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Donation to the VNMP a historic chapter in its history

Sitting under the trees on the Champion Hill M.B. Church grounds on Tuesday it was hard to realize that 156 years ago more than 50,000 men fought and died in one of the bloodiest battles of the Vicksburg Campaign.

Champion Hill was the defining battle that led to the siege and surrender of Vicksburg almost two months later on July 4, 1863. And yet, only the true die-hard Civil War buffs and historians know about it.

“This is a very little-known battle,” Sid J. Champion V, a descendant of Sid and Matilda Champion who owned the plantation at the time of the battle, said after a ceremony marking the donation of 800 acres of state land to the Vicksburg National Military Park.

“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.

He’s right. I was one of the guilty ones. When I came to Vicksburg in 2011, my knowledge of the Vicksburg Campaign and the siege were minuscule. I knew there was a battle and Union forces took Vicksburg, but I didn’t know the whole story.

Until I came here, I really didn’t know much about the Civil War, excluding the Battle of Shiloh, where my great-great-grandfather died on the first day of the battle, possibly participating in trying to clear an area known as “The Hornet’s Nest.”

I’m better educated on the campaign and siege than I was, though not as well as I should be or want to be. Part of that is because of a desire to follow an interest in the Union and Confederate navies.

What Sid Champion said about most people’s knowledge of the Battle of Champion Hill could include most people’s knowledge of the Civil War. It’s no understatement that the Civil War was a major event in American History, and its history deserves more attention than we give it.

This is not an issue of taking statues of Confederate soldiers down, and it’s not a question of whether the reason for the war was fought was state’s rights or slavery.

It’s part of our heritage and it needs to be studied and taught because in a large measure it defined who we are as a nation. The Revolution made us an independent country. The Civil War in many ways shook us as a nation.

The Vicksburg National Military Park, as well as the Champion Hill, Raymond and Port Gibson/Grand Gulf battlefields tell a part of our story.

The state’s donation to the Military Park will go along way to adding another chapter, and the $3 million campaign by the Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign will help provide the signs and other interpretive markers to better tell the story.

According to the American Battlefield Trust, 620,000 soldiers died in the line of duty during the Civil War. 791 of them died at Champion Hill.

Hopefully they’ll be happy to know more people will know their story.

John Surratt is a staff writer for The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at john.surratt@vicksburgpost.com.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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