In this 1870s German illustration of swank American units, a Richmond Blues soldier stands third from the left, while a First City Trooper stands on the far right. (From pamphlet entitled Die Armee der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika)
Once upon a time, there were a number of U.S. Army units in the eastern seaboard in which privileged young men served their communities by bearing arms.
Philadelphia's First City Troop is the only such unit that remains in active service, but up until the 1970s, the Troop had a friendly rival: the Richmond Light Infantry Blues.
Founded in 1793 (seventeen years after the Troop), the Blues maintained a proud Virginia militia heritage for generations. The Troop and the Blues first came into regular contact after World War II, when they started sharing annual training together.
By the late 1960s, the Blues and the Troop often found themselves pitted against each other in war games, vying tooth and claw in the ruthless struggle for supremacy among American “champagne” units.
According to the Troop’s official records, in 1969 “the Richmond Blues seemed anxious to renew the War Between the States, when several of their members made track vehicle turn-in very difficult for the Troop..." Troopers struck back by raising the Blues' camp at night.
When the Troop returned to Philadelphia the next week, they kicked off the annual Hughie’s Breakfast by presenting their commander with the complete camouflage uniform of Captain Bailey, the commanding officer of the Richmond Blues.
The next year, still peeved at the “less than cordial” reception accorded by the Richmond Blues the previous year, the Troop embraced war games with special gusto, making “such an impressive showing that [the Blues] were thrown into disarray resulting in their commander [poor Captain Bailey] being relieved from the field.” Off the field of battle, the Blues and the Troop respected each other well enough, and celebrated the Troop's George Washington’s birthday dinner together at the Armory in 1970.
Part of their affinity was doubtless aided by a traditional Philadelphian affection for other American regions with an equally deep colonial heritage, with special honor traditionally given to coastal New England, Maryland, South Carolina, and Tidewater Virginia. When membership numbers in the Blues started to decline at the end of the 1970s, they sent delegates to Philadelphia to see what they could learn about long term survival. (Philadelphian institutions of all stripes have an amazing knack for enduring over long stretches of time, by changing whenever is necessary, in order to remain otherwise unchanged.) According to a number of Troopers’ accounts from those visits, the Blues seemed less willing to adapt to changes in their own commonwealth’s National Guard than the Troop was in Pennsylvania.
William Buchanan attributed the Troop’s flexibility to a hidden Quaker predilection for bottom-up consensus-seeking as opposed to top-down decision making. The Blues’ demise may also have been due to the fact that Richmond had a smaller population pool from which to draw new members. At any rate, Troopers lamented the Blues’ demise as much as they did.