Anniversary Event Draws Large Crowd
On Saturday, May 16, 2009, hundreds of spectators attended the event commemorating the 146th Anniversary of the Battle of Champion Hill. The well-publicized event drew visitors from many states: Michigan, Connecticut, Iowa, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and, of course, Mississippi.
The event “kick-off” began at 8:00 a.m. on the Champion Hill Missionary Church grounds which, in 1863, had been the site of the home of Sid and Matilda Champion. The Champion’s home was burned by the Yankees following the Siege of Vicksburg. Rebecca Drake, opening speaker, mentioned the significance of the church grounds to the crowd saying, “One could say that we are sitting in the Champion’s front yard today and if you use your imagination you might even smell the scent of the roses in bloom.” The Champion’s home had been a large two-story structure nestled within a yard adorned with flower and fruit gardens.
Guest speakers Brig. Gen. Parker Hills (Ret), Terry Winschel, historian of the Vicksburg Military Park, and Dr. Timothy Smith, featured speaker from Tennessee, mesmerized the crowd with appropriate comments regarding the historic significance of the day. The event also coincided with Armed Forces Day and all veterans present were honored.
During the opening comments, Drake thanked the property
owners of the Old Jackson Road for giving permission to stroll to the Hill of Death, a roadway
that had not been open to the public for over a half a century. The
property owners of the Old Jackson Road are the Champion Family,
the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Johnny Lewis. Johnny
Lewis was recognized for being a neighbor and long-time friend of the
Champion Family as well as a current property owner of
Boy soldier observes the reenactment
Boy soldier observes the reenactment
The highlight of the day’s activities was the stroll to the Hill of Death which is located one-half mile from the church grounds. Many of the guests strolled the old roadbed while trailers pulled by tractors transported others up to the hill. When the group was assembled on the Hill of Death, Parker Hills, battlefield tour guide and historian, spoke on the event which occurred on the hillside 146 years ago and how the Union victory changed the outcome of the entire war. To give the feeling of battlefield authenticity, re-enactors skirmished around the Hill of Death as infantry and artillery fire filled the air. This delighted everyone, especially the children in attendance.
Many in the crowd whose ancestors had fought and died in the battle stood with tears in their eyes as the events of May 16, 1863, were recreated. The Battle of Champion Hill was a hard-fought battle ending with approximately 6,000 deaths, blue and gray combined.
The afternoon events at “Matilda’s House” climaxed the day. A picnic of pulled-pork sandwiches accompanied by beans and a variety of chips, as well as Matilda Champion’s Buttermilk Pie was enjoyed by all as they sat under the shade of the big tent waiting for the afternoon to unfold. Rebecca Drake conducted the “Laying of Flowers” honoring those buried in the Champion Family Cemetery and at Margie Bearss’ Memorial Stone, while James Clark, bagpiper, played Amazing Grace. Jerry McWilliams then unveiled his new painting, Colonel Francis Cockrell, CSA, Leading a Charge at Champion Hill.
“The event was a great event all around,” stated Timothy Smith, guest speaker from Tennessee. “I hope to see even more of this type thing in the future.”
For sure the Champion Heritage Foundation will be planning in advance to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Champion Hill. Rebecca Drake, board member, commented, “Our goal is to host events that allow people to be on the Champion Hill Battlefield, something that has not happened prior to Sid J. Champion’s co-ownership of the land. Since the war, the property has been in private ownership and not open to the public. We knew that the idea of having a stroll to the Hill of Death was a good one but we never dreamed that so many people would come to take advantage of the opportunity. I suppose the saying ‘If you build it they will come’ was appropriate in this case.”
Best of all, we feel that we have honored the “Soldiers at Rest” who died so many years ago in the bloodiest battle of the Vicksburg Campaign – the Battle of Champion Hill.
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