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Preserving battlefield a good cause

April 21, 2011
By Delegate John Doyle, The Doyle Report

An old cement mill located near the intersection of River Road and Trough Road is the site of part of the Civil War Battle of Shepherdstown, which was the final engagement of the Battle of Antietam.

Many people have been working to save all of the land upon which the Battle of Shepherdstown took place. Unlike some of the property, the cement mill is owned by a willing seller. I think we should jump at the chance to get this property into public hands for eventual transfer to the Antietam Battlefield National Historical Park. To further help in that effort I'm going to dedicate a large portion of the Community Participation Project (CPP) money I'm allotted this year to that effort (as a story in last week's Chronicle indicated). I have already helped get two state grants of $100,000 each that can be used for this.

I support the effort for two reasons. I believe that preserving the site of the Battle of Shepherdstown will significantly increase tourism in Jefferson County, particularly if it is made part of the Antietam Battlefield Park. And I believe it's important to save the site of every major battlefield we can, to honor our country's history.

The state of Maryland makes a big deal about promoting tourism at Antietam. While Shepherdstown already benefits from this I'm convinced it will benefit much more if the site of the Battle of Shepherdstown is an actual part of the Antietam National Park. Shepherdstown would also get additional benefit if the battlefield were made a part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, as long as the two national parks worked together to promote "the Antietam Campaign."

Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Antietam Campaign began with the Battle of Harpers Ferry and ended with the Battle of Shepherdstown. Interestingly, the Old Standard Quarry site was an integral part of the Battle of Harpers Ferry. Should I have a chance to help make it part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park I will certainly take it.

Surely we cannot preserve the site of every engagement of the wars fought on our nation's soil. But we should preserve the sites of the important ones. And Shepherdstown is seriously important.

The attack on Lee's rearguard by the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteers (the "Corn-Exchange" Regiment, so-called because it was raised at the Philadelphia Corn Exchange) was a tactical failure but a strategic victory for the Union. The 118th took heavy casualties and had to withdraw. However, Lee had been planning to re-enter northern territory at Williamsport but abandoned that plan after he learned the fellows in blue had crossed the Potomac to come after him.

This enabled President Abraham Lincoln to execute what I consider the two most important political decisions of the entire Civil War, the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the admission of West Virginia to the Union by executive order. The Emancipation Proclamation was the death knell for slavery and the admission of West Virginia was the nail in the coffin of "states' rights" as that idea was understood before the war. (Somebody should explain the latter to Ken Burns, who put together 10 full hours of television on the Civil War pretending the admission of West Virginia never happened.)

Some opponents of preserving the Shepherdstown battlefield charge that the idea is to simply preserve any green space available. Nonsense. I know we'll have development and I know we need job growth. But this effort is about preserving a very special piece of gound.

I was an infantry officer in the Vietnam War. I was in charge of a rifle platoon. I believe that serving one's country in uniform is as honorable an act as any a human being can perform. The site of the Battle of Shepherdstown is indeed "hallowed ground" and should be preserved.

Some have argued that local government should not participate in this effort because there would be no local money to maintain the area.

I share that concern, but that's not what's being proposed. However, some of those same folks have also said that we shouldn't "buy the land and then give it away." They can't have it both ways. The expense of maintenance either is or is not a reason for inaction, but it cannot be both at the same time.

CPP grants are funded by money allocated to individual legislators for projects in their districts they want to help. Years ago a similar fund was called the "Legislative Budget Digest." Money was distributed very unevenly from that fund. For ten years I was Vice Chair of the Finance Committee and was alotted about a million dollars a year for such projects. Most other legislators were given much less money, some as little as a few thousand dollars. At the time I was replaced as Finance Vice Chair the "Digest" was abolished and replaced by the CPPs. CPP money is distributed equally to each member of the House of Delegates and equally to each state senator. Since the Senate and the House divide the money equally and there are approximately three times as many delegates as senators each senator gets about three times as much CPP money as each delegate.

From year to year I have been allotted anywhere from $65,000 to about $100,000 for CPPs. Some of the money is restricted to certain categories (Health and Human Resources, Libraries, Education, Emergency Services and Senior Services). That money cannot be used for the battlefield project. But the rest of it (approximately half in most years) can be. I will assign the first $25,000 of non-restricted money toward purchasing the cement mill, and even more, should my non-restricted allotment exceed $35,000.

I lost the vice chairmanship of finance because the gentleman who appointed me retired after 10 years as speaker of the house. In the race to succeed him I voted for the fellow who lost in the Democratic caucus. I would love to have kept that vice chairmanship but if I was going to lose it, hey, I picked the perfect year (when CPPs replaced the Digest).



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