JEB Stuart’s Sabers and Roses Ball: Dashing Cavalry & Local Belles
Getting to visit the house where Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s Sabers and Roses Civil War Ball took place was long on my bucket list of Civil War destinations. I finally got to cross it off when I visited the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md.
Although the building stood at the edge of the small village of Urbana at the time of the famous Civil War ball, it is now surrounded by urban sprawl.
Side Note: According to the Census, Urbana had a population of 622 residents in 2000. In 2010, the number was 9,175 ; and in 2020 it was 11,800.
That makes the historic event harder to imagine, but doesn’t take away from the romance, history and gallantry the house witnessed when it served as the scene of Stuart’s Sabers and Roses Ball.
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the Sabers and Roses Ball Artwork
The above artwork by renowned Civil War artist Dale Gallon depicts a scene from Jeb Stuart’s Sabers and Roses Ball in 1862 during the Maryland Campaign.
Painting description: After saying goodbye to Anne Cockey at a ball in Urbana, MD, on Sept. 8, 1862, J.E.B. Stuart and his men attack and drive off nearby Yankee raiders.
Like History? Don’t miss the Fort Frederick Market Fair in April. This Colonial open air market is like no other.
The Landon House And The Sabers and Roses Ball
Thankfully, the building in the background of this beautiful painting by Dale Gallon still stands, although it is now bordered by major highways and noisy commercial establishments.
Known as the Landon House (and as the Stancioff House), the large three-story frame house has a notable two-story full length galleried porch that makes it instantly recognizable as the site of the Sabers and Roses Ball.
The romantic story of the legendary Sabers and Roses Ball involves dashing cavalry, local belles, and gallant combat between dances.
I first heard about the event when reading the memoirs of Heros von Borcke, while writing the Shades of Gray Civil War Trilogy. Von Borcke (or Von as he was called) was a Prussian officer who came to America to take part in the war.
He served under General J.E.B. Stuart, and the two became good friends.
The Story Behind The Sabers and Roses Ball
According to von Borcke, the Sabers and Roses Ball came about quite by accident when General JEB Stuart and his men were encamped in Urbana, Md.
Von Borcke is a bit wordy in his description, as is typical of the period, but it does paint a romantic picture of the events that led up to the ball. He writes:
“Leaving to our fair friends the choice of their partners, we were guided by them to a large building, crowning the summit of a gentle hill on the edge of the village, from which a broad avenue of trees sloped downwards to the principal street.
The building had been occupied before the breaking out of the war as an academy, but was now entirely deserted, and our footsteps echoed loudly as we walked through its wide, empty halls, once so noisy with human voices.
Each story of the house had its ample veranda running round it, and from the highest of these we had a magnificent view of the village and the surrounding country. The night was calm, the dark blue firmament was besprinkled with myriads of stars, and the moon poured over the landscape a misty bluish light that made it all look unreal.
One might have thought it a magical scenic effect of the theatre… had not the camp-fires of our troops and the constant neighing of the horses reminded him of the realities by which he was surrounded.”
Von Borcke notes that, as they were walking through the empty building, General Stuart mentioned that it would be a wonderful place to give a ball in honor of the Confederates’ arrival in Maryland.
“It was at once agreed that the ball should be given. I undertook to make all necessary arrangements for the illumination and decoration of the hall, the issuing the cards of invitation, &c., leaving to Stuart the matter of the music, which he gladly consented to provide…
“A soldier’s life is so uncertain, and his time is so little at his own disposal, that in affairs of this sort delays are always to be avoided; and so we determined on our way home, to the great joy of our fair companions, that the ball should come off on the following evening.”
War Interrupts The Sabers and Roses Ball
Von Borcke describes what happened next:
“Invitations to the ball were sent out to all the families in Urbana and its neighborhood, and to the officers of Hampton’s brigade. The large halls of the Academy were aired and swept and festooned with roses, and decorated with battle-flags borrowed from the different regiments.”
The Prussian officer then goes into some detail about the kick-off of the ball and discusses the difference between American and European societal customs before continuing with his tale.
“Louder and louder sounded the instruments, quicker and quicker moved the dancers, and the whole crowded room, with its many exceedingly pretty women and its martial figures of officers in their best uniforms, presented a most striking spectacle of gaiety and enjoyment.
