Today, February 22, the real birthday of George Washington, a Military Ball was held in 1861 at Knoxville’s Lamar House sponsored by and for the benefit of the Knoxville Guards. They were raising money for the organization to buy uniforms and weapons. The Guards had a recent influx of new members; no doubt brought about by the prevailing war fever. The Lamar House was the premier hotel in the city and had been for many years. “The best of music is engaged” read the invitation which was in the form of a dance card. The four page card was embossed and the lettering was in gold, topped by a standing figure of a soldier in a dress uniform. The ball was to commence at 8:00 PM with no end time being specified.
The only known existing invitation was one addressed to Miss A.P. Shields of Grainger County by an unknown hand. Amanda Priscilla Shields was 16 years old and may have been a student at the Knoxville Female Academy. This could be how she came to be invited to the ball. Priscilla, the name by which she was known throughout her life, lived with her family on a farm northeast of Morristown. Whether she attended the ball is not known. However, the ball was important to her as she kept the dance card throughout her life and the card was passed on to family members for over 150 years.
The Knoxville Guards membership, which totaled at least 100 men, came from all ages and walks of life within the Knoxville community. The membership contained both professional and non-professional men. Attorneys, doctors, and wealthy merchants were counted among their membership as were clerks, bookkeepers and railroad workers. Certainly members must have been conflicted because of the events of the past few months. By Washington’s birthday, seven southern states had declared themselves succeeded from the Union. Certainly not all members of the Guards were secessionists. One can only wonder about the political discussions which must have taken place in the days before, and on the evening of the ball. Nonetheless, the ball went on and was apparently a success. Later, in April, after the attack on Fort Sumter, the Guards voted to offer their services to Governor Isham Harris in support of the Confederate cause. Their services were accepted and the Guards became Company E of the 19th Tennessee Infantry. They immediately went into training at the fairgrounds east of town.
Thus ended the short history of the Knoxvile Guards which began in 1859. If Priscilla Shields attended the ball, it was no doubt a highlight of her life for many years to come.