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The Corps Visits Charleston

The South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition was held in Charleston, South Carolina, from December 2, 1901 to May 31, 1902. It was held on Lowndes, the former plantation of the fair president, two and one half miles north of downtown along the Ashley River, and covered 185 acres. The exposition focused on the relationship Charleston’s port had with shipping to the West Indies. On the site, there was a Women’s Building located inside the plantation mansion, government exhibits transported from the Buffalo Pan American Exposition that had just closed earlier in 1901, a total of fourteen buildings devoted to the states and several nations from the Caribbean and South America. The Cotton Palace was the most impressive building, three hundred and fifty feet long with fifty thousand square feet of exhibit space, and rose in front of the Sunken Gardens. A Streets of Cities exhibit showed the attributes of the large cities in the United States, including the Philadelphia exhibit that held the actual Liberty Bell, which arrived on January 9. Other buildings included the Palace of Agriculture, the Palace of Commerce, Mining and Forestry Building, an Auditorium seating four thousand, the Court of the Palaces, Machinery and Transport Buildings, the United States Government Building, Art Palace, Administration Building, and Negro Building. State buildings included New York, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, among others, with city buildings for Philadelphia and Cincinnati. The Louisiana Purchase Building touted the upcoming Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904. For amusement, there was a Midway including the Temple of Fortune, Streets of Cairo, the Wayside Inn, and an Esquimaux Village. There was also a miniature railway on site. (1)

The week of April 1-6, 1902, was Virginia Polytechnic Week, which included a visit from the V.P.I. Corps of Cadets. The Corps, with over three hundred and fifty members plus several members of the faculty, their families and friends of the cadets traveled on a special train provided by the Norfolk & Western Railway. According to the report on the trip in the 1902 Bugle, “On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 1st, there was a migration towards Christiansburg. From noon on might be seen groups of three or four ploughing across the country, knapsacks on back, and carrying gun or saber. All reached Christiansburg safely, and then we proceeded to wait for the train. After a two hours delay, which forms part of a Norfolk and Western schedule, our special arrived.” The Richmond Dispatch reported on April 3, “The train which carried the party was the finest ever sent out by the Norfolk and Western. From tender to Pullman, it was composed throughout of new coaches.”

In a review of the trip on April 13, the Dispatch claimed the train “was the finest excursion train ever run by the Norfolk and Western.” It explained that “the camp baggage and equipment for the culinary department were carried in one baggage car, and in this also slept the quartermaster, five or six servants, and one or two officers, who found stretching out on the blanket rolls preferable to occupying the cramped seats. Next to the baggage-car was a special party from all the companies; then A Company, and in the coaches ranging back from the first to the Pullman, Companies B, C, A, the staff, battery, and band. Back in the Pullman was a jolly crowd. Dr. McBryde, his daughter, Miss Susie; Mrs. Robinson, and James Bolton occupied the stateroom; Miss Childress and Miss Hooper, of Christiansburg, were in the berth next to the stateroom.”

The Dispatch also reported that “The Virginia Polytechnic Institute cadets reached Charleston at 10 o’clock this morning [Wednesday, April 2], and one hour later they had made camp, thrown out pickets, and were seen moving about the exposition grounds in their attractive uniforms.” The Times of Roanoke reported that the cadets “went into camp in the field back of the dairy barn, which latter will be used as a music hall. The corps, which is commanded by Col. J. S. A. Johnston, numbers three hundred and sixty-three men, and is composed of four infantry companies, a battery, a drum corps, and a band of twenty pieces. The companies are A, Capt. C. L. Proctor; B, Capt. R. M. Barton; C, Capt. C. L. Cook; D, Capt. J. M. Bland; Battery E, Capt. J. B. Harvey; Capt. J. C. Dantzler, a South Carolinian, is leader of the band.”

Details of the arrival and camp set-up were covered in the Dispatch review of the trip. “The cadets on reaching Charleston, piled out in a hurry and were formed on the platform. In heavy marching order they marched out of the station and into the grounds. A small crowd of people gathered at their arrival, and gazed at the dusty, travel-worn cadets with a good deal of interest. This interest was changed to wonder and enthusiastic appreciation as the excellent band began to play its favorite selection, ‘The Invincible Eagle.’ [A John Philip Sousa march composed in 1901.] To this tune the march across the grounds to the camp was made. Convicts were still raising tents and making very slow progress at that when the would-be occupants arrived. Beginning with the band and winding up with Company B, at which point the tents ran out, the men were assigned to tents, three to each canvass. The rest were quartered in unoccupied buildings. While the baggage was being brought the men were busy scrubbing themselves to remove the stains of travel. Fifteen minutes later they had scattered in every direction. Only the pickets, who from this moment were never absent from camp, were visible.”

