In the weeks before the "Cold Mountain" movie release I linked to a number of related articles. In one of them, the writer asked a producer why there were not more Civil War films. I expected the answer to be, "Because of the terrible box office numbers for this genre." The answer was much deeper, something like this: Because of the tremendous gulf between the culture of that day and this one; a movie audience cannot relate to Americans of that time.
The man who answered that question was not hinting at a long-ago public that reveled in cockfights, derringer ambushes, slave whipping, or minstrel shows. He was referring to the level of decorum, literacy, and public style. I read a shocking statistic yesterday that illustrates this. It said that almost one-quarter of the rebel army was so ignorant of letters it could barely read the King James Bible. One quarter of a shoeless army in homespun could barely read a masterpiece of Elizabethan prose. Had you thought the figure to be closer to 75%?
We are conditioned to misunderstand the cultural level of the common soldier of that era. More on this tomorrow.