Save 66 Acres at Champion Hill
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
** Fundraising has ended on this effort **
The Vicksburg Campaign… The Battle of Champion Hill, Mississippi, May 16, 1863… Many said it was
the most decisive battle of the most crucial campaign in the most important theater of the Civil War.
Today, you can help save crucial battlefield land at Champion Hill, and turn every $1 you give into $3.55!
Dear Fellow Battlefield Preservationist,
Like me, I’m sure you remember the voice of Jim McKay opening the old Sunday afternoon broadcasts of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” intoning the famous phrase, “The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat.”
Well, as I sit down to write to you, that line rings in my ears and I can think of no better way to describe the important news I must tell you today.
Because right now, you and I have an opportunity to score a major triumph at the Champion Hill battlefield in Mississippi (the “thrill of victory”)…
…but that victory must be tempered against a potentially heartbreaking loss we could suffer at the Stones River battlefield in Tennessee (the “agony of defeat”).
Before I get into all of that, let me tell you about the extraordinary opportunity you and I have at Champion Hill. With a matching grant from the federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program, plus a major gift from an anonymous donor who believes strongly in the importance of preserving Champion Hill – the Civil War Trust can multiply the power of your generosity $3.55-to-$1!
As you look at your official Civil War Trust troop-movement map, I’m sure one thing will become immediately clear to you:
The 66 acres that we have a chance to save today – land less than 2,000 yards from where U.S. Grant made his headquarters on the day of the battle – is in the absolute heart of the main area of fighting on the battlefield!
And, even better, if we are successful, I believe we will usher in a new era of preservation at Champion Hill, one that will hopefully see all of these lands linked together, preserved forever for all Americans in a new park service unit as part of a greater Vicksburg National Military Park!
Terry Winschel, author and retired park service historian at Vicksburg, who along with Ed Bearss knows more about that decisive campaign than any other living human being, reminds us that Champion Hill was “the largest, bloodiest and most significant action of the Vicksburg campaign.”
Ed calls the struggle for Vicksburg “the most decisive campaign of the Civil War.”
And no less of an authority than General Ulysses S. Grant wrote, in his memoirs, “Champion’s Hill, where [Confederate General John C.] Pemberton had chosen his position to receive us, whether taken by accident or design, was well selected. It is one of the highest points in that section, and commanded all the ground in range.”
And none other than President Abraham Lincoln said, “See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket... I am acquainted with that region and know what I am talking about, and as valuable as New Orleans will be to us, Vicksburg will be more so.” Jefferson Davis said, "Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South's two halves together."
Had Grant been defeated at Champion Hill, the Confederates could have cut him off from his base at Grand Gulf, and the very existence of his army would have been threatened.
But as later events proved, when Grant won at Champion Hill, he won Vicksburg.
And as many respected historians, scholars and buffs maintain, when Grant won Vicksburg, he won the Civil War.
British military historian, Maj. Gen. J. F. C. Fuller may have said it best of all: “The drums of Champion’s Hill sounded the doom of Richmond.”
At this battle, the Federals suffered nearly 2,500 casualties, while the Confederates lost nearly 4,000 men, forcing the southerners back into the defenses of Vicksburg.
All of these reasons combine to make these 66 acres “must-have” ground, in my book.
This sacred rural Mississippi land – which has felt encroachment pressure from a Nissan automobile plant in nearby Canton – is one of those “hinges of history” that I often talk about.
Can you imagine how different our nation would be today – how different the world would be – if Grant had lost at Champion Hill? Would he even be remembered, or would he be relegated to a footnote in Civil War history? What if he had never come east? Of course, we can play the “what if” game forever, but can you doubt for a moment the undeniable and incomparable historic worth of this hallowed ground, the incalculable value it holds for future generations?
Especially when I tell you about the exceptional agreement the Civil War Trust has hammered out to pay for it! The purchase price is $640,000. We are applying for a federal matching grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program for $260,000. That would mean that the Trust would have to come up with $380,000. But thanks to the wonderful generosity of a fellow Civil War Trust member who wishes to remain anonymous, and who has already given $200,000 out of his own pocket, this drops our goal to $180,000, meaning I can turn every $1.00 you commit today into $3.55!
