VNMP Acquires Champion Hill Battlefield Property

By Rebecca Blackwell Drake

Special guests attending the Vicksburg National Military Park Announcement: (L-R) Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves,
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Bill Justice, Brig Gen Robert Crear, Sid Champion V, Jim Woodrick, Bob Vogel and John Nau

On July 2, a large crowd gathered on the grounds of Champion Hill Missionary Baptist Church for an official announcement regarding the newly acquired battlefield acreage at Champion Hill. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History was proud to make public the transfer of 800 acres of Champion Hill battlefield property to the Vicksburg National Military Park. The 800 acres includes land along the historic Old Jackson Road in the heart of the battlefield. The land transfer is the largest expansion of the VNMP since it was established in 1899.

Plans are in the making for the Vicksburg National Military Park to develop and interpret the battlefields at Champion Hill and Raymond. Both would be an extension of the park and promote tourism.

In June of 2019, the NPS American Battlefield Protection Program provided a half million dollar grant to Mississippi, Alabama and Virginia for the protection of 131.49 acres of endangered battlefields. Mississippi received $109,806 as the state's part of the grant. The funds will be used to purchase 58 acres on the Champion Hill battlefield known as the Cal-Maine Foods Tract.

Present for the presentation were: Bill Justice, Vicksburg National Military Park superintendent who welcomed the crowd; Jim Woodrick, historian with the Mississippi Department of Archives & History, who gave an overview of the battle of Champion Hill; Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith represented the State of Mississippi; Bob Vogel, Southeastern Regional Director, National Park Service; Brig Gen Robert Crear, president, Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park & Campaign and John Nau, board member of the Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park & Campaign. Reverend Milton Myles, pastor of Champion Hill Missionary Baptist Church, gave the invocation.

The Battle of Champion Hill, recognized as the decisive battle of the Vicksburg Campaign, was fought on May 16, 1863. It occurred midway between Bolton and Edwards following three Confederate defeats: Port Gibson, May 1, Raymond, May 12, and Jackson, May 14. Champion Hill was one of the hardest fought battles in Grantís Campaign for Vicksburg. Approximately 54,000 soldiers were engaged in fierce combat for a major part of the day that ended in a Confederate defeat. The combined total of casualties numbered approximately 6,000. The Confederates retreated to the Big Black River where, on the morning of May 17, they made their last unsuccessful stand before racing for Vicksburg.

During the 150th Anniversary Event (May 2013) sponsored by the Champion Heritage Foundation, Champion Hill Memorial Medallions were presented to descendants whose ancestor fought in the battle. As a result, the Champion Heritage Foundation was able to identify the names of 897 soldiers, Union and Confederate, who were killed or died of their wounds at Champion Hill. The list of names can be found on the : Champion Hill website.

Of our nationís battlefields, Edwin C. Bearss, former chief historian of the National Park Service, stated, "As we Americans celebrate our diversity, so we must affirm our unity if we are to remain the 'one nation' to which we pledge allegiance. Such great national symbols and meccas as the Liberty Bell, the battlefields on which our independence was won and our union preserved, the Lincoln Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and numerous other treasures of our national park system belong to all of us, both legally and spiritually. These tangible evidences of our cultural and natural heritage help make us all Americans."

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