Civil War & Reconstruction Civil War Second Union Occupation Cavalry Celebrations

Cavalry Celebrations

Life was not perpetually bleak during the “Valley Forge,” as evidenced by celebrations in on the cavalry raid’s same day (St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th). The Irish Brigade’s steeplechase horse racing and sack-races relieved tedium and whetted appetites for food and drink. Celebratory fare included “thirty-five hams, and a side of an ox roasted; an entire pig stuffed with boiled turkeys; an unlimited number of chickens, ducks and small game.” Ample drinking materials included “eight caskets of champagne, ten gallons of rum, and twenty-two of whiskey” – all to satisfy the hunger and slake the thirst of the lusty Hibernians.

Adjutant Josiah Favill, 57th New York Infantry, recalled:

“General Meagher and staff celebrated by giving a steeplechase on the parade ground of the division. A course was carefully laid out, ditches dug, hurdles erected, and valuable prizes offered to the contestants. The conditions were simply that none but the commissioned officers of the division could ride, which was sufficiently liberal.”

Favill noted a crowd of officers participated and “Meagher, glorious in fancy undress uniform liberally covered with gold braid” and staff, entertained generals and lady friends.

The race was deemed a booming success, with only a few serious falls. Infantry guards maintained decorum, but festivities lasted into the night. Favill noted Meagher and his brigade surgeon challenged each other to mortal combat, and matters assumed a threatening aspect. The following morning, however, when alcoholic effects had subsided, the surgeon apologized and peace resumed. 20 Safety concerns prompted Hooker’s headquarters to issue General Order No. 28 (March 18th) reiterating: “All fast riding and fast movements of wagons through the army were to cease immediately.” Provost marshals and guards were to enforce the order.

Drawing of 1863 horse races
Soldier Games

Favill also noticed Princess Agnes Salm-Salm, “a beautiful and fearless horse woman” among Hooker’s retinue. Princess Agnes Salm-Salm was in Stafford County during the “Valley Forge”-period as an army wife. An American (also possibly of Canadian origin) woman, her original name was probably Agnes Elizabeth Winona LeClercq Joy. She married a German, Colonel Prince Felix Salm-Salm, in August 1862 in Washington, D. C. He was the commander of the 8th New York Infantry and left her in Washington to serve with his regiment in western Virginia. The regiment became part of XII Army Corps and moved into Stafford after the battle of Fredericksburg. Agnes joined him in their camp near Aquia Landing in late December 1862, and in January 1863 they moved their camp to another place along Aquia Creek. She was not known to have engaged in any nursing activities during the army’s “Valley Forge”-period. Her activities, however, do provide some insight into the social life of the regimental and more senior officers. They were, especially during the Christmas and New Year periods, extremely active in lavish affairs – at the extreme end she and her husband participated in a dinner given by General Sickles which was catered by Delmonico’s famous New York City restaurant. The neglect of the troops, left on combat rations for an extended period, compounded that absurdity, and led to Burnside’s removal and Hooker’s appointment. Agnes, according to her own memoir, spent her time looking after her husband and his regiment. She was prominently involved in an incident during President and Mrs. Lincoln’s week-long visit to the army in April 1863.

Princess Agnes Salm-Salm

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