My First Confederate Christmas Ball
By Meshea Crysup
Editor’s note: The Confederate Ball is an annual fund raiser for the Old Courthouse Museum. The ball which originally took place in the Balfour home, now takes place in the Museum.
It was December 10th, 2016, at about 10 PM, moderately windy, rainy and in the forties—cold for the South—heavenly to me. Standing alone, taking in the commanding view one has from the Old Courthouse Museum’s outside stairs, out of my periphery, I caught a glimpse of a Confederate flag. Hopeless romantic that I am, it felt as if we were “sharing a moment”, and that flag seemed to be as thankful for the breeziness as I. Somehow both exhilarating and calming, the wind was whisking away all the negative energy in and around me—us—and replacing it with peacefulness and optimism. Basking in the much needed transformational moment, I lingered, smiling through tears, speaking aloud to no one, yet to all the world, “I truly love Historic Vicksburg.”
I had never been to a ball before, and certainly not a Confederate Ball! I envisioned a mix of formality and Southern charm.
· Ladies in Southern Bell ball gowns.
· Gentlemen in Confederate uniforms or period-appropriate formal wear
· Being introduced to the “in character” Host and Hostess.
· Live music of the era for dances, such as the Virginia Reel.
· Plenty of food and drink.
· Mingling, meeting new people, networking with fellow history lovers, gathering contact info, and, of course, “oohing and awing” over the dresses!
· Taking lots of pictures to post on Facebook and websites.
My expectations turned out to be mostly correct. Essentially, the evening progressed thusly:
In character, “Dr. William Balfour”, our host, gave a speech to set the stage for the evening before we all ascended the stairs to the ballroom. It was the Christmas Eve Ball, 1862, and one not to be forgotten…! He and his wife, Emma, then graciously welcomed each of us as we proceeded to file into the room, presenting or introducing ourselves in keeping with the traditions of the day.
There was a fiddler—or did Southern Gentry consider them to be violists?—along with a guitar player and other musicians playing rather softly. Food and drink, more modern than not, was in abundance for the expected cast of attendees in their finery. Not everyone was dressed period-appropriate, but their presence was just as appreciated regardless. Certainly, no one was made to feel unwelcome or out-of-place!
The dance maestro, while totally in character, encouraged and instructed the bravest attendees. A good number of us opted to watch, but all gradually loosened up and before long The Ball was a party. The number of dancers steadily increased while the chatter between non-dancers grew more and more relaxed.
At one point, Confederate bills were handed out to the attendees to add to the authenticity of the moment when Dr. Balfour gave a small speech and took up a collection for “our dedicated young men” prepared to defend Vicksburg. Some guests, especially those sporting various Confederate uniforms, let out “Rebel Yells” to show their support.
The historical facts are that, while all of the merriment was taking place at Balfour House, it was discovered that a fleet of nearly a hundred Union boats was on the Mississippi, approaching Vicksburg. Colonel Fall was the brave soul who took it upon himself to battle the elements of a rough, winter evening, and inform General Smith, who was at the Balfour Christmas Eve Ball, of the impending danger.
While it was only 9:30 for those of us attending the 2016 Ball, in 1862, it was actually just after midnight when Colonel Fall, delivered his dreadful news. General Smith, then boldly announced, “This ball is at an end! The enemy is coming down the river. All non-combatants must leave the city!”
It was quite chilling to hear those words, even though we knew it was a reenactment. After an appropriate amount of time, “our General Smith” added that we were all welcome to stay for one more dance. It was a welcome moment of levity, to be sure!
Of course, there were the usual surprises, which occur no matter what era one lives in or is pretending to live in.
· Attending without an escort.
· Dropping my shawl somewhere along the way.
· Feeling a bit awkward in spite of being thrilled to be there.
· A wardrobe malfunction with my dress. (Disappointingly, it kept me from feeling confident I would remain appropriately clad should I attempt to dance. “Dr. Balfour” refused, in the end however, to acquiesce to my protests. Thankfully, the dance went off without a hitch, meaning my gown did not go off, much to the relief I am sure of all attendees and not just me!)
The surprises were not all bad.
· I met an independent film maker who was documenting the ball. In fact, we have already touched base with one another, and she hopes to return for our Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable in January.
· I met several young couples who want our area historical organizations to provide more balls throughout the year to attend.
All in all, my first Confederate Ball was a success, and I am already thinking ahead to the next one.
· I will have a dress that is made for me!
· I will have a “spare escort” lined up!
· I will dance more than once!
· I will not feel awkward--just thrilled!
Upon hearing others behind me exiting the Old Court House Museum as well, reluctantly, I allowed my moment of commune with that lone Confederate flag to fade, and proceeded to my car. There were four or five ladies exiting a local bed and breakfast on one side of me, and a couple with two or three small children preparing to enter another local B&B on the other. Both groups gawked a moment at the site of a woman, alone, trying to get her hoop and ball gown to cooperate as she was entering her horseless carriage, a red Ford Escape, circa 2015. Smiling and nodding at both groups in turn, I said, “Have a good evening, Ya’ll, and enjoy your stay in Historic Vicksburg!”