We have the chance to save 226 acres spanning four Civil War battlefields — valued at $1,350,000 — for just $180,500. That’s a $7.48-to-$1 multiplier of your generosity!
Here’s why these 226 acres are so relevant to our nation’s history.
In the East, we have an opportunity to preserve two tracts of battleground hallowed during the long siege of Petersburg, Va., that ultimately ended the Civil War in the east. The larger of the two tracts would add 101 acres to the Reams Station Battlefield, taking that battlefield, a big step closer to completion and thwarting a very real threat of residential development. The second tract makes up in significance what it lacks in size, with two battles — Peebles’ Farm in 1864 and The Breakthrough in 1865 — associated with its three hallowed acres.
In the West, we have another tiny-but-mighty tract to save at Champion Hill in Mississippi. This 2-acre tract is in the very heart of the battlefield where, after vicious fighting and nearly 6,800 total casualties, Union General Ulysses Grant’s troops eventually forced the Confederates back into the defenses of Vicksburg. These two acres will help connect separated parts of the 799 acres of battlefield that have already been preserved by generous preservationists like you.
Last but not least, we have an exciting opportunity to save 120 acres at Salem Cemetery in Jackson, Tenn., a little-known battlefield where not one single acre has ever been saved by members of the Trust.
Our story begins in the West, in December of 1862, at the least-known of these four battlefields. With Union forces under General Ulysses Grant advancing toward the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest sought to disrupt Grant’s rail supply line.
Grant sent infantry and cavalry to deal with Forrest, and they clashed on December 19th at Old Salem Cemetery. Union infantry repulsed a mounted attack by Forrest’s troopers, then retired. While the Battle of Jackson (a.k.a. Salem Cemetery) was a relatively small affair, it had the big effect of achieving Forrest’s objective of destroying railroad track to hinder Grant’s progress.
Nevertheless, Grant’s army eventually made it to Vicksburg. There, on May 16th, 1863, they fought “the largest, bloodiest and most significant action of the Vicksburg campaign” at Champion Hill. Those words belong to Terry Winschel, author and retired park service historian at Vicksburg, who along with Ed Bearss knows more about that decisive campaign than any other living human being.
Bearss calls the struggle for Vicksburg “the most decisive campaign of the Civil War,” and British military historian, Maj. Gen. J. F. C. Fuller may have said it best of all: “The drums of Champion’s Hill sounded the doom of Richmond.”
And speaking of Richmond...
On August 25, 1864, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had been under siege at Petersburg for more than two months. The Weldon Railroad, which ran from North Carolina, was a major supply line for his Army.
Grant, who since his eventual victory at Vicksburg had been promoted to command all Union forces, was set on cutting that lifeline. As soldiers from General Winfield Hancock's corps tore up eight miles of rail, Lee moved quickly to halt the operation, ordering General A.P. Hill's infantry and General Wade Hampton's cavalry to attack the Federals at Reams Station.
The Union earthworks, hastily constructed the day before, were arranged in a rough square shape that were too low and allowed Confederate shells to pass easily over the top. The green troops in Union General John Gibbon's division were unnerved by the bombardment, and a Confederate attack broke through the Yankee lines. The Union force retreated in disarray.
Hancock's corps lost 2,700 men, most of whom were captured during the retreat. Hill and Hampton lost just 700. The one-sided battle was a stinging defeat for Hancock's proud II Corps, which had held the Union line against Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, and was considered among the best in the Army of the Potomac. Gibbon and Hancock blamed each other for the disaster, and both soon left their positions in the II Corps.
Despite the setback, the siege went on. On April 1, 1865, with the Confederate defeat at Five Forks, General Grant sensed that the end could be near and ordered his famous “general assault along the lines.”
In response to that order, all during that night, Major General Horatio Wright’s VI Corps began filing into position to attack the Confederates’ strong earthworks (which still exist to this day). One brigade commander urged his officers to write a quick note to their loved ones because “hell will be tapped in the morning.”
At 4:40 a.m. on that cold April 2nd, a signal gun from Fort Fisher boomed out a lone shot just a few hundred feet from the tract we hope to save. 18,000 Union soldiers began the attack that many hoped would start them on the long road home.
Approaching the Confederate earthworks, the firing became so deadly that the entire assault almost ground to a halt. Officers later said that on no other battlefield did they have to strike so many of their own men with the flats of their sabers to keep their momentum.
Before the end of that tide-turning day, nearly 8,800 Americans had fallen as casualties and the nine-month-long Siege of Petersburg was finally broken in what would become known as the Petersburg Breakthrough. The next day, the Confederate capital at Richmond would fall. The race between Grant and Lee that would end just 168 hours later at Appomattox was on.
Please consider making your most generous gift today to help us raise the $180,500 and preserve this precious American history forever.