The Original Confederate Ball by Morgan Gates
On December 10th 2016 The Old Courthouse Museum will present its annual fundraiser “The Confederate Ball” this ball is more than just an event it is a historical reenactment of an actual ball that took place Christmas Eve 1862.
The Civil War is not quite two years old, Memphis and New Orleans have both fallen to the Union forces, but Vicksburg stands fast and has already survived a Naval bombardment in the spring and summer of that year. The city high on its bluffs is out of range of most of the naval cannon of the day. Vicksburg is an armed camp, but an uneasy peace has fallen over the city as the Navy pulled out late in the summer. As the time of “Peace on Earth” draws nigh the wife of a prominent local doctor, Mrs. Emma Balfour decides to spread a little joy among the brave defenders of the city by throwing a Ball for the Confederate Officers and their ladies.
It is Christmas Eve 1862, outside the weather has closed in, and a cold rain falls and splatters against the elegant Balfour home on the corner of Crawford and Cherry. Inside the ball is an elegant soiree, with the officers in dress uniforms and the ladies in their ballgowns. Food and wine flow freely and as small orchestra plays, the guests dance the Waltz, the Virginia Reel and other dances of the day. Major General Martin Luther Smith, A Confederate engineer and division commander is the leader of the rebel army at Vicksburg and the guest of honor at the ball.
About twenty miles above Vicksburg is the village of Lake Providence Louisiana, there two Confederates are spending Christmas Eve watching the Mississippi River. Well after dark a slave child runs in and tells them “I hears the pat-pat-choo-choo of a steamboat”! Perhaps these two men thought of shooing the child away and returning to their card game, but then thought better of it. They shrug on their great coats and walk down to the river bank, there they stand in the rain on this bitter winter night in near stygian blackness for quite some time, and then in the words of one of the men “the head of a huge fire breathing dragon, rounded the bend of the river some three miles up”. They watch in dead silence as a huge column of Union gunboats and transports slip by. The rhythmic sound of their steam engines break the silence as the coal sparks fly from their funnels! It is the Union River fleet heading for unsuspecting Vicksburg!
As the last behemoth passes, the men mount their horses and gallop to the nearest telegraph station. Where a desperate message races down the telegraph wires, Vicksburg must be warned, but the message cannot go directly to Vicksburg for no telegraph lines span the Mississippi! The other end of the line is a small village that once stood opposite Vicksburg on the western shore of the mighty river. After what must have seemed an eternity to the impatient observers, the telegraph operator on the other end of the link responds and the full warning is tapped out. A runner, transcribed message in hand, runs down to the water’s edge and climbs into a small wooden boat and begins rowing with all his might across almost a mile of choppy water and deadly currents that separate him from his objective. A red lantern swings in the bow to alert those guarding the eastern bank that he is friendly. Finally making the shore, his journey is not over, for the Balfour home is five blocks up the bluff. Finally, the disheveled and exhausted man rushes into the presence of Martin Luther Smith and places the message into his hand. The appearance of this unexpected messenger in the middle of this elegant party must has caused quite a stir, but as General Smith scans the message he holds up his hand and dead silence envelopes the room. This ball is at an end; the enemy is at hand. All my men report to your duty stations all civilians make plans to evacuate the city! With that statement the ball ends. The day after Christmas Union General William T. Sherman will attack the city from the north. For three days, the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou rages, but in the end, Sherman fails and the City will return to an uneasy peace!
The Confederate Ball is a reenactment of that fateful night, so long ago. A fundraiser for the Old Courthouse Museum, it takes place in the courtroom of this historic building, just four blocks from the site of the actual ball. Doctor Balfour will welcome his guests; a dance maestro will call the dances as a small orchestra plays. Food and wine will flow freely, and just at the proper time a messenger will interrupt the proceedings and General Smith will end the ball, just as he did in 1862! Call the Old Courthouse Museum 601-636-0741 for tickets or more information.
*Special thanks to Gordon Cotton who was perhaps the first to put this story together in his many writings, I hope that my version does honor to him and his.