THE SABERS & ROSES BALL RETURNS TO MARYLAND’S LANDON HOUSE
By David C. Trimble, of Lee’s Lieutenants
Early in September of 1862, things were going very well indeed for the Confederacy in the Eastern Theatre of the War Between the States. Federal armies had been defeated by “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, by Robert E. Lee in the Seven Days Battles before Richmond, and the “miscreant” Pope had been hammered into submission at Second Manassas. The Army of the Potomac was in disarray, and the Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Potomac River and entered Maryland.
With the bulk of Lee’s soldiers operating west of Frederick, Maryland, Major General J.E.B. Stuart established a cavalry picket line east of the Monocacy River, with his headquarters at the small town of Urbana. On the evening of September 8, 1862, after dining at the invitation of a local family, Stuart went for a walk, and glimpsed the Landon House. The white, green-roofed, three-story structure was almost five times wider than it was deep, and featured full-length gallery porches on both the first and second floors. On this night, the Landon House was unoccupied.
Stuart looked around the house, and took note of the ballroom on the eastern end of the house, about thirty feet by thirty feet, and decided that the Landon House would be a capital place to hold a ball. The army had been fighting hard for many weeks and months, and Stuart felt the need for a break from the War. A party would be just the thing.
Orders were issued to junior officers to clean the house, find decorations, find candles for lighting, and find refreshments to be served. The invitees were to be the officers of Stuart’s Division of cavalry, and the local citizens of Urbana, particularly its ladies. Stuart himself located the band of the 18th Mississippi, and recruited the musicians to play for the Ball.
And so it was, on September 9, 1862, at the Landon House in Urbana, Maryland, that the Sabers & Roses Ball was born. The house was decorated with the various flags of Stuart’s regiments, and the ballroom was festive with roses clipped from local gardens, lit by candlelight. Light refreshments were offered in the dining room across the hall. And, the ladies of Urbana were delighted to attend and dance with Stuart’s cavaliers from Virginia and the Carolinas.
A Federal cavalry patrol later interrupted the festivities, but was soon chased away by Stuart’s troopers. The few wounded were tended to at the Landon House, and the remaining cavaliers concluded the Ball with a few more dances before drawing the evening to a close.
Fast-forward from this scene to August 15, 2009. Almost 147 years after Gen. Stuart’s original Sabers & Roses Ball, Landon House owner Kevin Dolan hosted the living historians of Lee’s Lieutenants in re-creating the nonpareil event. The white front of the Landon House was again festooned with colorful flags wafting in the light breezes. The ballroom was decorated with roses intertwined in pine garland and draped from window to window, as well as wrapped around the room’s two columns. Refreshments awaited the revelers in the dining room.
One by one, the carriage of Raymond and Lynn Tuckwiller brought the ladies to the front entrance, where they were greeted by Confederate officers bearing long-stemmed roses. Richly-colored ball gowns swirled up the steps escorted by the cream of the Confederate Army, pausing momentarily to take in the scene before gracing the floorboards of the Landon House, just as they had in 1862.
As the sun began to set, the entire company of dancers lined up on the front lawn for the Grand March. Following the Dance Master, the couples paraded in the march, first by twos, then by fours and eights, and then were led in an intricate weave amongst one another, ending finally in a large circle of all of the attendees. The opening dance completed, the party moved inside, where the evening’s heat did little to dismay the dancers as they moved through waltzes, reels, quadrilles, and answered the Dance Master’s every call.
The effect was magical. Almost every person in attendance would from time to time pause to remember that J.E.B. Stuart’s cavaliers had trod these very boards, in much the same dances with the ladies of Urbana, nearly 147 years before. Everyone there, including Bill Frueh of Golden, Colorado, portraying Gen. Stuart, believed that ol’ Jeb was somewhere above with a large smile on his face and a twinkle in his blue eyes.
Many thanks for putting on this event must be given to Mr. Dolan for making the Landon House available; to the members of Lee’s Lieutenants for travelling many miles to provide the decorations, food and refreshments, and for portraying Stuart’s officers and the ladies of Urbana; to the “Civil War Comrades” for their great music and portrayal of the 18th Mississippi Regimental Band; and last but not least to the members of the Victorian Dance Foundation, who provided invaluable dance instruction and leadership through the intricacies of the Ball.
The Sabers & Roses Ball will be an annual event at the Landon House. In 2010, it will be held on Saturday, October 9 at the Landon House, and the public will be invited for the day’s festivities.