Help Save 11 Acres at Vicksburg
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
Dear Trusted Friend,
I have two very important questions for you:
1. Will you help me do something that The Civil War Trust has never done before?
2. And will you help me do something for a friend, while he can appreciate it?
For the first item – the thing we’ve never done – I ask you to join me in saving 11 key acres at the historic Vicksburg battlefield where, believe it or not, the Civil War Trust has never before had the opportunity to save a single acre of hallowed ground!
As we approach the 150th anniversary of this supremely important campaign, battle and siege, will you help me save the only battlefield acres that we have ever had the chance to save at Vicksburg, before they are destroyed forever by encroaching development?
You have made your mark on scores of other crucial Civil War battlefields; wouldn’t you like to add the immortal name of “Vicksburg” to your already-impressive preservation legacy?
The second thing that I ask you to do is help me honor an American Legend: Historian Ed Bearss. As you may know, Ed is the Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service; he was one of the noted historians featured in the Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary; he is the single most knowledgeable expert on American history who has ever lived (in my humble opinion), and he is the greatest battlefield guide ever.
Ed carries around more knowledge in his head about the Civil War than any fifty other historians put together! He is also a decorated U.S. Marine and World War II veteran.
This remarkable man will turn 90 years old on June 26, and by his own account, he still spends close to 200 days every year on the road, sharing his unparalleled knowledge, his pointed wit, and his ceaseless energy with tour groups, Civil War round tables and scholarly seminars. Demand is so great for Ed that his tours (with entities like the Smithsonian Institution) are literally booked years – plural – in advance.
What you may not know is that Ed spent many years as the Chief Historian at Vicksburg, and even found and, in 1964, raised the wreck of the Union ironclad USS Cairo, sunk by a Confederate torpedo, and which is now on permanent display at the Vicksburg National Military Park.
Today, I ask you to help me honor this American Icon and his lifetime of accomplishment and service to our country and to the cause of battlefield preservation. I’d like to tell Ed that you have joined in the truly historic effort to help save the first land the Civil War Trust has ever saved at Vicksburg, land which is so personally meaningful to him.
This would be the greatest gift we could give to a man who has given so much to his country, literally watching his life’s blood flow into the ground of the South Pacific island of New Britain, after Japanese bullets riddled his body, just as Civil War soldiers did in the century before at Vicksburg.
Lying bloody and broken in a shallow depression in the ground, as Japanese machine gunners tried desperately to kill him, Ed will tell you that is where he learned from personal experience the importance of “terrain” on a battlefield, and has spent the rest of his life teaching that significance to others, as well.
As you can see on the battle map, these 11 acres, very near the famed “Railroad Redoubt,” witnessed intense action on the May 22, 1863, assault by the Union XIII Corps, Union Army of the Tennessee, against the Confederate Vicksburg defenses.
One of the Confederate defenders, Lt. J.M. Pearson of the 13th Alabama described the Union attack, saying, “. . . they seemed to be springing from the bowels of the earth, a long line of indigo, a magnificent line in each direction . . . It was a grand and appalling sight.”
Iowans from the 22nd Iowa breached the wall and fought in a desperate hand to hand struggle, but were driven back when no reinforcements were at hand. The mounting casualty lists on this day of battle convinced U.S. Grant that it was time to begin a siege.
During the course of the 47-day long siege of Vicksburg, the camps of the 22nd and 23rd Iowa Infantry as well as the 42nd Ohio Infantry were located on the same ground were are buying.
With the exception of just one modest brick house, this land has not been seriously compromised. Yet.
However, I have been staring at the recent satellite images of this area, and it is clear that encroaching development is relentlessly “besieging” now, and slowly enveloping key parts of the battlefield. Part of the land we are saving is already zoned as prime commercial real estate (that is why the price is so high), ripe for a convenience mini-mart, tattoo parlor or fast food joint.
It is also under tremendous pressure due to a proposed expansion of nearby Interstate 20. It is crucial for us to save this ground now, and then transfer it to the park as soon as possible, to prevent this development nightmare from washing up right next to currently protected battlefield land.
