- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A battle about development is raging at several historic Civil War sites in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania — where the battles of Bull Run, Antietam and Gettysburg were fought, respectively.

Two energy companies have proposed a 500-kilovolt power line through the Northern Piedmont region that would run through seven Civil War battlefields, according to the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT). The District-based battlefield conservation group wants to stop the plans and other encroachments on areas it calls “hallowed ground.”

CWPT released a report yesterday listing what it considers the 10 “most endangered” Civil War battlefields in the nation, and Northern Piedmont was among them. Northern Piedmont includes Fauquier, Prince William and Loudoun counties in Northern Virginia and Montgomery, Howard, Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland.

Also identified as “most endangered” sites were Petersburg and Cedar Creek in Virginia, and a few battlefields in West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Those battlefields are vulnerable to suburban sprawl, proposed mining operations, housing developments and neglect, CWPT President O. James Lighthizer said yesterday.

The battlefields are “our most precious historic resource,” he said. “If we don’t do something proactive to save them, they will in fact disappear.”

The group warns that the growth of nearby Fort Lee threatens development around the Petersburg National Battlefield.

Meanwhile, a mineral company is trying to expand its mining quarries onto more than 600 acres adjacent to the Cedar Creek battlefield in the Shenandoah Valley. Most of the area affected by the expansion is “core battlefield land,” according to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

“Development is not the problem,” said Libby O’Connell, chief historian of the History Channel. “It’s when you have unplanned, haphazard development that threatens these areas.”

Property outside Harpers Ferry in West Virginia was added to the list this year after a developer dug 45-foot-wide trenches for water and sewer lines and announced plans to develop several thousand homes on land where fierce battles raged between the North and South.

Harpers Ferry — best known for John Brown’s failed effort to arm and free local slaves — changed hands eight times during the Civil War and was the site of an 1862 battle in which Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson won the surrender of about 12,500 Union troops.

CWPT also identified Manassas National Battlefield Park as one of the 15 sites that the group deems “at risk.” Preservationists fear that a push to widen Route 29 to four lanes would cut through the battlefield.

CWPT raises money to purchase historic Civil War land threatened by development. It also partners with federal, state and local governments to do so.

CWPT is not opposed to development, Mrs. O’Connell said. She said communities need to plan development to avoid suburban sprawl that threatens historic areas.

“Every day we’re losing 30 acres of what we called ‘hallowed ground,’ ” she said. “That land is not coming back — once it’s lost, it’s gone forever. … We want to say take a step back, think about the planning of these areas.”

The History Channel has a partnership with the CWPT, which has about 70,000 members and has helped to preserve more than 16,000 acres of historic areas.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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