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National Park Service Is Considering Shepardstown For Park

Deborah Fittse

- (November 2007) SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The Shepherdstown battlefield is inching closer to possible inclusion in a national park, thanks to legislation filed by West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd.

"We just keep doing what we can to move the process along," said Ed Dunleavy, president of the 120-member Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA). "Our original purpose was to try to get the battlefield included in a national Civil War park. That's the organization that will better handle it. We don't have confidence that Jefferson County or the state will do it right."

Byrd's legislation calls for the National Park Service (NPS) to study the battlefield and determine its suitability for addition to either Antietam National Battlefield or Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Both are within 10 miles, according to Dunleavy.

The nonprofit SBPA formed four years ago to fight a proposed 152-home development, dubbed Faraway Farm, on a portion of the battlefield. So far the group has prevailed, but Dunleavy indicated that purchase of land is beyond the association's ability. If the battlefield is brought within a national park boundary, however, Dunleavy said federal funds would be available for acquisition.

The battle, Sept. 19-20, 1862, took place over 640 acres extending south from the Potomac River one-and-a-quarter miles. SBPA is attempting to save 300 acres on the west side of Trough Road, which bisects the battlefield. Of the 300 acres, 84 acres have been preserved through conservation easements. Four homes occupy another 18 acres. The Faraway Farm developer is still hoping to convert his 122 acres into a housing development. And remaining landowners have been approached but are "reluctant" to consider easements, Dunleavy said.

Most of the land is "fairly pristine" and is being farmed. The wartime Osbourn Farm, under development threat, still has its historic farmhouse and barn.

According to Dunleavy, on the afternoon of Sept. 19, 1862, after the Army of Northern Virginia had withdrawn across the Potomac, Robert E. Lee left Gen. William Pendleton with 34 pieces of artillery and 600 troops to guard the south bank of the river. Federal troops moved 70 guns of their own onto the north bank and an artillery duel ensued.

As the firing let up, Federal sharpshooters began crossing a dam near a cement mill. Pendleton, who had never led in combat, "panicked," Dunleavy said. Late in the day he reported to Lee that he had "lost everything," prompting Lee to order troops under A.P. Hill to return to the river at first light the following morning and stem the tide. By mid-afternoon the Federal force fell back across the river.

All told, 9,000 troops were involved and there were 640 casualties. Dunleavy said Lee had intended to cross back into Maryland at Williamsport, but the action at Shepherdstown convinced him instead to head south up the Shenandoah Valley.

Dunleavy's group met with Byrd's staff and the staffs of several other West Virginia and Maryland legislators - plus NPS and Interior Department officials - more than a year ago to press their case for joining the battlefield to one of the two parks.

He said that as far as he is concerned, either park would be suitable. The battle of Shepherdstown, following on the heels of Antietam Sept. 17, "is certainly the end of the Maryland Campaign," he said, making the battlefield a suitable addition to the Antietam park.

On the other hand, the Harpers Ferry park with its remnants of industrial sites, might be an ideal place to interpret the ruins of the 1829 cement mill on the Shepherdstown battlefield.

Dunleavy predicted that Byrd's legislation, part of the federal budget, would be approved, and said the NPS survey should not take long to carry out. But he said it was impossible to know when a decision might be made regarding the battlefield's suitability for inclusion in one of the parks.

In July 2004 the Far Away Farm developer filed for a conditional-use permit for 152 homes. SBPA appealed, and in the summer of '05 the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals rejected the permit. The developer appealed to the Jefferson County Circuit Court, which ruled against him in September '06. In January the developer filed a petition with the West Virginia Supreme Court, which by presstime had not set a hearing date.

SBPA has run up more than $60,000 in legal costs, according to Dunleavy. The nonprofit has held three benefit concerts and set up a booth at a local festival, garnering nearly $10,000. SBPA was also awarded a $125,000 state transportation-enhancement grant last year to buy land.

"In the best of all possible worlds," Dunleavy said, the Osborne house "would make a great museum and visitor center." Meanwhile, Save Historic Antietam Foundation is negotiating to purchase the cement mill ruins and 13 acres.

Dunleavy said his group was "honored" to have Byrd's support "as we try to save this valuable West Virginia landmark. By measure of casualties incurred and strategic significance, the battle of Shepherdstown was the most important Civil War battle fought on West Virginia soil."

Byrd said in a statement, "West Virginia is home to many great landmarks that are a significant part of our nation's history. I am pleased to be working with the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association to help initiate this National Park Service study." For information contact Dunleavy at edunleavy@frontiernet.net or www.battleofshepherdstown.org

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