounts of fraud. He was dumb enough to get caught by putting the ghostly apparitions of still living residents of Boston in his photographs. Not surprisingly, people started to recognize the “spirits” in their portraits walking down the streets. Mumler’s trial garnered so much attention that the famous P.T. Barnum testified against him, unsuccessfully though. Mumler failed to be found guilty, but his photography business was ruined, leaving him penniless until his death in 1884.   Mumler_(Herrod)

The most famous picture Mumler ever took was of Mary Todd Lincoln actually. Mumler didn’t know it was actually her at the time of photo, as she used the pseudonym at the time of the session. The photograph was widely circulated and is now known to be fake, but it one of the first examples of photography forgery.

Mumler_(Lincoln)Learn about more hoaxes, historical and mythical, from some of our books here.


Kentucky Travels: Top Travel Destinations from My Old Kentucky Road Trip

Are you planning a trip to Kentucky anytime soon? You know, the Derby will be here before you know it. Whether you’re from Kentucky or are traveling here soon, My Old Kentucky Road Trip (a blog, and now a book, coauthored by current staff member, Cameron M. Ludwick and former staff member, Blair Thomas Hess) has a few suggestions for the next time you’re up for some uniquely Kentucky fun!

My Old Kentucky Road Trip

reposted with permissions from; originally published November 17, 2011. Photos courtesy Elliott Hess Photography,

Kentucky was the 15th state to join the Union and the first on the western frontier. High Bridge located near Nicholasville is the highest railroad bridge over navigable water in the United States. Post-It Notes are manufactured exclusively in Cynthiana; the exact number made annually of these popular notes is a trade secret. The first American performance of a Beethoven symphony was in Lexington in 1817. Pikeville annually leads the nation in per capita consumption of Pepsi-Cola. Teacher Mary S. Wilson held the first observance of Mother’s Day in Henderson in 1887; it was made a national holiday in 1916. The song “Happy Birthday to You” was the creation of two Louisville sisters in 1893. More than $6 billion worth of gold is held in the underground vaults of Fort Knox; this is the largest amount of gold stored anywhere in the world. Cheeseburgers were first served in 1934 at Kaelin’s restaurant in Louisville. Middlesboro is the only city in the United States built within a meteor crater.

There’s no other place like Kentucky.

©Elliott Hess Photography

In the spirit of the Kentucky Department of Travel’s “There’s Only One” campaign, we’ve put together a short list of some of the “Only One” destinations we’ve visited. We’ve had a great time on our travels so far—we want you to enjoy the Bluegrass State as much as we do!

  1. Lexington is known as the Horse Capital of the World
    OK, we’re a little biased here. We’re both born and raised Lexintonians, and we’ll be the first to tell you there’s no where else in the world like it. The rolling hills of Bluegrass and sweeping fields of thoroughbred horse farms are just the start of its beauty. While you’re there, take a walk through Gratz Park or visit downtown and Cheapside Park. There are tons of great things to do in Lexington
  2. Take to the high seas Ohio River on the Belle
    The Belle of Louisville is a historic steamer docked on the riverfront in downtown Louisville. Take day cruises, dinner cruises or special event cruises. A few years ago, our friends joined us for a special fireworks cruise on the Belle on the Fourth of July. It was a beautiful night of dancing and fireworks.
  3. Take a tour of Bourbon Country
    We road tripped to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. It was a fun an informative day full of good friends and great bourbon. But the Maker’s Mark distillery is just one stop on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. 95 percent of all bourbon is distilled, aged and bottled right here in Kentucky. That makes it a must-see.©Elliott Hess Photography
  4. Hang out with the buffalo in Land Between the Lakes
    Blair has a soft spot for Land Between the Lakes and the bodies of water that surround it (Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley). Her grandparents live in one of the neighboring counties, and she spent countless summers growing up there with her brothers and sister. Enjoy the great food, all of the miniature golf, the lovely resorts along the lake — Lake Barkley State Resort ParkKentucky Lake State ParkPrizer Point, just to name a few — and if you look close enough, you’ll even spot a few buffalo. How very uniquely Kentucky.
  5. Whether to rock climb or to eat some delicious pizza, people come from around the world to see Red River Gorge
    This canyon system on the Red River in east-central Kentucky is about 44 square miles of high sandstone cliffs, natural bridges, waterfalls and rock shelters. ‘The Red’ attracts rock climbers and boulder-ers from around the world to experience the tons of bolted routes in overhanging, pocketed sandstone. When you’re there, be sure to check out Natural Bridge State Park. This natural sandstone bridge spans 78 feet and is 65 feet high. And don’t you dare leave without stopping at Miguel’s Pizza in Slade, Kentucky. Some of the best pies we’ve ever tasted.

