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Annual Christmas Ball canceled due to COVID-19 concerns

Concerns over COVID-19 have forced the cancellation of a Christmas season tradition in Vicksburg.

“The Christmas ball will not be held this year,” said Jordan Rushing, historian for the Old Court House Museum historian. “It will be held next year.”

Every December for about 29 years, Warren County residents, some in period costume, have gathered to recreate a moment in history when Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman attempted to invade Vicksburg.

The first balls were held in the early 1990s at the site of the original Christmas Ball, the Balfour House on Crawford Street, which at the time was owned by Dr. Phillip Weinberger, who lived in the home from 1986-1997.

When Weinberger and his wife moved, the ball was moved to the second-floor courtroom of the Old Court House Museum where couples re-enacted the social event that was interrupted by news of the pending Union attack.

On Dec. 24, 1862, Dr. and Mrs. William T. Balfour entertained the officers of the Confederate garrison and their ladies at a Christmas ball in their home to celebrate the holidays.

While the officers and their ladies enjoyed the holiday festivities, Union transports carrying a force of 32,000 men commanded by Sherman and escorted by gunboats, slowly making their way down the Mississippi River to the Yazoo River as part of a plan to take Vicksburg from the north.

According to accounts from the period, the boats’ passage didn’t go unnoticed. A small black girl on the Louisiana side heard them as they passed Lake Providence, La., and told Confederate Majors E.P. Earnhart and Lee L. Daniels, who questioned her story until they heard the steamboats and saw a silhouette of one of the escorts.

Daniels telegraphed the warning of the impending attack to Col. Philip Fall, who took a rowboat across the river. About 30 minutes after getting the message, Fall reached the Balfour house, burst into the ballroom, and went to Gen. M.L. Smith, the garrison commander, who asked Fall, “Well, sir, what do you want?”

Fall told Smith a Union flotilla of gunboats and transports had passed Lake Providence and were headed downriver. Smith turned pale, then loudly told the crowd, “This ball is at an end! The enemy is coming downriver; all noncombatants must leave the city!”

The 6,000-troop garrison took up positions at the Walnut Heights and waited for Sherman’s troops, who landed Dec. 26 at Johnson’s Plantation on the Yazoo River to approach the Vicksburg defenses from the northeast. A fourth Union division landed on Dec. 27, and the Union troops crossed swamps and Chickasaw Bayou on their march toward the city.

After attempts to flank the Confederate lines failed, Sherman ordered a frontal assault that was repulsed with heavy casualties and he withdrew Dec. 29.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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