National military park in Mississippi gains another section

In this Tuesday, July 2, 2019 photo, an official marker notes the vicinity of the grounds of the original Champion family home at Champion Hill Baptist Church in Edwards, Miss.

DWARDS, Miss. (AP) — Another Civil War site is being added to the Vicksburg National Military Park, one of Mississippi’s top tourist attractions.

The 800-acre (324-hectare) Champion Hill battlefield is the largest single expansion in the park’s history. The state donated the land during a ceremony Tuesday.

Robert Vogel, southeastern regional director for the National Park Service, said the acquisition of the Champion Hill property is the next step in realizing the 1899 legislative mandate for the military park to “commemorate the entire Vicksburg Campaign on the ground where the battles were fought.”

Sites in Raymond and Port Gibson also will be added later, he said.

In May 1863, about 32,000 advancing Union soldiers and 23,000 Confederate soldiers fought at Champion Hill, about halfway between Vicksburg and Jackson. Confederate forces were crushed and forced to retreat, which led to the siege of Vicksburg.

During the battle, the Champion family plantation house was used as Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters and a field hospital. Vicksburg fell in July 1863 and the Union gained control of the Mississippi River. The Champion house later burned.

In 1897, Matilda Champion donated the property to the African American community, and Champion Hill Missionary Baptist Church was built the same year, the Vicksburg Post reported.

Vicksburg National Park Superintendent Bill Justice welcomed guests to the church grounds during Tuesday’s ceremony, the Clarion Ledger reported.

“It’s appropriate we have this on the site of the battle of Champion Hill, which is also a church, because so many men fought here and many died, right here, to create the future of our country,” Justice said.

Jim Woodrick, deputy state historic preservation officer for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said the 800 acres was acquired through the state’s land and water conservation fund and money provided by Congress.

“We bought land at Champion Hill, Port Gibson and at Big Black River Bridge (on Old Highway 80),” he said. “We’ve been holding that land in trust until something like this could happen. The object was always to transfer it to the National Park Service.”

Sid J. Champion V, a descendant of Sid and Matilda Champion who owned the plantation at the time of the battle, called the donation “a great thing.”

“This is a very little-known battle. The vast majority of the people who come to Vicksburg, they don’t know hardly a thing about the campaign here at Champion Hill,” he said.

Congress in 2014 authorized expansion of Vicksburg National Military Park. Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign is starting an effort to raise $3 million to build visitor facilities at the three sites and provide support for historical interpretation of the battlefields.