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Land preserved at McDowell, Champion Hill

Deborah Fitts

- (August 2007) WASHINGTON, D.C. - In two recent preservation advances, a key 422-acre tract has been purchased at the McDowell battlefield in Virginia and an easement will protect 144 acres at Champion Hill in Mississippi.

The McDowell tract, fronting the Bull Pasture River on the west, comprises core battlefield and the epicenter of an assault by troops under Union Gen. Robert Milroy against the Confederate position May 8, 1862.

The property adjoins land already preserved by the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), the Lee-Jackson Foundation, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation and the Highland Historical Society, for a total now of about 750 preserved acres.

The purchase, made in February, was for $1,477,000. Of that, $750,000 came from the Lee-Jackson Foundation. CWPT spokesman Jim Campi cited particularly Lee-Jackson director Jack Ackerly for spearheading the acquisition. The Trust presented Ackerly its Edwin C. Bearss Lifetime Achievement Award in April.

Campi said, "As Jack mentioned that night, purchasing land is not one of the Foundation's usual activities. But when this opportunity came along the Foundation's board said, 'We must have it!'"

Campi said CWPT "was able to clinch the deal by pledging $100,000." The Trust has also applied for a $500,000 matching grant from the federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program.

Completing the funding stream is what Campi described as "a group of local conservation buyers who wish to remain anonymous."

Also, in late May, CWPT recorded an easement on 144 acres at Champion Hill, acquired for $240,000. Together with 1,000 acres formerly purchased by the Conservation Fund and 58 acres purchased by the Trust in late 2005, nearly half of the core area is saved, according to Campi.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History will hold the easement. Trust members may expect a fundraising letter to pay for it "in the very near future," Campi said.

The new purchase comprises a "bridge" connecting the two large areas already preserved. The property owners are members of the Champion family, whose homestead, the still-existing Champion House, was Gen. U.S. Grant's headquarters during the May 16, 1863, battle.

"Thanks to the easement," Campi said, "the Champions are able to keep their ancestral property in the family, while also ensuring that it is preserved." CWPT also secured a right of first refusal to buy the property if the Champions ever decide to sell.

Campi said the Trust "considers this project to be part of a renewed push for preservation at Champion Hill," where considerable land remains unprotected. "We think there is a distinct possibility of seeing more significant preservation efforts" in the future, and CWPT has made "some very strong contacts to do that."

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