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Civil War Balls

I’m trying to understand the appeal of Civil War Balls or Civil War Dances. They seem as out of place as Remember the Alamo Celebrations or World War II Festivities would be. Why celebrate a time of death and destruction? In my quest for understanding, I traveled to various destinations on the world wide web. I visited sites dedicated to promoting future, and recently past, Civil War Balls and read firsthand accounts of ball attendees. Here is what I’ve learned.

Many of these Civil War Balls are offered as a “ministry” to homeschooling families, though non-homeschoolers can also be invited. These dances serve as a replacement for high school proms. Rather than holding an equivalent, modern-day prom, hosting an old-fashioned dance is intended to keep clothing modest and to keep manners respectful. Young women are encouraged to wear dresses with hoop skirts, while the young men are encouraged to dress in military uniforms. In keeping with the time period re-enactment, dance cards are used and dances conform to the style of the 1860s.

So I wonder if that is part of the appeal of these balls? Men dressed as soldiers—warriors. Women dressed as belles—beauties. Dance cards setting up males-only in initiating in the choice of dance partners. Period dances requiring men to lead and women to follow. Are these dances seen as an acceptable alternative for families who embrace patriarchy? It seems like modest dress codes could still be enforced and suggestive dancing could be prohibited at a modern-day prom replacement if modesty and manners were the only concern.

Do these Civil War partiers realize that their alternative glamorizes war?

Civil War Balls give the appearance of celebrating a dark time in our nation’s history—the United States no longer united but divided and at war with itself. Partygoers coming to celebrate—not  commemorate—a time where more than half a million people perished in an unnatural disaster. It seems odd to celebrate a war where pain, death and destruction occurred in epidemic proportions.

If the celebration is meant to focus on the ending of legalized slavery, why are some of the men wearing gray, confederate uniforms at these balls? After all, the confederate soldiers were fighting to maintain the right to own slaves in their states. The most disturbing site I visited on my journey advertised a “Belles and Rebels Masquerade Ball” where “smart gray uniforms slipped through swaying, colorful hoop skirts.” They also billed re-enacting the time of the Civil War as “a fun, family activity.” Does anyone else find this trend disturbing?



  1. RED
    Comment #93863 posted May 9, 2011 at 7:10 am

    I have to agree with the commenter who said that people just like to remember “the good old days.” I think there are certain groups of people who are afraid of modern culture and wish that society could go back to the “way it was” back in the good old days. Part of this is, indeed, the idea that men’s and women’s roles were more safely fixed back then, and everything was healthier because of it.

    I’m kind of appalled that anyone would “celebrate” the Civil War by wearing a confederate uniform and reenacting the lifestyle of the wealthy who built their empires on the backs of slaves. That, to me, is the biggest issue here, though there are others. I’m disturbed that impressionable teens are being taught that this is something to celebrate. I’m also a little disturbed that Christians aren’t the first to stand up against this practice. We ought to set aside our differences of opinion on male/female roles and at the very least recognize that these activities are a slap in the face to African Americans.

    Does anyone else find it ironic that the Biblical verses which were used to support this view of African Americans as slaves are found right next to the verses which people use to support the idea of one-way submission of women? Hm.

  2. Robyn
    Comment #93864 posted May 9, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Almost as disturbing as “Purity Balls” in which young girls pledge their virginity to their fathers.

  3. LMcC
    Comment #93866 posted May 9, 2011 at 11:02 am

    *lives in the US South, and mind is still blown at the idea of a Civil War Ball* Oh yuck.

    I can safely say that not all of us here have even heard of such lunacy, much less participated in it. Granted, I’m from a Fundamentalist background where dancing of any type is automatically evil and forbidden, so that might be part of the reason for my cluelessness on the matter.

    I want to know which religious groups would participate in this thing. Is this more for the Pentecostal homeschoolers, since their stricter groups have practices like those of Fundamentalists but without all the fear of the dance? If we had something like this back in my IndyFundyBaptist days, it wouldn’t have been a dance but a banquet. We’d still have to get into those dresses, though.

  4. Don
    Comment #93867 posted May 9, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I live in Manassas, Virginia where you get 2 Civil War battles for the price of 1 (both won by the South), so there are a lot of history buffs of various flavors. With the 150 anniversary of the Civil War there are BIG plans to recreate the first major battle of the Civil War, known as First Manassas in the South and First Bull Run in the North. And there will be people doing all sorts of things that happened 150 years ago, but I bet almost all of them will use modern plumbing. I know a believer who dresses up as a 1860′s minister at these gatherings and he hands out historical tracts, he even did a historical wedding once.

    There is no question that there was a huge clash of worldviews during the Civil War, and both sides thought they had God on their side. There were some denominations that formed over the issue of slavery, notably the SBC and the PCA, and it was only a few decades ago that the SBC repented of its historic position on slavery. This should give us pause.

    I see people participating in these things as essentially being in a historical play. You can learn some history from the good actors and actresses. Our knowledge of our history is mostly dreadful. It was the northern states that argued state’s rights in declining to enforce the fugitive slave laws; the southern states wanted the feds to enforce the fugitive slave laws and but argued states rights in the right to secede from the union. In other words, each side used what it could to try to get what it wanted; no surprises there.

  5. Comment #93868 posted May 9, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Robyn….purity balls ? Haven’t heard of those occasions either. Pledging purity is one thing, but to whom you pledge is a different matter.

