History Under Siege - 2009 Most Endangered Battlefields
Battle of Port Gibson
Committed to capturing Vicksburg, Miss., Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant moved south through Louisiana from his base camps at Milliken’s Bend and Young’s Point and began crossing the Mississippi River at Bruinsburg on April 30, 1863. Marching inland, his troops encountered Confederates around midnight, near the historic Shaifer House, and heavy skirmishing ensued.
Early the next morning, May 1, battle erupted in earnest. Union brigades forced the outmatched Rebels back again and again. Confederate soldiers from Missouri launched a savage counterattack, but their efforts were in vain; Grant’s 23,000 men forced the 8,000 Confederates to retire with nearly 800 of their number killed, wounded and missing. Grant lost slightly more men but secured his beachhead on Mississippi soil, which ultimately resulted in the capture of Vicksburg.
Local lore has it that Union forces marching through Mississippi spared the town of Port Gibson from the torch because it was too beautiful to burn. Today the area retains its tree-lined streets and is home to a tourist industry centered on its quaint small-town charm and history. However, recent studies project that traffic along U.S. Highway 61 (Church Street) through the heart of town will increase by 45 percent in the next 20 years, prompting the Mississippi Department of Transportation to propose a major road widening. Local officials, including the mayor, are lobbying for a bypass to the east of town, which would skirt the battlefield more widely and avoid historic neighborhoods.
Although some land has been protected in the area of the initial Confederate line, including the Shaifer House, the fall-back position on the Confederate left has been partly obliterated. Still, historians and preservationists are eager to secure protection for the remaining parts of the battlefield. In recent years, the inclusion of land at Port Gibson and Champion Hill within the umbrella of Vicksburg National Military Park has been listed as one of the National Park Service’s top expansion priorities.
CWSAC has classified Port Gibson as a Priority I, Class B battlefield.