Written by Maureen Maryanski, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.
Among the Civil War related papers in the American History Manuscript Collection at the Historical Society are those of Union Army General Edward Ferrero (1831-1899). This one folder collection consists mainly of items relating to his military commissions. These materials document Ferrero’s progress through the war, beginning as Colonel of his own 51st New York Regiment in 1861 and rising to the rank of Major General by December 1864 for “bravery and meritorious services” following the siege of Petersburg. A newspaper clipping also included in these papers reveals that Ferrero commanded a brigade at Vicksburg, Fredericksburg, and Antietam, where he received his commission as Brigadier General on the field.
This slim collection recounts the facts of Ferrero’s military service and the sequence of his commissions, yet reveals little else about this New Yorker’s life. Digging further, it became evident that prior to the war Ferrero ran one of the most prestigious dancing academies in New York City, catering to children of its wealthiest families. In addition to being a dancing master (and one of America’s leading experts in dance), he also authored a bestselling book, The Art of Dancing, a copy of which is held in the library’s Printed Collections. Both a history of dancing and a dance manual, this book provided instruction to dancers about the rudiments of dancing, etiquette, and the most modern dances, from the quadrille to the waltz. Illustrative figures assisted in this instruction, and music is printed at the end of the book, including the Ferrero Esmeralda.
While seemingly unconnected, the link between the military and dance is not an unlikely one, especially in the case of Edward Ferrero. Born in Spain of Italian parents, Ferrero moved with his family to New York City in 1832. His father was a renowned dancer and proceeded to open the dancing school at the northeast corner of 14th street and 6th Avenue that his son would one day inherit. Ferrero was raised surrounded by both dance and military associations, as his uncle Colonel Lewis Ferrero served in the Crimean War. Ferrero’s interest in military affairs led him to serve for six years as lieutenant colonel of the 11th New York Militia Regiment prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, while simultaneously serving as a dancing master and originating popular dancing figures.
Ferrero also taught dancing at the Military Academy at West Point during the 1850s, a common occurrence as evidenced by a letter from Robert E. Lee to a Mr. Hlasco. Lee wrote to Hlaso, a professor of dancing, to accept an offer of dance instruction for the cadets “on the former conditions,” a phrase that suggests this was an ongoing arrangement. The physicality required of military drills and exercises parallels the movements and precision necessary for the many dances popularized in mid-19th century America. Through its ability to assist in the development of social grace, etiquette, and discipline, dance instruction was considered vital for officers and elite members of society.