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The Richmond Stage is a happy combination of the literary and social aspects of the Confederacy that Richard Harwell has made his specialty. A Confederate collector and amateur of history, he was founder of the Atlanta Civil War Round Table. Civil War Theater: The Richmond Stage R. B. HARWELL "l HAD ALWAYS CX)NSmERED MYSELF A GENTLEMAN," wrote John Hill Hewitt , Confederate dieatrical producer and dramatist, "and I found diat in taking control of [die Richmond] dieatre I had forfeited my claim to a respectable stand in die ranks of Society—widi one or two exceptions, the company I had engaged was composed of harlots and 'artful dodgers'."1 Theatrical management was not Hewitt's idea of die way to serve die Confederacy. A graduate of West Point in die class of 1822 (tìiough he had never been commissioned), he offered his services to Jefferson Davis but was rejected because of his age. Nevertheless, he energetically set to drilling volunteers at Richmond's Fair Grounds. For a livelihood he turned to die dieatre. Actors arfe cosmopolites and acknowledge citizenship nowhere. The best of the profession had fled North at the breaking out of war, but Hewitt managed "to collect enough of fag-ends of dismantled companies to open die dieatre with a passable exhibition of novelty, if not talent** In die Richmond of 1861, a "passable exhibition of novelty" was as much as was demanded. In a town swollen to more tìian four times its prewar population, only opening the doors of a dieatre was required to draw a crowd. The dieatre in Richmond was die archetype of the dieatre in die Confederacy . Battered on one side by a public who considered it immoral, and bolstered on die odier by a small group striving to prove dieir own and die Soutii's intellectual prowess, die professional dieatre calmly went its uneven way, performing nighdy for audiences unconcerned widi esoteric beauties of die drama but interested in entertainment, moral or immoral, wherever it could be had. The Confederacy was a halcyon day 1 John Hill Hewitt, MS autobiography, Hewitt Collection, Emory University Library. 2 Ibid. 295 296R. B. HARWELL for the stage in the Soutìi. For, witìi die exception of New Orleans where die theatre had flourished, here was die first time die Soutìi had been able to supply die patronage necessary to keep the stage successful. An Augusta, Georgia, editor could trutìifully comment, "Indeed, such is die condition of our country, with only here and there a city of sufficient size to audiorize the employment of leading talent diat few save strolling stock companies, below die par in Europe and die larger American cities, have found dieir way to die interior, and our people have littìe save die worst aspects of dramatic art."3 In an era of poor dramatic writing throughout the world die Confederacy added insult to injury by die poorest of dramatic performances. Nevertheless, the Confederate dieatre had its defenders. The Southern Punch, a sprighdy Richmond weekly modelled after Punch of London, eitiier from natural-born orneriness and a dedication to contrariety or from a healthy respect for its advertisers, was a lavish partisan of die theatre. When the press generally—in the heat of Grant's campaign of 1864—was praising the closing of the theatres and die impressment of the actors into military service Punch dissented: "In Mobile and Montgomery , Augusta, Savannah and Macon, Ga., and especially Richmond die drama has found representatives in die midst of difficulties which would have appalled European managers. Here die dieatre has kept die even tenor of its way even while its audiences could hear the heavy boom of die guns of McClellan, of Sheridan and of Grant—pretty good proof to all Yankees that the people of the capital were not frightened out of their gaiters and boots. ... It is widi regret diat we learn a few accomplished fanatics are using all die cant of Cromwell to put an end to dramatic amusements. It is to be hoped diat dieir over-pious efforts will fail. What a long-faced vinegar-eyed, dyspeptic, consumptive, saturnine community we should have did die Cantwells...


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pp. 295-304
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