By J. Roslyn
Drafting a biography of an ordinary man who lived and died over one hundred and thirty years ago is an enormous task, it is even more difficult when the ordinary man is your great, great grandfather. Falls Church News-Press founder and publisher Nicholas F. Benton took on that task and has produced a fascinating book that weaves documented biographical facts with family lore and wider historical events.
John Avery Benton (1831-1886) was Nick Benton’s great great grandfather. He was a farmer in Wisconsin before he enlisted in the Union Army and marched with Gen. William Sherman through Georgia and the Carolinas.
For many years, he was a logistical supply line coordinator and cook for the 32nd Wisconsin regiment. When the war ended, John Avery, suffering from tuberculosis caught while serving, made his way back to his farm and family.
Nick Benton captures the essence of John Avery’s life as a veteran of the Civil War. John Avery, sick with TB, and probably with PTSD from the nightmare of living with bloody slaughter for four years, farmed for a few more years and raised his family. But moved by the plight of so many in the wake of the war, women, children, including orphans and disabled veterans, he felt called to move to the ministry, despite lacking official training, where he became the mission superintendent and chaplain at a state prison in Waupun, Wisconsin. Later he founded his own church in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he died.
The Civil War is not a subject from the distant past. Nick Benton’s great aunt, born in 1902, remembered meeting John Avery’s daughter. Another child of a different Civil War veteran received his pension until her death a few years ago.
At what point does family research become historical research or vice versa? Nick Benton demonstrates that genealogical family research is always historical research, and the research never really ends.
As records found in dusty church and city hall basements continue to be digitized, historians will continue to learn the little reported day to day facts of post war America in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Those facts will bring us closer to knowing the life that John Avery Benton, a veteran with a disability caused by his service in the war, was both forced and chose to live after the war.
Indeed, considering the fact that the Civil War is such recent history, there is a shocking lack of knowledge on how the war impacted life in America only 155 years ago.
Nick Benton’s well-researched biography of John Avery Benton is thoroughly insightful about the America of that time.
The path that John Avery followed in his life, from farmer to soldier to farmer and then to the clergy, mirrors the path that a service-disabled veteran might take in the 21st century, including the devastating effects of PTSD.
“John Avery Benton: The Life of a Civil War Veteran Transformed by the Greatness of His Time,” is a grounded story about the life of a veteran in post-war America.
It is available on the usual online sources for $10 but also from the Falls Church News-Press, 105 N. Virginia Ave., Suite 110, F.C. 22046, the weekly that Nick Benton founded and has run for 30 years.