Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ten From The Tenth

Private Christopher of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry shares his ten favorite moments from We Make History's 10th Annual Civil War Ball.

Photos by M. Cynecki
(Click any for a larger view!)

Madame, Where Art Thou?

I search all about the hall, inside and outside and all through the refreshment and anterooms.

As I wander about, I bow to several ladies arriving in their hoopskirts, being careful to remove my kepi and give “proper honors.”

“I am searching for my lady, Madame Noire,” I explain.

“I just saw her passing by,” a lady observes. Yet she has vanished like the wind in the evening.

Several minutes elapse, and she joins me in the ballroom, where we catch up on old times. I briefly share my travels in Tennessee. She shares words of gratitude for my safe return. Our Colonel is also glad to see me back from my ventures.

“You've come home.”

Kick Up Your Heels!

We are not our colonial ancestors, but we, like them, share their love of the dance – vigorous dance. After a brief refresher in ballroom etiquette and a grand promenade, we begin the evening with two energetic dances: “The Girl I Left Behind” and “Chase The Squirrel.”

The figures are not complicated: several sashays, a swing every so often, and a cast to the bottom of the set.

No one is left without a smile. The clapping and hollering of encouragement fills the entire hall.

“Mr. Christopher, is that your shoelace?” my partner observes.

My dancing brogans are threatening sabotage. I tie them once, and then again as discreetly as possible. I am ashamed for looking unkempt around the ladies, but I fear a tumble more.

One Night Only

A few of our northern counterparts, the 1st Minnesota, are joining us this evening. They proudly wear their deep blue uniforms and receive a wholehearted welcome from all.

“We shall put our animosities aside for this evening,” I say in greeting to a tall, towering Federal officer.

Another tall northern fellow joins us, in tailcoat and vest with sideburns and a short-trimmed beard. I feel certain I have seen the face somewhere before, or perhaps on someone else. Perhaps, a certain President... many years before he was President.

A Striking Portrait of a Soldier

A dear friend of ours, revered for his digital daguerreotypes, joins us in his northern Zouave uniform.

“They used to charge forward shouting 'Zoo! Zoo! Zoo!'”

The attire draws its inspiration from armies in Northern Africa: open jacket, wide sash, tasseled fez, and bright red baggy trousers. I cannot help but feel a little envious, imagining the comfort afforded in a dance – or a long march – compared to my woolen trousers.

And oh, that festive cap, tassel bouncing to the music!

Belles Of The Ball

We all draw much pleasure and reassurance from the presentation of the Belles, a group of young ladies who we praise for choosing a life of integrity, virtue, and reverence. I have the pleasure of escorting several.

It does not matter if they are from a northern or a southern state, nor does their alliance bother us this evening. They have chosen the side all of us are on – honor.

Dance On!

Several newcomers join us, but they have little trouble learning the steps. Indeed, they learn the beloved Virginia Reel in mere moments, with little prompting.

All of us were once newcomers, though, and from time to time we return to our former ballroom selves, missing a call or skipping a figure.

“Oh, we were supposed to do-si-do!” a partner says.

But any mistake is quickly forgotten. We right ourselves, and that is all. No criticizing. No complaints. No fingers of shame or blame. Just joy.

Do Your Duty

My guest, Madame Noire, knows well the duties of a ballroom gentleman, which are also part of my personal mission: to dance with as many ladies as possible. So she is more than understanding at my changing of partners throughout the evening, and she appreciates my desire to show all of them honor.

In return, I reap a blessing of dancing with many lively souls, including a lady in a black and white gown whose bliss pours from her during the “Heel And Toe Polka.” Her laughing and merry countenance is equaled by her bouncing sashays and skipping swings. I end the dance nearly breathless, but she still has all the energy she started with.

I escort her off the floor, lavishing thanks and appreciation both to her and the gentleman who brought her. He is a dead ringer for Rhett Butler, even though he assures me he is not.

I dance again with Madame, who then asks for a favor.

“There is a lady over there who needs a partner,” she confides to me. “I have not seen her in many dances. It would make me very happy if you danced with her.”

I have my mission. I have my orders. I nearly sprint over to the lady in the white lace gown and bow, asking if she would honor me with a dance. She accepts without hesitation.

We share a reel, a reel which is two reels in one: a half reel, where the top lady and gentleman take turns swinging along the opposite gender line, and then a full reel, where the couple does so again, at the same time.

One cannot be caught pausing to take a breath, lest a lady come forth for a swing. Some people are caught off guard as the reel progresses without pause.

“No rest for the merry,” I observe.

A Time For Elegance

Madame is generous to let me do my gentlemanly duties, but I save the waltzes for her. However, what starts with a two-step evolves into a choreographed display of graceful turns in three-quarter time. I owe it to her. I have shown it to other ladies in my travels, and I would be remiss if I did not share it once again with the lady who constantly encourages me to indulge my heart's desire for graceful movement.

And yet, at one point, I have the opportunity to show it to another, a charming young lady in a tiara -- a princess looking for her prince. I am not royalty, but I can aspire to be. I show her how it's done, and she follows my lead with little difficulty.

Fit For Battle

Never underestimate the tenaciousness and courage of the ladies. Their beauty only enhances their bravery, as when they are called to charge a pile of shoes in the center of the floor, deposited by the gentlemen.

Our Colonel lines them up by height, dresses the ranks and gives the order.

“Present arms!”

They are a little ragged, but that does not concern us now.


At once they are upon the pile, digging for shoes and then holding them up to seek out the gentlemen who own them and thus finding their next dance partner.

I wander about them. Many shoes look alike. It takes longer than I expect. But finally, I find my partner. I apologize if she has caught a whiff of my long journey from Tennessee.

Never Can Say Goodbye

At the close of the ball, our Colonel finds it hard to bring things to an end. The joy of the evening is still rippling through us all, as we thank him, our musicians, and our caller. He reminds us of battles yet to come.

“We could be heroes,” he smiles, referencing a lyric from the future, “for just one day.”

Madame is puzzled. “Why can't we be heroes every day?”

“We shall endeavor to do so,” he reassures her. “We shall make history!”

“We already are!” I cry. “HUZZAH!”

See more images and memories from the evening here.
NEXT: The Battle Of Payson!

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