For Immediate Release: 10/07/07
Civil War Preservation Trust Protects 'Heart' of Mississippi's Champion Hill Battlefield
147-acre parcel marks apex of combat in the largest battle of the decisive Vicksburg Campaign
(Washington, D.C.) - In 1853, a young man named Sid Champion received 1,200 acres of central Mississippi farmland as a wedding present. More than a century and a half after that gift was bestowed, the farmer's great-great grandson - the fifth in a straight line of Sid Champions - has realized a dream by ensuring that his family's legacy will forever be protected.
Together with three family members who co-own the land, Sid Champion, 49, worked with the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) to craft a unique easement to protect 147 acres of the family farm that saw one of the most decisive and intense battles of the Vicksburg Campaign. This May 16, 1863 Union victory set the stage for the siege and eventual capture of the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg.
When Matilda Champion, wife of the first Sid Champion, learned that General Grant's army was marching west toward Vicksburg, her husband was away fighting with the 28th Mississippi Cavalry. Matilda quickly gathered her four young children and fled to her family's home in Madison County.
The battle of Champion Hill lasted approximately four hours. According to the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, there were 15,000 Union soldiers alone engaged in combat. When the battle smoke cleared the fighting had left nearly 7,000 casualties. Sid and Matilda's white frame farm house had been burned to the ground after serving as both General Grant's headquarters and as a Union hospital.
Except for a 20-year period around the time of the Great Depression when the family lost the farm due to a devastating crop failure, the land, repurchased after World War II, has been owned by the Champions.
"We have now protected the most significant land on one of the most decisive battlefields of the Civil War," said CWPT president Jim Lighthizer. "Preserving this property is a significant boost to our efforts in Mississippi and throughout the Western Theater. When combined with previous victories at the site, we have now achieved a 'critical mass' of preserved land at Champion Hill."
Terry Winschel, historian at Vicksburg National Military Park, concurred with Lighthizer appraisal. "This is the single most important parcel of the battlefield," he said. "And this remarkable achievement adds impetus to the movement to establish Champion Hill battlefield as a unit of the National Park system."
In order to protect the property, which contains several important strategic landmarks from the battle, CWPT purchased a conservation easement from the Champion family. While the Champions retain possession of the property, it is now permanently protected from future development. CWPT has also retained a "right of first refusal" on the property - securing the first opportunity to purchase the property should the Champion family ever decide to sell.
"When I walk the land at Champion Hill, it affects me," said Sid Champion. "It's easy to find yourself transported back in time. I'm relieved to know that the sacrifices that were made here at Champion Hill will continue to be recognized and protected for future generations."
"This is an exceptional and creative preservation solution," said Lighthizer. "The Champions, outstanding caretakers of this battlefield for generations, retain their ancestral property, while formalizing their longstanding commitment to see it protected for all time."
This newest section of preserved battlefield is also significant because it creates a bridge between two other protected tracts of battlefield. Together with a 55-acre parcel purchased by CWPT in late 2005, it joins two large parcels totaling 823 acres saved by The Conservation Fund in the 1990s. Both of those areas have since been donated to the State of Mississippi and are now managed by the Department of Archives and History.
The Battle of Champion Hill played a crucial role in the Vicksburg Campaign and the eventual Union control of the Mississippi River. Following the capture of Jackson, Mississippi, Ulysses Grant's army began moving west, pursuing the Confederates. With the victory at Champion Hill, located 20 miles east of Vicksburg, Grant secured a commanding position on the siege that would eventually split the Confederacy in two.
With 65,000 members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation's remaining Civil War battlefields. Since 1987, the organization has saved more than 24,000 acres of hallowed ground. CWPT's website is www.civilwar.org.