Suddenly enters an orderly covered with dust, and reports in a loud voice to General Stuart that the enemy have surprised and driven in our pickets and are attacking our camp in force, while at the same moment the sound of shots in rapid succession is distinctly borne to us on the midnight air.
The excitement which followed this announcement I cannot undertake to describe. The officers rushed to their weapons and called for their horses, while the young ladies ran to and fro in most admired despair.
General Stuart maintained his accustomed coolness and composure. Our horses were immediately saddled, and in less than five minutes we were in rapid gallop to the front.”
The Confederates soon found that things were by no means so desperate as they had been represented — so of course they returned to the scene of the ball!
“It was about one o’clock in the morning when we got back to the Academy, where we found a great many of our fair guests still assembled, awaiting with breathless anxiety the result of the conflict. As the musicians had never dispersed, General Stuart ordered them again to strike up…
“The dancing was resumed in less than half an hour, and kept up till the first glimmer of dawn. At this time the ambulances laden with the wounded of last night’s engagement were slowly approaching the Academy, as the only building at Urbana that was at all suited to the purposes of an hospital.
Of course the music was immediately stopped and the dancing ceased, and our lovely partners in the quadrille at once became ‘ministering angels’ to the sufferers.”
Enjoying The Ball In A Time Of War
Some may think it strange that there was so much merriment among the citizens when they were surrounded by war, but music and dancing played a large role in American culture during the era of the Civil War.
At the time, the Sabers and Roses Ball was not seen as the least bit unusual or out of the ordinary.
In fact, it was a bit of a necessity. The Civil War disrupted the normal social habits of both men and women, who were raised with the idea that the timely procuring of a spouse was essential. (Especially for women).
A military ball was an opportunity for “respectable” men and women to mingle at a time when such opportunities were obviously rare.
Captain William W. Blackford, a member of J.E.B. Stuart’s staff, later recalled the time spent socializing in Urbana.
“Our horses stood saddled day and night, and Stuart and his staff slept in the open air in the shady yard of the residence of Mr. Cocky, with clothes, boots, spurs and arms on, ready for the instant action, but with these precautions we enjoyed the society of the charming girls around us to the utmost. One hour’s acquaintance in war times goes further towards good feeling than months in the dull, slow period of peace.”
The property has gone through a number of owners in the last dozen years, and was last used as a wedding and large event venue.
It is marked as private property.
If you visit Urbana, Md., you’re less than an hour from Gettysburg. You might want to find out if Gettysburg is worth visiting, and the best time to visit Gettysburg Battlefield.
Landon House History
The Landon House was originally built in 1754 along the Rappahannock River around Fredericksburg, Virginia, and used as a seminary for girls.
In 1840, the Landon House was moved by boat to Washington and then by oxcarts to its present location in Urbana.
The house served as a military academy and a hospital during the Civil War, in addition to being where the legendary Sabers and Roses Ball took place in 1862.
Wrap-Up Of The Sabers And Roses Ball
I’m glad that the building where JEB Stuart’s Sabers and Roses Ball took place still stands, even though blacktop now surrounds the once-majestic structure and the roar of nearby traffic detracts from its historic background.
It’s important to recognize these historic landmarks and honor the lives of the people who are associated with them.
this is an awesome tale, It shows that even during a terrible war, life can be enjoyed somewhat.
I was lucky enough to tour the home prior its sale to the wedding venue owner with a tour sponsored by the Smithsonian and led by Ed Bearss (lucky to have toured with him, too). The stairs were worn with indentations marking many footprints over the years. The rooms were large and bathrooms plentiful with claw-foot tubs. I thought it might be haunted (I always felt like I was being watched and this is before surveillance cameras), and the wedding venue owner mentioned there were some unusual things that occurred while he was restoring the house. The flooring where the ball took place was replaced sometime in the 30s or 40s when the house was sold to the owners who sold to the venue owner. They purchased it from a lady who had goats, sheep and chickens in that room! The area above the fireplace still had the charcoal drawings left by union and confederate soldiers behind plexiglass. I wonder if they are still there.
Oh, how lucky you were! (For both seeing the building and getting a tour by Ed Bearss)! I was afraid that the inside had been much “remodeled” and changed, but perhaps not. I hope not anyway. Thanks for sharing that!