Check out more of the items from the “There’s Only One Kentucky” list here.

©Elliott Hess Photography

Kentucky Travels: Featuring One of Our Favorite Kentucky Writers

When you live in Kentucky, it’s hard not to be Kentucky proud, and we’ve certainly got a lot to be proud of! Wonderful sports, parks, derby races, food, bourbon—the list goes on. Part of what makes Kentucky so great is the support and love you feel as a community, and today we are sharing one of our favorite Kentucky native authors, Gurney Norman.

Gurney Norman is a professor at the University of Kentucky in the English Department and currently teaches and advises students interested in creative writing. He started out as a student at the University of Kentucky, and, after graduating, moved to California to attend Stanford. Being from a small town in eastern Kentucky has not limited Gurney to one place. As a young writer Gurney traveled across the country, and his experiences have been reflected in his writing throughout the years. Gurney has written numerous books and essays, including Divine Right’s Trip: A Folk-Tale and Kinfolks (“Fat Monroe” was actually made into a short film that you can view here). He also was a contributor to Back Talk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes which is published by the University Press of Kentucky. In addition,  Gurney has over 16 awards/honors to his name, including being named Poet Laureate in 2009–2010.

Gurney has left his mark on the hearts of the people of Kentucky through his writing, his teaching, and his storytelling, and we thought he deserved this honorable mention. While corresponding in email with Gurney, we discussed his writing and I decided to ask him the question: At what age did you realize you wanted to be a writer? What made you want to pursue a writing career? To which he answered:

“I was fifteen when I actually wrote a complete story. It was a mystery story in which a boy was fighting his ‘evil’ uncle on a narrow footbridge only inches above the raging waters of a river in flood. The man was his uncle-by-marriage. The aunt was out of the picture, suggesting that the man had murdered her. The bridge might be swept away at any moment but the boy and man kept on fighting. I can’t remember the boy’s name. My later stories featured a boy named Andrew. In this first story I imagined the boy to be about twelve years old.
Unfortunately I did not write the last page of the story, so it still is not finished. I seem to have lost the manuscript some time in the past sixty years. The story was handwritten, about seven or eight pages.

Interestingly, to me at least, my father had died about a month before I wrote the story. It was not about my father but I was still in a certain mood following my father’s funeral so I do feel a connection between the two events.”

Gurney’s writing heavily involves family and traditions, reflecting his deeply rooted love for Appalachian culture. Being raised in both Virginia and Kentucky, Gurney feels a strong connection to the land and the people of Kentucky and has involved himself in Appalachia his whole life. Even though Gurney has been firmly rooted in the Bluegrass for quite some time now, this did not keep him from spending time out west or joining the U.S. Army.

If there is one thing we can learn from Gurney, it’s to remember where we came frombut to not forget to travel, explore, and grow. As Kentuckians we should always be proud of where we come from, and we can show this by traveling and cultivating ourselves in the outside world and through our writing and creative outlets. Kentucky is a wonderful place. Let us show the world how great it truly is.


Crane Giveaway!

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It’s the first day of Spring! To celebrate this momentous occasion and hopefully banish the cold weather for good, we are having a book giveaway! Remember Colonel Hogan from Hogan’s Heroes? Well we have an entire book discussing his life from his start on public radio to his untimely death.

On June 29, 1978, Bob Crane, known to Hogan’s Heroes fans as Colonel Hogan, was discovered brutally murdered in his Scottsdale, Arizona, apartment. His eldest son, Robert Crane, was called to the crime scene. In this poignant memoir, Robert Crane discusses that terrible day and how he has lived with the unsolved murder of his father. But this storyline is just one thread in his tale of growing up in Los Angeles, his struggles to reconcile the good and sordid sides of his celebrity father, and his own fascinating life.

For your chance to win a free copy of this exciting and well-written book, click here!

To learn more about Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved murder, click here!

Happy National Poultry Day!


Following the theme of yesterday’s blog post about random holidays, we thought we would share one that is sure to be near and dear to every Kentuckian’s heart: National Poultry Day! From Colonel Sanders to the World Chicken Festival, its no secret that the folks of the commonwealth love their yard birds. To celebrate this unique holiday, we wanted share the history of a native Kentucky chef!

Kentucky’s Cookbook Heritage by John VanWilligen highlights the life of Thelma Clay Linton of Harrodsburg, KY, who was a respected caterer and an important leader in the business, social services, and religious communities. Linton lived to the ripe old age of 101. Susanna Thomas’s introductory essay states, “In our town of Harrodsburg in Mercer County, Kentucky, Thelma Clay Linton is an institution, revered for her outstanding country cuisine and her remarkable character”. Here is her recipe for fried chicken pulled from her cookbook, Thelma’s Treasures: The Secret Recipes of the Best Cook in Harrodsburg:

Fried Chicken (1992)


Puritan oil


Put the chicken pieces in a big pot of water. Add two tablespoons of salt for every one chicken that you use. Soak the chicken in the salty water overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, drain off the water, pat the chicken pieces dry.

