Raymond Battlefield Doubles in Size
The new 66-acre core battlefield acquisition shown in yellow. Map courtesy of the Civil War Preservation Trust.
On June 30, 2009, the issue was settled--the bucolic fields along Highway 18 south of Raymond would remain that way, even though the fight to save them lasted 1,065 days, as opposed to the single day of combat on those hallowed grounds in May of 1863. Friends of Raymond, a local non-profit volunteer historical preservation group, working with the Civil War Preservation Trust, a national organization dedicated to saving America’s Civil War battlefields, purchased 66.62 acres of core battlefield property, thus, ending a three year process of negotiations and fund-raising. As a result, the preserved area of the Raymond battlefield has grown from 65 acres to almost 150, because the purchase of the property brings with it a preservation easement for additional acreage on the battlefield.
Situations can change in a heartbeat, but when a change occurs, a good, solid organization has to possess situational awareness and flexibility. Case in point: on July 30, 2006, then-president Parker Hills of Friends of Raymond (FOR) chaired a Strategic Planning Committee meeting at the historic Dupree house near Raymond. “The goal is to develop a long-range plan for the Raymond battlefield,” explained Hills, “so that FOR maintains its historic preservation vision.” The committee discussed the battlefield and the real estate, and, though 65 acres had already been preserved through four separate land transactions, the members knew that more battlefield property had to be acquired if FOR were to fulfill its mission. It was then decided that the first priority for acquisition was a strip of land known as Artillery Ridge on the property of The Gaddis Farms, a more than 100-year-old family farming operation. It was on this slight elevation that the 22 cannons of Union General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps were amassed to oppose Confederate General John Gregg’s paltry three cannon on a hillside 7/10 of a mile to the north.
The Gaddis Farms, which has been awarded environmental stewardship awards for its care of the land, the animals, and the water, was contacted about the Artillery Ridge property. While discussions were ongoing, on the first day of December events took a dramatic turn. A “For Sale” sign popped up on the east side of Hwy 18 on 66.62 acres of core battlefield property that was under different ownership. On this very ground occurred the hottest of the fighting on that hot, dusty twelfth day of May, 1863. In these fields soldiers fought, bled, and died, and in these fields scores of the dead were quickly covered with Mississippi soil. Presumably all of the Federal soldiers were disinterred and taken to the Vicksburg National Cemetery soon after the war ended, and, it has also been assumed that all of the Confederates were later exhumed from their anonymous battlefield graves by the citizens of Raymond and taken to the Raymond City Cemetery. But who can say how many buried soldiers went undiscovered and still lie in those fields? And now, 143 years later, this very ground was in danger of being covered with the concrete slabs and asphalt streets of a housing subdivision. FOR knew it had to re-prioritize its real estate acquisition goals, and the new top priority for land acquisition would have to be these acres of hallowed ground.
The real estate agent was contacted on
Pearl Harbor Day of 2006, and a meeting was soon held with the property
owner. The initial asking price left FOR in a state of “sticker shock,”
and it was immediately evident that a partnership with the Civil War
Preservation Trust (CWPT) must be established if this land were to be
preserved. After all, the CWPT had listed the Raymond battlefield on its
“Top Ten Most Endangered List” in 2005 and again in 2006. To that end,
in mid-December of 2006, Hills and Mayor Isla Tullos of Raymond
co-authored a letter inviting the Civil War Preservation Trust to bring
its members to the historic Mississippi town during their national
conference, which was to be held in Vicksburg in September, 2007. Mayor
Tullos ended her letter in typical Southern phraseology, “Y’all come.”
In early 2007 Jim Lighthizer of the CWPT accepted the invitation, and
Raymond prepared to roll out the red carpet that fall.
Meanwhile, property appraisals were solicited and negotiations for the property began. The final price was established at $435,000, which was the price suggested in a federal appraisal. Mrs. June Miles, the property owner, was very much in favor of preserving the ground for the battlefield, and had expressed hope that FOR could raise the necessary money. Still, the accruement of that large a sum in a town of 2,000 inhabitants was a far cry from reality.