With $460,000 (72 percent) of the needed $640,000 of the money on the table, the timing of this is the tricky part… we must go to closing on no later than July 28, 2015, less than 90 days away.
Not much lead time to raise $180,000, I realize. But I am praying that you will help me save this land at Vicksburg today, so that we don’t risk losing it forever.
This leads me directly into the story of the 42-acre parcel at the Stones River battlefield in Tennessee, crucial hallowed ground that is, barring divine intervention, potentially lost to us forever.
I ask you to refer to the second map that I have for you, of Stones River, noting especially the property marked in red. For quite some time, the Civil War Trust has been in direct communication with the landowner – the General Electric Corporation (yes, that GE) – of these absolutely central acres.
Not long ago, GE had a manufacturing plant on the property, making things like washing machine motors. When that extensive industrial building was badly damaged in a storm, GE closed the plant, and tore down the structure. The land has been sitting unused since then.
As it is in the core of the Stones River fighting, and would help to join two widely separated and fragmented wings of this important battlefield if it could be preserved, we have had our eyes on this land for quite some time. To reclaim this much land at such an important Civil War battlefield would be a major accomplishment.
Of course, if GE really wanted to be a good, “corporate citizen” and show that they cared about protecting America’s history and heritage, we would be more than happy to accept the donation of this important battlefield land from them (contingent on customary environmental inspections, obviously.)
But we understand this is the real world, and that “money talks.” So the Trust recently made a generous and very fair offer of $2.5 million, which would have provided GE with a significant amount of money for their unused land, plus potentially some very favorable tax benefits as well.
By now, you have probably guessed the ending to this story: They turned us down flat. They wanted a lot more money than we could pay.
So as hard as it is to accept, a major piece of hallowed ground which we had hoped to save has been put out of our reach. As I write, it is still on the market ready to go to the highest bidder, and – unless the powers-that-be at GE have a change of heart – is likely lost to us and all future Americans forever.
It breaks my heart.
But it also challenges me to keep fighting even harder… because if you and I don’t save places like Champion Hill now – while we still can – they won’t be saved. And that doesn’t mean they will just stay open fields and farms forever; that means they will be destroyed, obliterated by housing developments, highways, industrial sites, or – as they have tried to do twice in Gettysburg before we beat them back – even casinos.
You are the key to our ultimate success. That’s why, in closing, I ask you to help me take full advantage of our major donor’s generous $200,000 gift for Champion Hill and $260,000 matching grant, and nearly quadruple the power of your gift to save a matchless American battleground.
When you take all of the matching funds into consideration, this means that you and I can protect this crucial part of Champion Hill forever for – are you sitting down? – just 6.3 cents per square foot! I don’t think you can buy even the cheapest indoor-outdoor carpet that inexpensively, let alone highly significant Civil War battlefield land!
Just think of the honor, courage and loyalty that surged through the hearts and minds of the men on both sides who paid in blood for every inch of ground they gained or lost on this strategic hill.
By saving this ground, you are preserving not only the memory of their sacrifices, but you are also ensuring that future generations will be able to come to this hallowed place and learn from this matchless outdoor classroom. It doesn’t matter whether they come to learn about the military history, to learn about the American values that gave us the nation we have today, or even just to come to enjoy some all-too-rare open space.
Thanks to you, young and perhaps those not-so-young folks will be able to go to Champion Hill, feel the chills that you and I so often get at a place like that, hear the distant echoes, spend some time reflecting on a different century of our history, and hopefully come away a better person.
And I do mean thanks to you! Without you and your support, the Civil War Trust could not tackle these types of projects, and this land would be lost forever.
If you possibly can, please send your generous gift – you decide what amount works best for you – to help save Champion Hill before our July 28 deadline. I will be in your debt.
I am so honored by your dedication, my friend. Thank you for sharing so much of your personal success in the cause of battlefield preservation, for the good of our nation.
Humbly yours, until victory is ours,
P.S. The Sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War may be over, but our work to save the hallowed ground that still remains from those battles is far from finished. If anything, I expect the threats to unprotected battlefield land to increase. I encourage you to visit our Champion Hill main page on the Civil War Trust website at www.civilwar.org/championhill15 for even more information, and to make your personal donation to help save this hallowed piece of the Vicksburg Campaign while we still can. I look forward to hearing from you, and many, many thanks.