Plans to Expand Vicksburg NMP

H/t to CW Interactive’s Newswire:

Plan would expand Vicksburg National Military Park

An official press release from Senator Thad Cochran’s office reads:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today reintroduced his legislation to authorize the expansion of the Vicksburg National Military Park in Claiborne and Hinds counties.

Cochran and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, the measure’s primary cosponsor, indicated their intent to push for Senate consideration of the Champion Hill, Port Gibson and Raymond Battlefield Addition Act.  First introduced in November, the legislation was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I am hopeful that the Senate will be able to soon consider this measure to protect more of the battlefields associated with the Vicksburg Campaign,” Cochran said.  “The battle for Vicksburg and its position on the Mississippi was a critical chapter of the Civil War.  As such, this measure was written to protect additional areas that represent an important time for the history of our nation and our state.”

“I am glad to join Senator Cochran and state and local officials in this effort to protect historic Civil War battlefields in Mississippi,” said Wicker. “Expanding the Vicksburg National Military Park is an important way we can preserve the history of our state.”

The Cochran-Wicker bill would authorize the National Park Service (NPS) to acquire—through voluntary sale, donation or exchange—approximately 10,000 acres of property determined to be significant to the preservation of historic battlefield sites.

The measure addresses three separate parcels:  the Port Gibson Unit in Claiborne County and the Raymond Unit and Champion Hill Unit, both in Hinds County.  Designated “modified core battlefield” sites by the NPS, these properties also encompass several historic homes, such as the Shaifer House at Port Gibson and the Coker House at Champion Hill.  The NPS would assume maintenance and security responsibilities for these structures once they are included in the Military Park.

The legislation was developed with input from the NPS, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the Civil War Preservation Trust and local officials.

While few so-called lands bills were enacted in the 111th Congress, both Cochran and Wicker believe the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War might help propel their legislation in the new 112th Congress.

As the release states, this plan has been submitted before.  Senator Cochran introduced the “Champions Hill, Port Gibson, and Raymond Battlefields Addition Act” (S.3952) last November, but from what I can tell it failed to get past the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

To really understand the Vicksburg Campaign, a visitor has to do a lot of driving around.  The Vicksburg National Military Park’s physical location allows only coverage of the siege operations – May 18 to July 4, 1863.  Many visitors leave there with the idea the operation was fought out in the trenches, never seeing the battlefields across central Mississippi, Southeast Arkansas, and Northeast Louisiana.

Several state and local parks preserve some of these battlefields.  Local preservation groups have done more to set aside the battlefields in the recent decades.  I would highlight the Friends of Raymond as an outstanding example of “fighting the good fight” for preservation.   And I’d also applaud work done at the Champion’s Hill, Port Gibson, and Grand Gulf sites (and a nod to my friend Bruce Schulze at Civil War Album who sends frequent updates!).  All great work by folks interested in preserving the ground for future generations.

But those local groups need more help in the preservation efforts, and beyond just more donations.  From a logical standpoint, the battlefields should be included in some larger system, managed by the National Park Service.  If for nothing else to ensure a lock on the land (need I mention a battlefield ….like… Cedar Creek here?)  But, the Park Service cannot afford, at a time when budgets are tight and will be cut further, to take on more responsibilities.

Previous generations have run their desire to preserve the land (not just battlefields, but other natural areas) against the realities measured in tax dollars.  In spite of the gratitude for their efforts, those generations backed away in enough instances to leave us lamenting that former fields are now shopping malls.  In my opinion we preservation minded folks need to look at ways to help offset the costs of maintaining the parks.  Otherwise, we too will turn away citing costs.

Perhaps we can do better.   Perhaps we should do better.

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