Friday, August 16, 2013

The Harrisonburg Guards Part 2

The Harrisonburg Guards (continued)

The following account found in the August 1879 issues of the Rockingham Register newspapers provided a glimpse of the lighter side of Guard duty.

The Guards’ Encampment at Rawley Springs[i]

            Coinciding with the first load of watermelons in early August 1879, about thirty “boys” of Harrisonburg went to Rawley Springs for a three-day encampment.  The Rawley Springs, about 12 miles west of the Courthouse, was a popular resort known medically for its fortifying and curing iron water and recreationally for its many diversions.  On Thursday, August 7, - a “delightfully cool day, - the boys left Harrisonburg in good spirits” for their encampment.  The newspaper reported that “the journey to Rawley Springs was passed in joking and laughing, and repartee, it affording the boys special amusement to observe the physiognomy of toll keepers [along the Rawley Pike and they] would approach or drive through without either ceremony or pay.”   When they arrived at the Dry River crossing at the entrance to the Resort, the Company was greeted by the Rawley Springs brass band under the leadership of Prof. Schoff of the U.S. Naval Military Academy Band. The Guards marched to the Springs to the especially composed “Harrisonburg Guard Quickstep.”  A multitude of fair ladies on the verandahs of the Virginia, Baltimore, and Washington Houses greeted the “boys” with applause.   Major Pitman, the manager of the Resort, and Mr. Carey and Mr. Lee, the clerks, welcomed them and showed them to their accommodations at the Washington House.  In the evening at the “customary dance” in the large ballroom, the young men had a chance to obtain introductions to the ladies.

            On Friday, the staff presented, to the delight of the men, bottles of wine to drink with their noon meal.  By early evening activity slowed and the verandahs were deserted.  The young ladies disappeared to adjust pleated and ruffled dresses, drape corkscrew curls over shoulders, and collect fans in preparation for the evening’s grand military ball.  The efforts of the women were noted by the reporter who wrote: “it was a feeling of pride and gratification that we saw our Harrisonburg girls come-off more than winners in point of beauty and grace.”  Among the local ladies present were several Misses Warrens and Misses Otts, Yanceys, and Coffmans. 

General P.G.T. Beaureguard, General Jubal Early and other distinguished Confederate officers were managers of the ball.  During the evening 600 to 700 guests arrived at the Springs for the event.  At nine o’clock the dancing started with the Promenade Polonaise.  The first nine dance sets also including quadrilles and waltzes – some by Strauss.  During the Intermission at eleven a grand supper was served.  Afterwards, dancing to waltzes, quadrilles, and even a polka continued until 2 a.m..  The last dance was the Virginia Reel, “Put me in my little bed.”

            By Saturday evening the Guards revived themselves to entertain the resort guests with a parade of the “Mulligan Guards.”  In this era, the New York entertainers Harrigan and Hart had “great success on tour in the presentation of comic types of lower class characters drawn from everyday life on the street of New York, especially ethnic neighborhood militias.”  In 1872, Harrigan produced an act called The Mulligan Guards that became the heart of the team’s performances.[ii]  The local Guards imitated the popular entertainment for the guests at Rawley under the buggy whip of leader Capt. Gatewood.  The men disguised themselves in “ridiculous” costumes and behaved in a “ludicrous” manner.  In the evening the men resumed their dancing and courting. 

Ball Room Rock Image from Places Faces & Traces Historical Photographs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County by Scott Hamilton Suter & Cheryl Lyon

            On Sunday, a number of men left to return to their responsibilities in Harrisonburg.  For those that remained the day was relatively quiet until about midnight when the owner of a watermelon wagon found a dozen or so of his produce missing.  Those who remained at camp until Wednesday participated in shooting demonstrations, a baseball game with other guests, and in another appearance of the Mulligan Guards.  Courting continued unabated.

            During the month of August the Rockingham Register devoted more than five columns to the doings of Harrisonburg Guards at Rawley, often in superlative adjectives.  The paper proclaimed the “bestness” of the local citizens.  There was one lament by a writer that the natural beauty of the Rawley setting was not also praised. 

This brief look at the Harrisonburg Guard showed local civic pride and customs and also an awareness of the world beyond the locality in the late 1870s.  The description of the Rawley Springs resort’s facilities and ambience suggested its economic and social impact on the area.  However amusing and entertaining the Guard members showed themselves to be, one might inquire about their capability to protect the home front at that time.  Maybe this was lingering fatigue from the last war – and the Spanish American War was twenty years in the future.

[i] The following event was reported in the August 1879 editions of the Rockingham Register.  Not only does reporting give the reader a glimpse of the Harrisonburg Guards, it is the best description of the leisure and recreation at the Springs and the scale of the enterprise during its heyday that has been found to date. 

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