Letters from 1863
Dear friends and esteemed guests,
Last night's Ball in honour of the ladies of Virginia was a stunning success.
Has anyone ever seen quite the like of our 25 Virginia Belles as they were
promenaded for the assembly by our gallant soldiers?
wasn't the music fine and the dancing high toned and lively! My, my we saw
some fancy footwork didn't we?
Surely a pair of highlights were the marathon "Pineapple Dance" and the
"Jingle Bells Quickstep" as we finished off the Virginia Reel.
This was our 8th annual Civil War Ball. It was a grand one and all
certainly appeared to make the most of the special occasion!
All present enjoyed some history, learned a little, danced a lot and smiled
for hours... :o)
fact the smiles are what are often commented on by first-time visitors. One
gentleman who had never before witnessed a We Make History event kept
commenting over and over about all the smiles and how nice it was to have
different generations dancing and enjoying the evening together.
This year's theme "On the Eve of Chancellorsville" held both historic and
current significance as a large number of us danced the night away in
preparation for taking part in the 145th anniversary reenactment of the Battle
of Chancellorsville - Lee's greatest victory.
Your servant & blessed to be so...
1st Regt. Va. Vols.
Dear Captain Scott,
We had a marvelous time at
the Civil War ball and I want to thank you again!! We also witnessed the
smiling faces on everyone and our own three girls and on the way home all of
them asking if they can go to the ball tomorrow!!?? (Not quite understanding
that they are arranged every month or so :)
The fan was a nice edition
and I enjoyed all the musicians. The only downfall was that it was over! We
could've danced all night... and to back that point, our girls coerced us onto
the dance floor, without music, to continue the Virginia reel during the tear
down. And yet again, Sunday, after church on the front lawn they led many into
another Virginia reel.
Your inspiration: absolutely
Don't stop doing what you're
doing, you touch many young lives!!!
Andrew & Shelley O. (and
Sandara, Kristina, & Milena)
that was fun! I can't wait to go again! Thanks again for hosting it.
The Eve Of Chancellorsville...
With Gen. Hooker before them and Old Dominion behind them, the ladies and
gentlemen of the
1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry
gather for dancing and celebration before the
long march to the battlefield.
From the letters of Pvt. Francis
To My Dearest Family and Friends,
I can only approximate the stew of anticipation and dread enveloping the next
few days. As I write this, my comrades are leaving for Chancellorsville, and
word has spread among us of the thousands of Federals across the Rappahannock.
All I can see are the lines of Yankees and my rifle at my shoulder, picking as
many of them off as I can as the Captain barks orders to advance. I think
about how rusty my drill is, even though I am getting better.
But before I leave, I am laboring to tell you of the sendoff we received last
evening. My comrades and I danced with dozens of the finest ladies in
Virginia. I tell you, we made a thunderous racket, loud enough to reach all
the way to Manassas, but at the same time the members of my unit lived up to
their gentlemanly reputations.
Imagine my shock, however, at the beginning of the promenade when I spot a
youthful private standing next to a pretty young girl and see him turn to find
some other partner.
"He is walking away," I say to the lady, airing out my disgust and offering a
bow. "But I am walking toward you. Would you be my partner?" She accepts
With lively musical accompaniment, we journey through several dances, and as I
put the words to this page, my ankles still remind me of my exuberance through
the mixers and line dances. Our accompanists ponder their musical
"Do you know 'Sarah Andrews'?" one of them queries, testing the depths of
"What's wrong with Sarah Lee?" I counter, suggesting something in honor of our
I draw comfort in knowing several ladies trust me to head up a set. All I have
is my reputation, and living up to the fair ones' expectations makes me work
harder on the ballroom floor. An artificial wind device provides us some
relief from the unseasonably warm evening, but I can feel myself losing
several pounds in perspiration alone. Lemonade does its best to replenish the
"I hope that we can scare those Federals back across the Potomac!" I tell a
My experience in numerous set dances leads me to offer a word of warning. In a
well-attended ballroom, the lines of ladies and gentlemen often crowd together
and one must make way for hoopskirts. Unfortunately in the swirl of the
figures, stray threads can catch and fix on a properly placed foot. Ripping
lace emits an unmistakable sound. But the true hazard is the tug at the leg
indicating ensnarement. I nearly loose my balance as the pour soul to my left
unravels, but I am able to shake it off and continue dancing with a blush of
embarrassment as the lady and her partner toss aside the frill and continue
with no discernible annoyance. One must also take care during the shoe dance,
that ritual of gentlemen attacking a pile of footwear donated by the ladies to
determine their next partners. The Captain nearly has to stop the dance when a
guest discovers her black shoes are suddenly mismatched.
I fret over my long hair. At first I dispense with my kepi after it falls into
my hands upon a bow and in keeping with custom. Yet as my dancing intensifies,
I can feel the strands of hair lashing at my face and I despair over what the
ladies might think of me, especially as the members of our unit prepare to
present numerous Virginia Belles. The kepi returns, and no one says a word
about it or my locks.