I warned you that this land is expensive; because of its zoning and its value for development, these 11 acres will cost us approximately $720,000. Ouch.
We will be applying for a federal matching grant for approximately half that amount, or about $360,000. That means I will still have to come up with the other $360,000, and that is a tall order.
But, my friend . . . we have already made good progress before I even put this letter in the mail to you. A new member to the Trust recently committed $25,000 to this effort, and the great folks in the “Friends of Vicksburg” local battlefield group, have also committed another $20,000.
So even though our total is down to a still-formidable $315,000, I believe we have to raise it and match the federal money. This is exactly the type of transaction that the federal matching grant program was designed for, and it is exactly the situation the appropriators in Congress are watching to see that we can handle.
If we cannot keep up our track record of success – even on transactions like this where we have to stretch a little – I can almost guarantee that future Congresses will be inclined to set aside smaller and smaller amounts in future years, seriously hobbling our ability to save hallowed ground through the rest of Sesquicentennial and beyond.
If we are forced to walk away from this land at Vicksburg – the first hallowed ground this organization has ever saved at that major battlefield – it could set a chilling precedent.
Think of this as a test . . . an audition . . . a challenge . . . This may not be the biggest trial we have ever faced, but it is one of the most important.
I think I have come up with a way for us to get to that very important $315,000 amount. Please tell me what you think of this idea:
Ed Bearss will be 90 years old on June 26; if just 14,000 of your fellow 55,000 Civil War Trust members will send $22.50 today, to preserve this land at Vicksburg in honor of Ed, then we can claim the matching funds and save this land!
(That’s just 25 cents per each of Ed’s remarkable 90 years.)
If a few members send $45, we can do it. If a few more members can send $90 (just $1 per each year of Ed’s life in service to America), a few even send $180 ($2 per year), I’m convinced we will succeed.
As my way of saying thanks, for every gift of $22.50 or more, it will be my honor to send you a specially produced DVD we created in conjunction with Wide Awake Films. This educational 20-minute production features our Vicksburg animated map, along with exciting battle reenactment footage, great maps, and stunning visuals.
I guarantee that after watching this DVD you will understand the entire Vicksburg Campaign far better than you ever did before. This is my gift to you, as a way of saying thanks for helping to save this land at Vicksburg, for helping us secure matching funds from Congress, and for honoring American legend, Ed Bearss.
But every gift, from $9 to $900 is needed immediately if we are to save this hallowed ground. In closing, the epilogue to William Shea’s and Terry Winschel’s book Vicksburg is the Key concludes with a poignant paragraph that I would like to share with you:
“Much can be learned from books about the long and costly struggle for the Mississippi River, but there is no substitute for standing in the places where men fought for their beliefs. In the spirit of those who fought and died in the struggle for the Mississippi River, more – much more – needs to be done to ensure that these fields will be saved so that future generations of Americans can study and contemplate the sacrifices made to forge our nation.”
I couldn’t have said it any better. Please let me hear back from you as soon as possible with your most generous gift to help save this crucial land at Vicksburg. Please accept my deepest thanks for your generosity.
Awaiting your reply,
P.S. Don’t forget that there is a wealth of information on our website about this important Vicksburg effort. Just go to www.civilwar.org/vicksburg13 for more photos, maps, history articles and many more resources. You can also make your gift securely on-line – putting your generosity to work at the speed of light! And if I haven’t said it enough: Thank you!
P.P.S. I assure you . . . The Vicksburg Animated Map DVD is one you will watch many times. It concisely and compellingly presents the entire campaign in a way that makes it very easy to understand. I want you to see how we are working to get even more people - especially younger people - interested and to care about this vital and necessary work of saving our country’s history and heritage. It will be my honor to send it to you right away for your gift of $22.50 or more, and I will tell you that every dollar you donate to the Civil War Trust today advances our sacred cause. Thank you again.