    It’s ‘off topic’ but maybe worth talking about if that’s ok Sonnet ?

  6. Yvette Sonnet
    Comment #93869 posted May 9, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    @Liz: “Are these events held in both the northern and southern states or is it more usual in the south?”

    I found advertisements for these events in both sections of the country. I live in Colorado, which didn’t become a state until several years after the Civil War. In January, the 8th Annual Homeschool Civil War Ball was held in our state.

    More about costumes:

    “Uniforms, at no charge, will be provided by You Can Live History Saturday morning. There are 100 boy’s officer’s dress uniforms, which may go quickly…. After they run out, guys will receive enlisted uniforms, which are not as fancy. For men’s size uniforms, there are only about 20 of the fancier officer’s uniforms, then after that, men will receive the less fancy enlisted uniforms, of which there are plenty…. It is highly recommended that guys obtain their own uniforms, either by sewing or renting them from a costume shop, due to the scarcity and quality of the officer’s uniforms available.”

    “All young ladies will need to provide themselves with a ball gown somewhat appropriate to the era…. Young ladies should research what the dresses looked like from the library, the web, etc. This could easily be included in a special unit study on the Civil War a few weeks before the ball…. Please keep in mind that all dresses should be modest and not overly emphasize one’s figure.”

    from http://www.civilwarball.org/

  7. Yvette Sonnet
    Comment #93870 posted May 9, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Their reason for holding these balls:

    “we wanted to host/participate in a special dance event for teenagers, similar to a prom, since there was so few available for home school teens. We also desired that our dance would be just plain clean fun for teens and their families who didn’t want to worry about the issues of modesty, rock music, inappropriate dances/movements, nor the whole guy/girl dating issue. The Civil War time period seemed to answer all of these issues, since it was from a more formal time period without modern concerns.”

    from http://www.civilwarball.org/

  8. Yvette Sonnet
    Comment #93871 posted May 9, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    regarding comments 93864 and 93868:

    Feel free to begin a discussion on purity balls. Sounds interesting.

  9. RED
    Comment #93872 posted May 9, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    I have heard of purity balls, and from what I understand, it is sort of like giving young girls a prom, but a prom focused on remaining pure until marriage. Their dad (or male role model, whoever he is) takes them to the ball and treats them like his date the whole evening. The purity issue is very much tied in to the idea that your dad is “your male role model” until your husband comes along. So I guess that’s why you pledge purity to him??

    Does anyone need me to explain how very much I would NOT have wanted to go through an entire evening with my dad as my “date” when I was a teen? (And I had an excellent relationship with him, at that!).

    I see the purity ball practice as being all tied up with the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” mentality that my generation of Christian teens grew up with. Very much a focus on what *role* husband and wife fulfill, and how your father IS that role to you before your husband comes along (interestingly no mention of moms being that role to their sons before wifey comes along).

    That being said, I’m sure the motivations behind purity balls aren’t all bad. I hope some of you know more about it than I do!

  10. Mara
    Comment #93873 posted May 9, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    As one who likes to go to Renaissance Faires, I understand the appeal of history.

    The beautiful clothes and pagentry etc.

    But I sure as heck wouldn’t want to go back to those times nor do I hold them up as some sort of goal or utopia for us to pursue.

    While it’s nice to look back at where we have been and appreciate those who have gone on before us and given us what we have now, the answers for our modern culture do not lie in past cultures but in what God is doing today.

    We need new wine, not the old. The Old South, the Victorian Age, Little House on the Prarie, and Father Knows Best are all fine, for their own time. But they do not hold the answers for our time. And as someone said up the thread somewhere, these times had their own troubles that aren’t acknowledged by those who look back for the old wine and swoon in the nostalgia of times gone by.

    We can not go back. We must go forward. Looking back for the answers in previous cultures misses what God is doing today and misses the new and fresh manna for each generation.

  11. Comment #93874 posted May 9, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    If I recollect correctly an issue with the purity balls is too much male/female type of attention in spending a whole evening dancing with one’s father without the mother around.

  12. RED
    Comment #93875 posted May 10, 2011 at 7:09 am

    Mara, couldn’t agree with you more! :)

  13. Michelle
    Comment #93881 posted May 11, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Here’s a 2007 post from The Scroll about purity balls:

  14. Robyn
    Comment #93893 posted May 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Purity ball pledge taken by fathers:

    “I, [daughter's name]‘s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.”

  15. Robyn
    Comment #93894 posted May 16, 2011 at 11:00 am

    The girls also exchange “purity” rings with their fathers.

    Here are the full pledges:
    Purity Pledges

    For Fathers

    I (Daughter’s Name)’s Father, choose before to God to war for my daughter’s purity. I acknowledge myself as the authority and protector of my daughter’s virginity, and pledge to be a man of integrity as I lead, guide, and pray over my daughter and her virginity – as the High Priest of my home.

    For Virgins

    I (Name) pledge my purity to my father, my future/husband and my Creator. I recognize that virginity is my most precious gift to offer to my future husband. I will not engage in sexual activity of any kind before marriage but will keep my thought and my body pure as a very special present for the one I marry.

    For Secondary Virgins (those who have engaged in promiscuous behavior) and wish to recommit themselves to lives of purity)

    I (Name) re–pledge my purity to my father, my future/husband and my Creator. I now recognize that virginity is my most precious gift to offer my future husband. I deeply regret and will never again engage in sexual activity of any kind before marriage but will keep my thought and my body pure as a very special present for the one I marry.


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