VICKSBURG, Miss. – Calling this Civil War battlefield a pivotal crossroads of American history, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today praised the brave men who fought and died during the siege and defense of Vicksburg and thanked those who are working to help ensure that the memory of what they did here continues to be honored.
“I am gratified that the most significant initiative of my tenure as Secretary – the National Parks Centennial Challenge – has made it possible to restore many of the interpretative tablets that recount the heroism of this great battle and restore the monuments and statues that honor the brave warriors who fought here,” Kempthorne said in keynote remarks at Vicksburg National Military Park.
“These brave soldiers, on both sides of the line, deserve honor,” the Secretary said. “They deserve to be remembered. They deserve to have their story told. The project we are celebrating today tells their story. And in telling their story, it tells our nation’s story.”
The $142 million project is replacing interpretive battlefield markers and conserving the magnificent array of bronze statuary and stone monuments that make Vicksburg, in the words of one Civil War veteran, “the Art Park of the world.” The event unveiled the first group of 22 metal markers that will identify the specific locations of various Union and Confederate artillery batteries during the siege and defense of Vicksburg. The original markers were removed in 1942 as part of the scrap metal drive during World War II.
The Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign contributed $71,000 of private donations to match $71,000 of federal funding as part of the National Park Centennial Initiative, which was announced by President Bush and Secretary Kempthorne two years ago. The ten-year program works to reinvigorate America’s national parks and prepare them for a second century of service by the 100th anniversary of the National Park System in 2016.
The Initiative works to embrace new constituents and gain support from a broad array of public and private partners. It calls for increased annual funding for park operations and a Presidential Centennial Challenge: up to $100 million a year in federal funds would match $100 million a year in philanthropic donations to the National Park Service.
Nearly $25 million has been appropriated by Congress and matched by about $27 million from park partners to fund the first round of 2008 Centennial Challenge projects that are helping parks rebuild trails, restore infrastructure, and preserve natural, cultural and historical resources. There are 110 programs and projects involving more than 130 individual, public and non-profit partners benefitting 76 national parks in 38 states and the District of Columbia.
Kempthorne noted that two former Secretaries of the Interior participated in the Vicksburg Campaign. Samuel Kirkwood, the 14th Secretary of the Interior, served under President James Garfield. Kirkwood later was a U. S. Senator. William Freeman Vilas, a lieutenant colonel in the 23rd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry during the battle of Vicksburg, also became a U.S. Senator and the 17th Secretary of the Interior under President Grover Cleveland. The Secretary also recalled that his great-grandfather, Charles Kempthorne, who fought as a private in the Union Army, was wounded at the Battle of Antietam.
National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar and John Nau, Chairman of the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, joined Secretary Kempthorne at the event. Country star Trace Adkins, who had an ancestor who served in the 31st Louisiana Volunteer Infantry during the Siege of Vicksburg, also participated in the unveiling ceremony.
For a complete list of the 2008 National Park Service Centennial Challenge projects and programs, please visit www.nps.gov/2016.