A message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
Before I get into details about the latest historic opportunity to save 434 acres of hallowed ground at three key Mississippi battlefields, while multiplying the power of your donation $6.20-to-$1...
... please indulge me as I tell you about an e-mail I received here at the Trust, one that affected me very deeply.
This brief note from a long-time supporter who is battling Parkinson’s disease really put all the work you and I are doing into perspective. He wrote:
“Ever since I have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I have felt my mortality breathing down my neck. Though Parkinson’s is not fatal, the end result is not pretty, and life becomes much more difficult.
“But as I think of those boys in blue and grey and the hardships they faced, I have come to realize that Parkinson’s isn’t so bad. If they had the courage to face their challenges, could not I have the courage to face mine?
“That is why the mission of the Civil War Trust is so vital. It perpetuates the memory of those who fought for what they so truly believed in. And that is why I give . . . so their memory and their sacrifices will never fade.”
Wow. After reading that, isn’t it astounding to know that there are still people in this country who, if given half a chance, would pave over our history, rather than preserve it?
After hearing about how the Civil War helps someone suffering from Parkinson’s disease feel that it’s “not that bad,” can you believe there are those who think we have already saved enough hallowed ground, and developers should be let loose to run amok on all the rest?
And after reading about how a war which ended 151 years ago can still teach us today about courage and sacrifice, can you believe that so few Americans even care about this defining period in our nation’s history?
As you well know, you and I are swimming against a very strong cultural tide in America today, one that exalts celebrity, superficiality, and the fast buck over any reverence and appreciation for our history and our heroes.
It is a huge challenge to encourage people to care enough to save our battlefields, and a lot of days, especially when we lose a part of a battlefield, it is not easy to remain optimistic.
But then I get a note, or a card, or an e-mail like this one, and it re-energizes me all over again. And I remember that no matter how big the challenges are that you and I face, at least we are not wearing wool uniforms in Mississippi in May, while someone is shooting at us!
So as my friend said, “If they had the courage to face their challenges, could not we have the courage to face ours?”
Sixteen of the Civil War’s 384 principal battles were fought in Mississippi, and today, you and I have the chance to 1) substantially complete one battlefield, 2) add significantly to another one, perhaps one of the most important battlefields in America, and 3) save an important part of a long-neglected site where there is still a lot of work to do!
Working backward in time, let’s start at Brice's Cross Roads, June 10, 1864, a battle that historian Bruce Catton called “one of the most startling defeats of the war” for the 8,000 Union soldiers on the field under the command of Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis.
It’s difficult to be too hard on General Sturgis, because his Confederate adversary at Brices was none other than Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who took 3,500 men into action. (Sturgis later reported that he thought he faced somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000 troops. Forrest had that effect on people.)
Legendary historian and Civil War Trust board member Ed Bearss called Brice's Cross Roads “Forrest’s masterpiece,” where the southern general inflicted more than 2,600 casualties while suffering fewer than 500. But all was not lost for the Union that day, thanks to a courageous rear-guard action by U.S. Colored Troops that likely saved Sturgis’s retreating army from total destruction.
Maj. Gen. Cadwallader C. Washburn, the U.S. Army commander of the District of West Tennessee, said, following the battle, “The colored troops made for themselves on this occasion a brilliant record. Their gallant and soldierly bearing and the zeal and persistence with which they fought, elicited the warmest encomiums from all officers of the command. Their claims to be considered as among the very best soldiers of our army can no longer, in my opinion, be seriously questioned.”
Today, we have the chance to save a total of 93 acres including the key part of that army-saving stand by the USCT, plus some additional tracts at the very heart of this battlefield, which will bring the total number of preserved acres to almost 1,500! As you can see on the battle map, there are only a few more keys parts left to save, before we declare Brice's Cross Roads fully preserved!
Now please take a look the battle map above of the Champion Hill battlefield. Many people have said that when General Ulysses S. Grant won at Champion Hill, that assured his victory at Vicksburg, and with the fall of Vicksburg, Union victory of the Civil War was assured.
Sorry to give away the end, but on May 16, 1863, none of that had happened yet, when two large armies collided at a crucial crossroads on the road between the capital of Jackson and Vicksburg.