Later that day, “The cadets gave a dress parade on the Exposition Plaza in front of the administration building.” the Times reported. &ldgquo;They are a splendid body of men and made a fine impression in their natty uniforms. The parade was witnessed by hundreds of people, who admired the gallant bearing of the cadets and their soldierly appearance on parade.&rdqou; However, there were other conflicting views of this parade. The Dispatch described the parade as traveling “over the rough, uneven grounds, with which the Virginians were unfamiliar, while very pretty, was not nearly the success that the later ones proved to be, nor was it as well attended.” The report in the Bugle presented a different impression from the viewpoint of the cadets. “That afternoon we held dress-parade in front of the Mines and Forestry building. Everyone in the grounds assembled to witness it, and, according to our press representative, who accompanied the corps, the crowd numbered fully five thousand, an item of information which must have astonished the Exposition authorities.”

A baseball tournament was also part of the exposition. In addition to the parade, it was reported in the Dispatch that “The cadets also brought their base-ball nine with them and will cross bats with the Citadel cadets this afternoon and with Clemson College Saturday afternoon at the base-ball grounds.”

The Dispatch reported “Only two hours after the arrival of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute men, a train-load of girls from Winthrop College, Rock Hill, S. C., pulled in and some 370 lasses helped to swell the crowd in the grounds. The Blacksburg men met these girls without difficulty, several of their number having friends among the young ladies, which piece of good fortune started the introductions. The introductions went well, as another report stated “The V. P. I. men and the Winthrop girls have been inseparable during their visit here.” and that the girls were be allowed by their chaperones to visit the V. P. I. camp-grounds on Friday night. This privilege has been denied them hereto-fore.

The cadets also received attention from alumni of the school, as reported by the Dispatch. “Ion Simons, Guinard, and other old V. P. I. men have, if possible, shown the cadets more than Charleston hospitality. Simons (class of 1893?), is City Electrician of Charleston, and one of the brightest of his profession in the South.” [I’on Simons was listed a freshman in the 1892-93 term, which would put him in the class of 1896.] Christopher Gadsden Guignard (class of 1895) traveled from Columbia, S.C., where he was the superintendent of Brick Manufacturing Co. and director and secretary of the Columbia Granite Construction and Manufacturing Co. There was another Blacksburg connection among the faculty who made the trip. Professor E. A. Smyth was a son of the well-known Mayor of Charleston, Mr. A. J. Smyth.

The Dispatch gave an accounting of the Thursday activities for the cadets: “morning revielle was hailed with cheers and the men flocked to breakfast with right good will, the cold rousting them out early.

“Each man had a prodigious appetite, and the hot coffee, ham and bread served with cake and other things, went down with great rapidity.

“As on the preceding day, the camp, save for its sentinels, monotonously pacing to and fro, was deserted. This time the Midway was the attraction. The shows here are unusually good. Fair Japan has some of the best acrobats the Virginia Polytechnic Institute men have ever seen.

“Thursday afternoon at 5:30 the cadets held their second parade. This had received notice in the morning papers, and was largely attended. The visitors were surprised and delighted at the fine showing made by the Virginians.

“At night “Quo Vadis” was played in the opera house and many of the boys attended the performance.”

There was additional information from the class history in the Bugle: “Thursday afternoon we played the Citadel baseball. According to the usual Charleston procedure, the game was not advertised until the day after, so that very few people witnessed the contest. This, however, proved fortunate, as we were beaten by a score of 11 to 5.” The report followed up with the results of the game against Clemson. “We revived our drooping spirits by Saturday and went out to play Clemson. Let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest. The score may be found on a baseball in the Clemson exhibit in the South Carolina building; we are trying to forget it.”

The Dispatch reported that “Friday was Atlanta Day, and the day of the great military parade of the Georgia soldiers and other military. As the cadets took part in the procession, no dress parade was required after the fatiguing march of the morning, and the cadets were excused from duty until midnight.

“By Saturday, while few of the boys had seen all the exhibits, still they had begun to tire a little of the exposition and of Charleston also.

Many parties went out on the battery, while others sailed on the bay.

