Once again preservationists are struggling to save a significant battlefield in West Virginia from the clutches of a developer who wants to turn part of a battlefield/farmland into more houses. The following is an article from the Charleston State Journal as reported in the Civil War News Roundup - 09/23/2008, of the Civil War Preservation Trust.
Courtesy of the Civil War Preservation Trust
Charleston State Journal (WV)
Some of West Virginia’s Civil War battlefields are scenes of new fighting.
For the past four years, a group of Jefferson County residents has been fighting to save an historic battlefield there, said Edward Dunleavy, president of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association Inc.
“It’s been difficult for the past four years,” he said. “(A developer) bought a 122-acre farm and proposed building 152 houses on it.”
The problem as association members see it is that much of the development will be on hallowed ground that was the site of the 1862 Battle of Shepherstown. The battle took place Sept. 19-20 of that year, two days after the Battle of Antietam — the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with a combined 24,000 killed, wounded or missing.
On the evening of Sept. 19, a Union force crossed the Potomac River at Shepherdstown and attacked the retiring Army of Northern Virginia of Gen. Robert E. Lee. The troops captured artillery pieces and retreated. The next morning, they established a bridgehead over the river as Confederate units headed back toward Shepherdstown to counterattack.
The Union units on the Shepherdstown side of the river were outnumbered and were ordered to retreat. One inexperienced unit, however, was cut off and suffered heavy losses.
Today, Dunleavy’s association is fighting a different kind of battle, he said.
“We’re fighting a developer,” he said. “We’re trying to save the core of the battlefield. (The battle) took place over one square mile. (The battlefield) is bisected by a road. It’s as it was in 1862. Most of the battle took place west of the road. We’re trying to save half of the core of the battlefield. So far, we have 84 acres.”
An effort to save another of the state’s Civil War battlefields has been going on for the past 17 years in Randolph County. The Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation has been working to save a site since 1991, said Michelle Depp, executive director of the organization. Like the Shepherdstown group, Depp’s organization was founded in response to a threat to the battlefield, she said.
“It started as a grassroots effort to save the endangered Rich Mountain site,” Depp said. “There was timbering and mining — it was pretty close to mountaintop removal.”
During the past nearly two decades, the foundation has been able to raise funds through grant writing and other means to purchase much of the battlefield, Depp said. To date, the organization has bought 435 acres of battlefield grounds, she said.
“We worked with a variety of state and federal agencies to make it happen,” she said. “… There’s always more work to be done. We’ve probably acquired everything we’re able to acquire for that battleground.”
Much of the work now involves preserving and maintaining the battlefield, she said.
But the Shepherdstown group still has a lot of uncertainty surrounding its efforts, Dunleavy said. The group now is awaiting a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Jefferson County Board of Zoning appeals denied the developer a conditional use permit for the property, and that decision was upheld at the Circuit Court level. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals this past June overturned that decision, however, and now the association is appealing to the nation’s high court.
The association has asked the Supreme Court for a summary judgment in the case, he said. A decision could be handed down any day now.
In the meantime, the Shepherdstown group will continue working to preserve the historic site, Dunleavy said.
One recent development is a bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., that would put the Shepherdstown battlefield under the jurisdiction of nearby Harpers Ferry National Historic Park or the Antietam National Battlefield, both of which are part of the U.S. National Park Service.
Senate Bill 1633 has passed committee and now is awaiting a floor vote. Dunleavy said he hopes the bill will pass, and the Shepherdstown site can be placed under federal jurisdiction before any development takes place.
Those interested in protecting this battlefield land from development are encouraged to write their senators and congressmen in this election year and let their thoughts and wishes be known!