Retired Vicksburg National Military Park historian Terry Winschel can tell this story far better than I can:
“Late on the afternoon of May 16, 1863, Confederate troops of Maj. Gen. William Loring’s division finally arrived on the scene of action and deployed into line of battle. The brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Abraham Buford, men from Alabama, Arkansas, and Kentucky, swung into position of the Confederate right in the vicinity of Jackson Creek in a desperate attempt to stave off disaster.
“Advancing against them across this tract in overwhelming numbers were the
rugged veterans of the Union XIII Corps and XVII Corps. Although Loring implored his commander, Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, to continue the fight, the Confederate commander realized that the battle was already lost and desired to save as much of his army as possible. Thus a withdrawal was ordered, otherwise there would have been a great deal more bloodshed on this tract.
“But in the largest, bloodiest, and most significant action of the Vicksburg campaign, Pemberton’s army was routed and driven from the field in panic and confusion. Years later, British general J. F. C. Fuller would write: ‘The drums of Champion’s Hill sounded the doom of Richmond.’”
Terry also said, “Wow! That’s a big chunk of land,” and he’s right – 319 acres to be exact – and we would not be able to even think about saving it today but for the generosity of some very important people you should know about.
For many years, a private foundation that was set up by a businessman named Copeland Hill (before he passed away in 1997), has worked behind the scenes to help the Civil War Trust save literally thousands of acres of hallowed ground. Called the “HTR Foundation,” they are the #1 donor in America to the cause of battlefield preservation, having quietly committed more than $4.2 million over the past 15 years!
The leaders of the HTR Foundation recognize this land at Champion Hill is so important that they are willing to put up $500,000 of the total purchase price of nearly $1.3 million! That is leadership, and we are extremely, profoundly grateful to them.
The final piece of hallowed ground in this effort is a 22-acre piece of land at another Vicksburg Campaign site, Port Gibson, fought 15 days before the battle at Champion Hill. Again, our friend Terry Winschel weighs in, telling us:
“Around 10 o’clock in the morning of May 1, 1863, just west of
Port Gibson, following five hours of vicious combat, the Confederate left flank collapsed. As the Southern soldiers raced to the rear without semblance of order or discipline, the victorious Federal forces led by Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand, commander of the XIII Corps, paused to celebrate their victory and listen to a stump speech made by the political-general. Walking in among the troops and up to the front came the Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant, who suggested that they follow up their victory and pursue the fleeing enemy.
“Immediately the columns were formed and the men of the XIII Corps marched into the densely wooded bottom of Arnold’s Creek. As the column reached the ridge on the tract available for sale, the head of the column came under heavy artillery fire from Confederate batteries on the far side of White and Irwin Branches of Willow Creek. Contrary to the expectations of the men in blue, the Confederates had re-established their left flank and were poised and ready to offer stiff resistance.
“As soon as the head of the long blue column came under fire the troops were immediately deployed into line of battle on this tract and advanced once more to engage the enemy. Within hours the gray lines were flanked and overwhelmed, giving Grant the first victory of the Vicksburg campaign on Mississippi soil. His victory at Port Gibson secured his beachhead on Mississippi soil and compelled the Confederate evacuation of Grant Gulf. Acquisition of this tract will preserve this important parcel associated with the afternoon phase of fighting at Port Gibson.”
So there you have it, my friend. Three Mississippi battlefields, 434 total acres, with a total purchase price of $1,893,000. Thanks to the tremendous generosity of the HTR Foundation, another generous grant that we are applying for from the National Park Foundation, anticipated matching grants from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program, PLUS some extraordinarily generous personal leadership gifts from two board members…
As always, I encourage you to go to explore our website for even more information on this effort to save these 434 acres at Champion Hill, Brices Cross Roads, and Port Gibson — including more photos, maps, and much more! I want you to see what you are getting for your financial support.
I’m not assuming that you will send a gift today to help with this effort – but I am hoping that I’ve been able to convince you of the significant impact you will be making while saving three key parts of our nation’s history. I predict a full and complete victory, if you will help!