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CWPT Easement Protects Champion Hill Battlefield Land

Deborah Fitts

- (November 2007) WASHINGTON, D.C. - A major portion of the core of the Champion Hill battlefield in Mississippi has been preserved thanks to an easement the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) purchased on 147 acres.

The new acquisition preserves a "bridge" in the core area of fighting May 16, 1863, that links three other major protected tracts: 55 acres to the west, purchased two years ago by CWPT; and 823 acres, in two parcels to the east and west, acquired several years ago by the Conservation Fund and since donated to the State of Mississippi to be managed by the Department of Archives & History.

The Trust's new easement will also be held by the Department of Archives & History.

CWPT President Jim Lighthizer stated in a press release, "We have now protected the most significant land on one of the most decisive battlefields of the Civil War. We have now achieved a 'critical mass' of preserved land at Champion Hill."

CWPT spokesman Jim Campi said in early October that fundraising for the $240,000 purchase had been successfully completed. The easement does not allow public access to the property except for special CWPT tours, but Campi said it will protect the land from development permanently.

The Trust also has the right of first refusal should the property ever be sold. The land, mostly open fields, is being farmed.

Meanwhile the National Park Service (NPS) is taking steps to add Champion Hill as a unit of Vicksburg National Military Park, 20 miles to the west. This year the NPS Southeast Region cited as its top choice for new NPS units the Champion Hill and Port Gibson battlefields (with Port Gibson proposed to join Natchez Trace Parkway).

Terry Winschel, historian at the Vicksburg park, noted that the new easement creates a mile-long strip of preserved battlefield. But even so, he said, the land protected represents only one-fifth to one-quarter of the core area of battle.

"This is a dang good start," Winschel said, "but there's much left to do."

The owners of the land under easement are members of the Champion family, including Sid Champion V. The family has owned the land since the battle, with the exception of two decades during the Depression.

The Champion House served as headquarters for Union Gen. Ulysses Grant and as a Union hospital but was burned to the ground by the departing Federals. It was later rebuilt on the same site.

The first Sid Champion received 1,200 acres of the central Mississippi farmland in 1853 as a wedding present from his father-in-law. His great-great-grandson, Sid Champion V, 49, co-owns the land with three other family members.

"When I walk the land at Champion Hill, it affects me," Champion said. "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."

Only one historic structure remains on the battlefield. The Coker House, on the right flank of the Confederate line, served as a hospital for both sides. The State of Mississippi owns it and, despite original plans to stabilize it, now intends to take it down and place the remnants in storage because of its poor condition.

The four-hour battle resulted in 7,000 casualties. The Union victory at Champion Hill played a critical role in the Vicksburg Campaign and eventual Federal control of the Mississippi River.

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