Victory at Champion Hill, Mississippi! Trust Efforts Ensure a Further 498 Acres Saved Forever
Mary Koik, (202) 367-1861 x7231
(Hinds County, Miss.) — In mid-May 1863, the decisive battle of the Vicksburg Campaign unfolded across land then owned by Sid and Matilda Champion, whose family lent its name to the engagement. Generations later, contemporary members of Champion family agreed to sell their entire holdings after building a multi-year relationship with the nonprofit American Battlefield Trust — including a 144.4-acre tract that the organization previously placed under conservation easement. Now, that tract and an additional 353.6 acres have been acquired outright by the Trust, creating a major opportunity to augment Vicksburg National Military Park.
“Champion Hill represents a game-changing moment in the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863, and its protection has been a long-term Trust priority,” said Trust President David Duncan. “This most recent success brings us to more than 1,200 acres preserved at Champion Hill, 2,000 acres in the Vicksburg Campaign and 4,700 acres across the Magnolia State.”
Instrumental in this 498-acre acquisition were the federal American Battlefield Protection Program, the HTR Foundation, the Trust’s devoted donors and the new State of Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) Historic Sites Grant Program. In April 2021, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation making $1 million a year available for protection of sites related to Civil War battles, Native American archaeology and civil rights history, a measure supported by the Trust.
From the outset of the conflict, control of Vicksburg — and, with it, the Mississippi River — was acknowledged as a critical Union goal. Examining a map of the nation, President Abraham Lincoln pinpointed Vicksburg, extolling that “the war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.” Initial efforts by Union land and naval forces to capture this key and open it to navigation ended in defeat. On March 31, 1863, Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant, with his job in the balance after a series of failed attempts, set out upon a fresh campaign to take the fortress city. After arriving on Mississippi soil on April 30, they proceeded to clash with Confederates at Port Gibson and Raymond, capturing Jackson by May 14.
On May 16, 1863, the campaign’s largest battle took place at Champion Hill, which, along with subsequent fighting at Big Black River, forced the Confederates into a doomed position inside the fortifications of Vicksburg. They surrendered after a 47-day siege, on July 4, 1863 — just one day following the Federal victory at Gettysburg.
The 144.4-acre property at Champion Hill includes the all-important crossroads, or what was then the intersection of the Jackson, Middle, and Ratliff Plantation roads. Whichever army controlled the crossroads, controlled the battlefield, and while the Confederates were initially successful in seizing both the crossroads and the crest of Champion Hill, the arrival of Federal reinforcements turned the tide, compelling them to fall back.
Meanwhile, on the 353.6-acre tract, Union forces under Brig. Gens. John D. Stevenson and John E. Smith deployed on and swept across the landscape, extending the Union line beyond Confederate Gen. Stephen D. Lee’s flank and driving the enemy from the crest of Champion Hill. An aggressive Confederate counterattack was launched, but ultimately came to a stop in the face of 16 Federal guns on this land.
Since the Vicksburg National Military Park’s boundary was expanded to include the Champion Hill Battlefield in 2014, it has been a goal of both the Trust and National Park Service to widen public access and interpretation to the longtime family-held land. The recent acquisition of this acreage is a giant step forward on the path to making this goal a reality.
The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to preserving America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educating the public about what happened there and why it matters today. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has protected more than 55,000 acres associated with the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War. Learn more at www.battlefields.org.