Having presented the ladies, Captain Scott gives them the honor of choosing
their next partner, preferably one of the gentlemen in gray. All I can do is
stand at attention, smile, and plead in silence.
Pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me,
pick me, pick me, pick me!
relieved when a lady approaches. In fact, several ladies desire my partnership
this evening, including an Indian scout well regarded for her ability to
detect enemy movements several miles away. She requests not one but two
dances, and I fulfill the obligation even though I worry I am leaving other
ladies in want of a partner. One must sacrifice.
A lady coaxes a shy little girl in a blue gown towards me as another waltz
begins, and I know what I need to do. I bow and ask her for a dance, and I see
her eyes glow through her tiny spectacles as I move in gentle steps. "You're a
fine waltzer," I encourage, not stretching the truth for flattery. Her mouth
offers no words, but a smile is more than enough compliment.
The festivities pause so that a prayer may be offered for the ladies and
gentlemen of the 1st Virginia, for our safety, for our mission, for our
purpose. With the request to Heaven raised, the call goes out for volunteers
to set up four groups of three chairs.
The Pineapple Dance begins, an amusement so familiar to us it needs no formal
explanation, yet I shall briefly elaborate for the uninitiated. Two lines of
mixed couples lines up before three chairs. Three people sit down, the one in
the middle holding a pineapple. The person with the pineapple passes it to one
of the people beside him and sashays off with the other, preferably a person
of the opposite gender. The person left holding the pineapple moves to the
middle, two others from the lines fill in the empty seats, and the pineapple
is passed again.
Enthusiasm boils throughout the room as couples constantly sashay about, or in
some cases, groups of three if all ladies or all gentlemen are left occupying
Screams and whoops of joy pierce the air.
A rambunctious private tries to slip off with the pineapple rather than doing
right by a lady and two of us chase him about to recover it.
Our musicians play with inexhaustible energy, leading us through at least 10
minutes of sashaying and quickening the pace.
At this point I cannot exhaust myself. I owe another lady a dance. Her sister
introduced me earlier in the evening, and she made the request. After
struggling to locate her again, I finally find her in time for "the Old
Virginia Reel!" Whatever energy we may have left, the Captain says, we will be
relieved of it here.
"Every set should have an experienced couple at the top!" Capt. Scott directs.
The couple heading our set decides they are not experienced enough, so they
hastily change places with myself and my partner. Now comes the test of
Virginia citizenship. Without fail, I need to demonstrate to my partner, my
set, and my comrades I can dance a flawless Virginia Reel. As the Captain
leads us through a brief refresher, I assume the role of Dance Captain,
gesturing to the couples along the line as to who moves and when and how --
honors, right hands, left hands, both hands, do-si-dos, sashays and the
all-important reeling of the set. My partner picks up the figures immediately.
"You reel like a pro!" I call to her as we work our way through the set.
We lose ourselves in the dance, losing track of time, and we're not the only
ones. The Privvytippers, perhaps convinced we need even more merriment or
merely running out of musical arrangements, segue into a round of "Jingle
Bells" -- in March. We all sing along, beginning to end.
"Dashing through the snow! In a one horse open sleigh! Over the fields we go!
Laughing all the way--HA HA HA!"
Ho, ho, ho, that's the way the heroes go! Having done my duty, I escort my
partner back to her sister with heaps of praise for her abilities.
Usually the evening ends with a final waltz, but none of us are ready to let
it end that way. A freestyle dance commences and I find myself swinging wildly
with several ladies who drain from me what little stamina I regained in the
last waltz. I will admit to you here, this is where I realize how much I enjoy
set dancing, where one knows what step comes next and you don't have to read
the mind of your partner. I feel I am the most monotonous freestyler, doing
little but swinging round and round. What does the lady want me to do?
I think. Does she not desire some other steps? A young lad in a tall
stovepipe hat taps me on the back, politely cutting in and relieving me.
As the couples depart the hall, I come across the lady and the little girl I
waltzed with earlier. The child's companion thanks me for the dance.
"She doesn't know much English."
"Oh," I reply in curious astonishment.
"She's from Russia," the lady adds before I can inquire further.
I turn to the child and offer the only Russian words I know: "Doisvedania!
Spaceba!" Goodbye! Thank You!
The little girl's face brightens once again. "Doisvedania! Spaceba!"
she cries out as she leaves. I am no stranger anymore. As I write this to you,
I still hear those words in my ears as I prepare for battle.
So I ask for your sendoff and your prayers as well. I know many years have
passed since several of us have met. Some of you I have never seen at all, but
you have written to me with encouraging tidings. A great engagement lies
before me, and I have full confidence in our commanders. Yet I know of no
skirmish without danger or fear. By God's grace, I shall return home soon. But
until then, I shall write when I can to advise you of our progress in beating
back the northern aggressors.
With Highest Regards,
1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry
Please also see our “Etiquette
& Expectations” page as well as our "All
About Us" page.