Civil War battlefield at Raymond grows by 67 acres

Published 9:30 pm Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A piece of Mississippi history will be preserved with the acquisition of 67 acres of a Civil War battlefield where roughly 1,000 men were killed, wounded or declared missing after fighting in 1863.

The Friends of Raymond will celebrate the addition with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the 14 Mile Creek historical marker on Mississippi 18.

The Battle of Raymond was a part of the Union Army’s campaign to capture Vicksburg, which it eventually did, following a 47-day siege of the city.

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About 16,000 men fought in the one-day battle in Raymond on May 12, 1863, with the Confederates being outmanned about three to one. The Union had 22 cannons to the Confederates’ three. At day’s end, about 73 rebels had been killed, 252 were left wounded and 190 were missing, while 68 federals were killed, 341 were wounded and 37 were missing, said Terry Winschel, historian for the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The Confederates were forced to retreat, and two days later the Union Army took Jackson, then turned west to march on Vicksburg.

“This is the biggest land acquisition we’ve had, and by far it’s the most historically important,” said Parker Hills, a retired general and past president of the Friends of Raymond. “This is the core of the battlefield, where I would say at least 85 percent of the actual combat took place.”

The Friends of Raymond was formed as a nonprofit organization in 1998, and has since grown to include about 200 members. It made its first land acquisition in its inaugural year, purchasing 40 acres of land on the east side of Mississippi 18, just southwest of the center of the Hinds County town of 1,600. Later, 24 acres on the west side of Mississippi 18 were purchased, and work began to complete an interpretive walking trail.

In 2006, the first cannons were placed on the battlefield and 14 interpretive signs were installed, providing for the first time detailed information about the historical site. In 2007, a three-quarter-mile asphalt path was added along interpretive signs, as well as an information kiosk, to complete a walking tour of the battlefield.

The latest acquisition — on which the Friends of Raymond hope to expand the interpretive walking or perhaps create a driving tour — was more than three years in the making, said Hills. The land, which for more than 100 years had been farmed by the Gaddis family, became available in 2006, and the Raymond group immediately began working toward raising funds for it. However, with an initial asking price of $900,000, Hills said the Friends group knew they’d have to form a coalition to make the acquisition happen.

“When this property became available, boy, it changed all of our priorities. Everything changed, and we knew we had to go straight for it,” said Hills.

The group appealed to the National Parks Service and Civil War Preservation Trust, a national nonprofit seeking to preserve Civil War battlefields. In 2005 and 2006, the trust had named the Raymond site one of the 10 most endangered battlefields in the country.

After much negotiating and a federal appraisal of the land, the group and the Civil War Preservation Trust were able to purchase the land at slightly less than half of the original asking price. The Friends are putting up $115,000, while the Civil War Preservation Trust is contributing $102,500 and $217,500 is coming from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program.