Then, the CWPT Conference came to town. On a clear Saturday in September, four busloads of CWPT members tramped the battlefield under the tutelage of Terry Winschel (historian, Vicksburg National Military Park), Parker Hills (president, Friends of Raymond), Tim Smith (author of 2004’s Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg), and Matt Atkinson (park ranger, Vicksburg). Among the CWPT members was author Jeff Shaara, a CWPT Board member and the son of the late Mike Shaara. The senior Shaara’s 1974 book Killer Angels has been required reading in U.S. Army officers’ courses since the 1970s, providing examples of small unit leadership and tactics, and Raymond is a perfect place to study these examples. Like his father, Jeff became an author and penned Gods and Generals. He graciously donated a portion of his royalties from another of his book, Jeff Shaara’s Civil War Battlefields, to FOR.
The visit to Raymond provided the needed impetus. It was agreed that FOR and the CWPT would work in a partnership toward the purchase price, and in a few months a contract was signed with the Miles family for purchase of the property, with a closing date of no later than December 20, 2008. FOR would contribute $115,000, CWPT would contribute $102,500, and the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) would contribute $217,500. But, the traveled road is rarely a smooth one, and that date could not be met.
The CWPT depends not only on private donations, but on federal grant money, and with a new national administration settling in after the 2008 elections, the grant money from the ABPP, a component of the National Park Service, was uncertain. An extension of the contract was needed, and the Miles family graciously agreed. In the spring of 2009 the grant money was appropriated by Congress, but the wheels of government grind slowly, and the money did not seem to be filtering down to the CWPT fast enough. It looked as if the contract might again expire, but, at the eleventh hour, on June 30, 2009, the land was purchased, and Dick Kilby, president of FOR, oversaw the transfer of funds. “This is a significant day for battlefield preservation, and in the process Friends of Raymond has also assumed added responsibilities for land stewardship,” Kilby told the board. “We must be up to the task.” FOR board member Cliff Hale remarked, “This was our goal, to preserve this battlefield property, and we have done it.” Randall Harris, also on the board, noted, “Friends of Raymond and the Civil War Preservation Trust have stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.” Tom Gilmore of the CWPT looked forward to members of FOR and the CWPT celebrating together.
The story has another interesting twist. During the negotiations for the Miles property, FOR held several meetings with The Gaddis Farms, in which FOR continued to express an interest in Artillery Ridge. Always friendly to historic preservation, Gaddis was receptive to an offer from FOR in which the farm would plant the newly acquired Miles acreage in order to keep the property under cultivation as it was in 1863. In turn, Gaddis would grant to FOR a preservation easement for Artillery Ridge. Then Gaddis offered to donate an additional easement to allow the FOR Walking and Interpretive Trail to be continued southward to Artillery Ridge. Ted Kendall, president of The Gaddis Farms, noted, “The Raymond Walking and Interpretive Trail has proven to be a real asset to the community, and it is only right that it be extended to include Artillery Ridge.”
Plans will be needed for a trail on the 66.62 acres and for additional signage to interpret the actions there. It was on this land that General John “Black Jack” Logan with “the shriek of an eagle” rallied his Ohioans during the initial attack by Colonel Hiram Granbury’s Texans. It was on this land that Colonel Calvin Walker’s Tennesseans charged across Fourteenmile Creek only to be decimated by flanking fire from Colonel Ed McCook’s boys from Illinois. It was on this ground that Northern Irishmen from St. Louis fought Southern Irishmen from Tennessee.
To help interpret the action, cast-iron replica cannon carriages, which were declared surplus and donated to FOR by Vicksburg National Military Park, have been carefully restored and barrels of the correct caliber have been made. Eight of these Union guns will soon to take position on Artillery Ridge to complement the three Michigan cannon on the walking trail, facing-off against the three Confederate guns over ½ mile to the north. FOR has enough cannon carriages to complete the job of placing 25 cannon (three Confederate and 22 Federal) on the battlefield, and funds will be raised to complete the remaining eleven cannon (each cannon carriage costs $2,500 to restore and crown with a barrel). The current walking trail will need to be extended to Artillery Ridge, and more interpretative signage will be required for the artillery positions. Additionally, state monuments from Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan are desired to complement the solitary Texas monument placed on the battlefield in 2002.
Clearly, FOR has plenty of work for the future, and perhaps Terry Winschel of Vicksburg National Military Park, when he learned of the sale, said it best: “That is glorious news--now, on to the next acquisition.”
If you wish to help Friends of Raymond purchase this property, please click onto the “Join Us” box on our homepage at www.friendsofraymond.org and make your donation.
For more information, visit the CWPT website at: http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/raymond.html and Parker's CWPT interview at: http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/raymond/raymond-history-articles/raymond-then-and-now.html.
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