Historic Civil War Site Acquired
By Natchez Trace Parkway

Dillon's Plantation Witnesses History Again

Rebecca Drake and Parker Hills

Fran Mainell, James Little, Mickey Black, Lou Gallegos and John Nau, III, witness the transfer of Dillon's Farm to the National Park Service.

On the night of May 12, 1863, at Dillon’s Plantation just six miles southwest of Raymond, General U.S. Grant signed an order that changed history. The signature at Dillon’s in 1863 initiated a change in the movement of an army, and the result of Grant’s decision that night was the success of the Union Campaign for Vicksburg. One hundred and forty years later, on the morning of January 9, 2003, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Raymond, senior officers of Federal and State agencies signed a document that preserved this history. The signature at St. Mark’s initiated a change in the way visitors will view the Vicksburg Campaign, and the result will be an understanding of the magnitude of Grant’s decision on that long-ago spring night in Mississippi.

Dillon’s Plantation is a 470-acre tract known in recent years as the Bailey Farm. The beautiful property, which borders the Natchez Trace Parkway along Old Port Gibson Road, was transferred Thursday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency to the Natchez Trace Parkway of the National Park Service.

Dignitaries from across the United States flocked to the sun-filled confines of Raymond’s quaint, antebellum Episcopal Church to witness the land transfer ceremony. Serving as Master of Ceremonies was John L. Nau, III, Chairman of the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Representing the Federal government were: Fran Mainella, Director of the National Park Service; Lou Gallegos, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for the Administration; James Little, Administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency; Wendell Simpson, Superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway; and Superintendent William Nichols of Vicksburg National Military Park. Representing the Mississippi Department of Archives and History was Dr. Elbert Hilliard, Director, and speaking for the City of Raymond was Mayor Isla Tullos.

The significance of this property transfer cannot be overstated. When Grant and his trusted subordinate, General William T. Sherman, were encamped at Dillon’s on May 12, the Battle of Raymond was being fought just six miles to the east. Grant later wrote, “When the news reached me of McPherson’s victory at Raymond about sundown my position was with Sherman (at Dillon’s). I decided at once to turn the whole column towards Jackson and capture that place without delay.” Old “Colonel” William F. Dillon, who rests in a family cemetery on the property, must certainly have been bewildered by the hordes of blue-uniformed soldiers enjoying his “hospitality.”

Early the next day, Grant began his move towards Jackson, bewildering Confederate General John C. Pemberton who was stationed at Edwards. Pemberton had been expecting Grant’s attack from the direction of Dillon’s, and was completely surprised by the Union’s move toward the capital city. On May 14, Grant attacked from the east; again surprising Pemberton, and two days later, defeated the Confederates in the decisive Battle of Champion’s Hill. Thus, the fate of Vicksburg was sealed, and the history of our nation forever changed. The decision made at Dillon’s had far reaching effects, as will the decision to preserve the property for future generations.

Fran Mainella, the first female to serve as Director of the National Park Service, praised the cooperative partnership of the Federal agencies that were involved in the acquisition of the land. Mainella stated, “Through heritage tourism - through the transfer today of Bailey Farm and the recognition of Dillon’s Plantation - through the story that this site is going to tell - you can be assured that this story will go on not just for now, but for future generations.”

After the land transfer signing, everyone traveled to Dillon’s, where Terry Winschel, Vicksburg National Military Park Historian, briefed everyone on the Civil War history of the site. Afterwards, Wendell Simpson told of the Natchez Trace Parkway’s immediate plans. “The Park Service will conduct an archeological survey of the farm and prepare a cultural landscape report that will outline how the historic area will be marked and interpreted for visitors,” stated Simpson. “The site will not be open to the public until that work is completed. When the site does open to tourists, it is bound to draw a lot of attention.”

The site of Dillon’s Plantation is on the Old Port Gibson Road, Grant’s primary route as he moved into Mississippi after crossing the Mississippi River near Port Gibson. The Old Port Gibson Road, which begins at Grand Gulf and ends at Raymond, is a remarkably preserved bracelet of historic sites: Willow Springs, Reganton, Rocky Springs, Cayuga, Auburn, New Auburn, Fourteenmile Creek, and Dillon’s. The acquisition of Dillon’s by the Natchez Trace Parkway is the crown jewel on this bracelet, and is an important step in the preservation movement to direct heritage tourism to Raymond.


John L. Nau III, Chairman, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation presides over ceremony.

Mayor Isla Tullos, Raymond, greets crowd.

Fran P. Mainella, Director, National Park Service,
speaks to the crowd regarding Heritage Tourism.

Lou Gallegos, Assistant Secretary for Administration,
U. S. Department of Agriculture, addresses audience.

Jim Lighthizer, President, Civil War Preservation Trust, comments on the significance of Dillon's becoming a
tourist attraction on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Ken P'Pool, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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Copyright (c) James and Rebecca Drake, 2003.  All Rights Reserved.