Planning for park expansion begins in New Year

Published 11:08 am Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Expansion of Vicksburg National Military Park has the president’s approval and planning to acquire more than 11,000 acres will begin in the New Year.

President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act late Friday giving the National Park Service authorization to add battlefield land at Champion Hill, Port Gibson and Raymond, Vicksburg National Military Park Superintendent Mike Madell said.

The park’s management team will begin working with the Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta to start the planning process sometime in 2015, Madell said.

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“Now that we have this authority, we will need to embark on a detailed planning process that will include extensive public engagement,” Madell said. “The planning will help us determine the level of services that will be needed to serve the visiting public and to identify important battlefield protection strategies and priorities for these new lands.”

The State of Mississippi, Civil War Trust and Friends of Raymond cumulatively own about 1,050 acres and hold easements on about 1,170 acres.

“Each of those entities has expressed the desire to donate their interests to the National Park Service, so acquisition costs for these properties would be nominal,” Madell said.

The remaining land — including much of the Champion Hill site — is privately held and will only be acquired from willing sellers if funds are appropriated by congress.

The acquisition plan will not affect Grand Gulf Military Park, which is a state run agency.

Adding land at the three battlefields is a significant opportunity for VNMP, Madell said.

“It makes it possible to add three separate battlefield sites that will make significant contributions to telling the full story of the remarkable campaign that resulted in the siege and fall of the City of Vicksburg during the Civil War,” he said. “It also helps guarantee the preservation, protection and restoration of these important lands for future generations.”

Essential features of all three battle sites remain. Raymond Military Park is one of the few battlefields in the country to have on display the exact number of guns used on site during the Civil War. The site at Port Gibson looks virtually the same as the day Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant landed in Bruinsburg en route for Vicksburg, Madell said.

The battlefield at Port Gibson marks the first engagement of Grant’s operations against Vicksburg after his army landed in Mississippi in spring 1863. Grant’s troops clashed with Confederate forces under Confederate Gen. John S. Bowen there May 1, 1863. Bowen, a Missouri native, had been friends with Grant before the war. The young Confederate general died of dysentery after the Siege of Vicksburg and is believed to be buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

On May 12, 1863, the Union and Confederate forces met again at Raymond, and four days later they fought at Champion Hill — the largest and bloodiest engagement of the Vicksburg Campaign.