Not a few visited Chicora Park and Isle of Palms. The Bugle report mentioned that “the Citadel cadets gave the Winthrop College girls a boat ride around the harbor, and invited our Senior class to accompany them. This was one of the many courtesies shown us by the Citadel boys; courtesies which we heartily appreciate.” The Dispatch said “The entire school of these young ladies was out and the boys had a magnificent time with the maidens.”

The Dispatch continued its report on the weekend activities. “Sunday was very quiet. Little was done in the exposition grounds. A party went over into the jockey camp just to the rear of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute camp, and inspected a number of the finer breeds of horses. There are over 250 horses in the Charleston stables and over 50 horse owners are represented there. The jockeys were interested in the letters V. P. I. on the boys’ caps and sweaters. They were as curious to know what these meant as the boys were to know of the horses. The word “Polytechnic” in particular worried them; they did not seem able to grasp its meaning. Sunday night the churches were visited. Old St Michael's church was the object of the greatest interest.”

Monday found the cadets on the move again. Per the Bugle, “Monday found us again preparing—the whole corps this time—for an excursion around the bay. We were pretty nearly “strapped” by now; but our wise and thoughtful commandant, with characteristic foresight, saved us much embarrassment by reminding us, after announcing when the steamer would leave the wharf, to “be sure and,--er-r-r keep,--that is, not exactly Keep, but save,--er-r-r save a nickel to ride down town with.” The Citadel cadets and many Charleston girls accompanied us and added to the pleasure of the occasion.” The Dispatch reported that “In the afternoon the cadets sailed down the bay on the ‘Pilot Boy.” Dr. McBryde gave the boys this trip. The Senior class of Citadel were invited, as well as fifty or sixty of the young ladies of Charleston. Instead of returning to the east Bay-Street wharf the boat steamed up to the exposition pier, where the party disembarked for the parade. The corps paraded Monday evening and on Tuesday afternoon they were reviewed by the Mayor of Charleston.

Also on Tuesday, President Theodore Roosevelt arrived. The Dispatch reported that “He fooled the crowd awaiting him, by leaving his train for a trolley car some five miles out, and going to Chicora Park for an inspection of the Government works there. Later on the Algonquin he steamed down the bay past the battery and gunboats in the harbor. As the vessel bearing him passed the shore batteries the guns on the Topeka, Cincinnati and Lancaster belched out a salute. The yards of the vessels were trimmed with bunting and crowded with sailors. The sides of the vessels were not more crowded with sailors, however, than the rail of the battery with Virginia Polytechnic Institute cadets.”

Tuesday night brought “the grand finale and supreme climax of Charleston and South Carolina hospitality” the Dispatch reported, as “the corps were the guests of the South Carolina Military Academy at one of the swellest germans ever given in Charleston, and likewise the largest. No man who does not wear the uniform of the Citadel or Virginia Polytechnic Institute will be admitted. Dancing begins at 9 o'clock in the artillery hall; when it will break up is another matter.” After the ball, the Dispatch reported that “The dance was a large one, nearly one hundred couples participating, with about three extra men to each girl. This entertainment was one of the largest full dress military balls ever given in Charleston. The First Artillery band furnished music for the dancers. The Hibernian hall was the only floor large enough to accommodate the crowd.” The report in the Bugle stated that “we were given a hop by the Citadel, which was, to all of us, the crowning event of the trip. Too much cannot be said in praise of our hosts, or of the Charleston girls, who treated us in such a way that we forgot we were strangers. President and Mrs. Roosevelt were given a reception the same night at the St. John; but, compared to our dance, it was a secondary affair.”

The culmination of the trip was on Wednesday, President’s Day to honor Roosevelt. The Bugle report of the parade was succinct but flattering: “Next morning the corps was marched down to the St. John, where the President was staying, and formed for the street parade which was to escort him to the Exposition grounds. Upon reaching the grounds the troops were reviewed by the President and party. As our corps approached the reviewing stand, our band struck up Dixie, and the crowd (for there was a real crowd then; not a News and Courier crowd) went wild. The ladies of the Presidential party waved their handkerchiefs and clapped their hands, and the Presidential mouth expanded to a hearty smile. When the corps had passed, Mrs. Roosevelt remarked, “That certainly was nice.” We agree with her.”

The Dispatch, in several articles, also reported on the parade and the reception of the V.P.I. cadets. “The military parade in honor of President Roosevelt was the feature of the day. Crowds began to line the streets along which the procession was scheduled to pass at an early hour. Cars going to the exposition were packed and jammed as early as 8 o’clock. The parade formed down by the Battery. It marched up town with a squadron of mounted police followed by another squadron on foot. After these came the South Carolina troops and then a carriage containing the President and his party.

