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Civil War history preserved in Shepherdstown battlefield

By Staff | Oct 14, 2013

The Civil War Trust recently closed on the purchase of a property that is part of the site of the Battle of Shepherdstown, preserving another local piece of Civil War history.

The property, six tenths of an acre located adjacent to the historic cement mill at the intersection of River Road and Trough Road, was purchased Sept. 30. The property was purchased with funds supplied by the American Battlefield Preservation Association Program, part of the National Park Service, and the Civil War Trust for $70,000. The Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association Inc. donated $10,000 towards the purchase. The Sept. 30 purchase adds to the approximately 75 contiguous acres of protected battlefield land that stretches south from the Potomac River.

According to a 2010 update to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields, the site of the Battle of Shepherdstown included approximately 2,500 acres of land in West Virginia. Approximately 265 acres of the battlefield have been preserved.

Edward Dunleavy, president of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association, explained why not all of the land included in the battle site has been preserved.

“Some of the land has been built on, but most of it is in relatively pristine condition. The land was farmland in the 1860s, and a lot of it is still privately owned farms,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy said the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association and other historic preservation societies are always trying to purchase more land, but the seller needs to be willing to sell to the organization.

“A developer purchased over 100 acres in the core of the battlefield,” Dunleavy said. “We’ve been in court and gone before the Board of Zoning Appeals to try to stop the developing. So far, we’ve been successful.”

The land acquired is owned by the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission, which has an ultimate goal of donating the property to the National Park Service.

“The Civil War Trust deeds the land to the county landmarks commission. The land could possibly be donated to the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park or to the Antietam Battlefield park. It also could potentially be purchased by the National Park Service, but that’s a process that will take three or four years,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy said the process of selling the land to the National Park Service is a three-step process, with the first step taken in 2009. The first step involves a Department of the Interior special resources study. The purpose of the study is to determine if a Civil War battle actually took place at the site in question and to determine if the battle was of national significance. The next two steps involve requesting park status from Congress, and the actual sale of the land.

“The Park Service pays the appraisal value of the land, plus or minus five percent,” Dunleavy said. “There’s no use of eminent domain when purchasing land for a park. The owner of the land has to be willing to sell it.”

The Battle of Shepherdstown is considered to be historically significant because it resulted in the preliminary issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. General Robert E. Lee retreated after the battle, which followed Lee’s unsuccessful Maryland campaign. The Battle of Shepherdstown was a military victory for the Union Army, which allowed President Lincoln to release the Emancipation Proclamation.

For more information about the Battle of Shepherdstown and preservation of the battlefield site, visit the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association’s website, www.battleofshepherdstown.org.