SUNDAY | I wonder if you would be interested in spending a few nights out in the city of Richmond with Pvt. Samuel Pickens, Co. D, 5th Ala. Inf. Regt.? You won't need your banjo or mouth harp. Don't bother your memory for the lyrics of Goober Peas or Camptown Races. Let's go with some non-virtual reality.
It's May 1863. Captured at Chancellorsville, Pickens was transferred to Richmond in a prisoner parole deal to await trains back to his regiment. We begin with his first day of "leave" and end with his last. These are from his diary entries.
5/13 Arrived in Petersburg by train enroute to Richmond. Drank an iced mint julep, then bowled 10 pins all evening.
5/14 Arrived in Richmond. That night, watched "The Jewess" with his comrades at the new Broad Street Theatre. He considered it a good theatre except for the crowding together of seats.
5/15 Played billiards with comrades, walked around town. Went to the Broad Street Theatre again. Saw "London Assurance" "a very good play."
5/16 Went to the Broad Street Theatre and saw "Othello, the Moor of Venice." "It interested me very much as I'd never seen it before." Was dissatisfied with the casting but pleased with the acting. This was followed by the "Laughable Farce of the Inquisitive Darkey."
5/17 (Sunday) Tried to attend Stonewall Jackson's funeral but it was too crowded. Went to St. Paul's church.
5/18 Played billiards. "It is a beautiful game and a scientific one." Went to the theatre and saw "The Virginia Cavalier."
5/19 Got his first-ever shave. Face felt cooler. Played billiards and bought a hat. Went to the theatre and saw "Metamora - The Last of the Wampanoago," plus the farce, "The Quiet Family."
5/20 Ate ice cream and cake at Pizzim's. Went to the theatre. Saw "Dream at Sea" and "Alpine Maid." The latter had a ballad "Rock Me to Sleep" by Miss Eliza Wren and some "fancy dancing." "We were well entertained."
Note the "we" - it means his army buddies and himself. Private Pickens may not be a typical soldier (his family is wealthy), but he's out and about with his fellow privates and these are group activities. Nor is there a high/low culture divide at the Broad Street Theatre - it serves everyone.
Theatre every night but Sunday. Charmed to see a play he had never seen before. "Well entertained." Are these the cultural primitives we make them out to be?
This material is from a bookshelf within easy reach. In the next day or so, we'll continue this "easy reach" survey with a look at the literary references sprinkled by an Iowa farmer in his letters home.