Mix the flour (enough to coat all of the chicken) with the pepper and the paprika and a little bit of salt to taste. Coat each piece of chicken with this mixture.

In an iron skillet, add the Puritan oil and cook it until it sizzles. The grease should be even up with the chicken. Then add a few pieces of chicken and turn down the heat to medium. Cook the chicken a half hour or so on one side and flip it and cook it a half hour on the other
side until it is evenly browned. Remove the pieces from the pan as they are done and drain them on a paper towel.

To learn more about Kentucky cookbooks, recipes, and chefs, check out Kentucky’s Cookbook Heritage by John Van Willigen on our website!

It’s National Agriculture Day!


We know you’ve heard of all of the major holidays like Christmas, Halloween, and even smaller ones like Arbor Day, but did you know that March 18 is National Agriculture Day? On behalf of learning totally awesome things you didn’t know before, we would like to wish you a happy National Agriculture Day! Although many of us are surrounded by the buzzing of cars and corporate buildings, agriculture is still one of the most important factors in life as we know it! Without it, our bodies would become malnourished, many products we enjoy using today wouldn’t be available to us, and a vast amount of people would be without jobs.

To celebrate the importance of agriculture in our lives, we have prepared an excerpt from The Vandana Shiva Reader, which tells the inspirational story of how a woman became one of the world’s most influential and highly acclaimed environmental and antiglobalization activists. Her groundbreaking research has exposed the destructive effects of monocultures and commercial agriculture and revealed the interrelationships among ecology, gender, and poverty. Enjoy!

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In 1984, a number of tragic events took place in India. In June, the Golden Temple was attacked because it was harboring extremists. In October, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. And in December, a terrible industrial disaster took place in Bhopal when Union Carbine’s pesticide plant leaked a toxic gas. Thirty thousand people died in the terrorism in Punjab, and thirty thousand people have died in the “industrial terrorism” of Bhopal. This is equivalent to twelve 9/11s. I was forced to sit up and ask why agriculture had become like war. Why did the “Green Revolution,” which had received the Nobel Peace Prize, breed extremism and terrorism in Punjab? This questioning led to my books The Violence of the Green Revolution and Monocultures of the Mind. Blindness to diversity and self-organization in nature and society was clearly a basic problem in the mechanistic, Cartesian industrial paradigm. And this blindness led to false claims that industrial monocultures in forestry, farming, fisheries, and animal husbandry produced more food and were necessary to alleviate hunger and poverty. On the contrary, monocultures produce less and use more inputs, thus destroying the environment and impoverishing people.

In 1987, the Dag Hammarjold Foundation organized a meeting on biotechnology in Geneva called Laws of Life. I was invited because of my book on the Green Revolution. At the conference, the biotech industry laid out its plans—to patent life; to genetically engineer seeds, crops, and life-forms; and to get full freedom to trade through the GATT negotiations, which finally led to the WTO. This led to my focus on intellectual property rights, free trade, globalization—and to a life dedicated to saving seeds and promoting organic farming as an alternative to a world dictated and controlled by corporations.

Having dedicated my life to the defense of the intrinsic worth of all species, the idea of life-forms, seeds, and biodiversity being reduced to corporate inventions and hence corporate property was abhorrent to me. Further, if seeds become “intellectual property,” saving and sharing seeds become intellectual property theft. Our highest duty, to save seeds, becomes a criminal act. The legalizing of the criminal act of owning and monopolizing life through patents on seeds and plants was morally and ethically unacceptable to me. So I started Navdanya, a movement that promotes biodiversity conservation and seed saving and seed sharing among farmers. Navdanya has created more than twenty community “seed banks” through which seeds are saved and freely exchanged among our three hundred thousand members.

Through our saving of heritage seeds, we have brought back “forgotten foods” like jhangora (barnyard millet), ragi (finger millet), marsha (amaranth), naurangi dal, and gahat dal. Not only are these crops more nutritious than the globally traded commodities, but they are also more resource prudent, requiring only two hundred to three hundred millimeters of rain compared to the twenty-five hundred millimeters needed for chemical rice farming. Millets could increase food production four hundred fold using the same amount of limited water. These forgotten foods are the foods of the future. Farmers’ seeds are the seeds of the future.

For more from The Vandana Shiva Reader, head over to our website!