“Mr. Roosevelt was cheered continuously and was on his feet bowing right and left almost, the entire distance. The Virginia Polytechnic Institute cadets, who came close behind the carriages which followed that of the President, were cheered to the echo along the entire route. At every crossing the people, threw their hats high into the air, and yelled themselves hoarse for the magnificent band, which headed the corps, the four stalwart companies of infantry, and the battery of artillery. Several thousand sailors from the ships in the harbor were in the parade, besides corps of marines from North and South Carolina and Florida.

“At the Exposition Grounds, Mr. Roosevelt, from the steps of the Auditorium, reviewed the troops. The Virginia cadets’ band sprung “Dixie” on the Presidential party, and the crowd went wild. Mr. Roosevelt, himself laughed heartily. This was the only band to play the stirring old march during the review.”

The Dispatch reporter on the scene added to the commentary. “Hoping to hear some comments on the cadets’ drilling and deportment, your correspondent moved along in the fringe of the dense crowd bordering the line of march. “Here come the Virginia cadets,” was the cry. “They are the best thing in the line,” was another comment. “I had rather see those boys than the President,” said still another person.

“Charleston people, as a whole, have formed the highest opinion of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute men. The boys were quiet throughout their stay, gentlemanly at all times, and impressed every one as a fine-looking organization.”

“The Times in Roanoke had a recap of the visit and added to the details of the parade. “ln the President’s big parade to the exposition grounds to-day from the St. John Hotel throug the principal streets of the city the techs showed up splendidly, and made a striking appearance in their blue coats, white duck pants and white caps. Several hundred students from Converse Female College of Spartanburg; Limestone Female College, of Gaffney; Clifford Seminary, of Union; Charlotte Female College of Charlotte, and Due West Female College, were lined up on the front veranda of the St. John Hotel, and when the Virginia boys passed by they were given three rousing cheers by the fair maidens, who showed their further appreciation of the soldiers by hurling many bouquets of flowers at them from above. At many points along the line of march the students were applauded lustily.

“When President Roosevelt reached the exposition auditorium and was preparing to leave the vehicle, he turned and surveyed for a moment the long string of soldiers, sailors and marines following behind. As he stood looking the V. P. I. cadets swung around the corner and into the grounds with the precision of clockwork, their polished guns glistening in the noon-day sun and their uniforms in though keeping with their various other good points. “There comes a pretty sight,” remarked the Chief Magistrate, who knows something about the art of drilling and the manual of arms himself, as the cadets swept in full view from behind the high fence.

The Times also reported on the departure of the cadets for the return to Blacksburg. “Soon after the parade the boys began preparations for leaving. They quickly broke camp, and, loading their paraphernalia on a car at the ground, they shouldered their guns, buckled on their knapsacks and put out for the Southern depot. There was an enormous crowd of people at the exposition to-day, at least forty thousand, and as the students were leaving they were given loud and prolonged cheers. They marched out of the gate amid the waving of hundreds of little flags and the fluttering of many handkerchiefs.”

The Dispatch had some additional details of the departure. “At 5 o’clock Wednesday afternoon the band marched out of the camp playing “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia.” Following them came the infantry and then the artillery. As the cadets marched through the gates of the grounds and past the crowds of girl friends who had come down to see them off, the band struck up “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” The journey back home was made on the same splendid train that carried the cadets down—“the Pride of the Norfolk and Western”—and was entirely uneventful.”

The Bugle report of the departure was short, “That evening at 5 o’clock the President’s special left the Exposition grounds; and fifteen minutes later our corps marched down to the station, knapsacks on back, with the band playing, the people cheering, and the girls crying and waving farewell. So we left, trailing clouds of glory,—and broken hearts. And our hearts were heavy, but our pocketbooks were light.” The report of the return trip didn't describe it as “splendid”: “We will omit the description of the journey back to Blacksburg, for there was little pleasure in it.” The cadets who wrote the description of the trip were not fully impressed with the coverage of the visit in the Charleston newspaper. “To be sure, Charleston was not Buffalo, the exposition was not as large or as varied, and the megaphone men proclaimed not our praises to the awe-struck crowds—because there were no crowds. The News and Courier did not herald our military exhibitions, but they praised them afterwards. In short, they did not confuse us with applause when alive, but erected tombstones to our memory when we were gone.”