Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mississippi Battlefield to be Preserved

Friends of Raymond take an impressive step

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Persistence has paid off for the Friends of Raymond in the group’s effort to preserve more of a Civil War battlefield. The beneficiaries will be generations to come.

Saturday, the self-formed group cut the ribbon to 67 additional acres in Hinds County, part of the site where 16,000 soldiers fought on May 12, 1863, and about 1,000 were killed, wounded or declared missing.

The fighting between Union and Confederate troops was part of the Campaign for Vicksburg, led by Gen. U.S. Grant. All previous strategies to capture the city and, thus, split the Confederacy and return control of the Mississippi River to the Union, had failed. Grant had ferried his troops across the river from Louisiana at Bruinsburg, west of Port Gibson, and in a mission fraught with risks, was moving his army up central Mississippi as his supply lines grew longer and longer. The stakes for Grant, and for the future of the nation, were high.

Southern forces did not want to retreat into Vicksburg. Although it was a natural fortress, it was clear enough that an army pinned down would eventually be an army defeated. So, though the North had vastly superior numbers, there was fierce fighting almost every day as Grant tried to advance.

Last week, a PBS series by Ken Burns reminded TV viewers that national parks didn’t just happen. Preserving the nation’s natural and historic treasures almost always started at the grassroots. Congress doesn’t appoint committees to look at maps and decide what to save. Individuals and organizations petition to advance the process. Indeed, this is how the Vicksburg National Military Park was created in 1899.

If or when the battlefield near Raymond will be submitted for federal consideration is not known, but the efforts of the Friends of Raymond, including Parker Hills, a retired general and past president of the group, are certainly admirable. He has good reason to celebrate the acquisition. “This is the core of the battlefield, where I would say at least 85 percent of the actual combat took place,” he said.

The Friends of Raymond was chartered 11 years ago and has a mere 200 members. The group raised $115,000 and the Civil War Preservation Trust added another $102,500. That left $217,500 needed from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program to complete the purchase.

Initially, interpretive trails and signs are planned. Over the years, however, expect more, perhaps even monuments honoring the soldiers.

What a great comment about America it is to see citizens initiating preservation of our nation’s history. It was everyday people who struggled in combat. How fitting that everyday people are taking action to assure how they shaped America is never forgotten.