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Work under way to save Fort Duncan

June 10, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

PLEASANTVILLE - In the fall of 1864 Confederate Gen. Jubal Early was looking for an easy route to Washington, D.C. He thought he found it until he came up against a determined bunch of Yankees who had dug in on a hill and held the Rebels off for four days with their cannons.

Early later wrote that he believed a direct assault on the Union forces would cause his troops more casualties than taking the position was worth, so he backed off. He then headed for Frederick, Md., where he picked up a $200,000 cash ransom for not burning the city - like he had done to Chambersburg, Pa., that summer - and headed to Washington to take the Union Capital.

According to an Antietam National Battlefield Historical Park spokesman, Early's troops were stalled in their advance on Washington at the Battle of the Monocacy long enough for Gen. U.S. Grant to reinforce the city.

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The revetments dug by the Union forces on that hilltop can be seen today. They became part of Fort Duncan, a reinforced area built by the Union Army in 1862 along the Maryland Heights to protect Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry stood in the Confederacy's way to Washington.

Fort Duncan was built near the village of Pleasantville in southern Washington County.

The land today is owned by the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Park officials want to clean it up and rebuild the revetments. They also want to construct a mile-long hiking trail to the site from Lock 36 on the C&O Canal Towpath. Wayside markers describing the events that took place there will be installed.

A cannon like those the Union troops held off the Confederates with will be part of the display, said John Lewis, 25, a volunteer coordinator for the park and a student conservation associate.

The property includes an old brick farmhouse known as the Myers Farm. Lewis said the grounds around the house will be a picnic area. The fort is a half-mile hike up a hill from the farm.

"Fort Duncan made the defenses on Maryland Heights complete," Lewis said. "We want to preserve another piece of Civil War history in this area."

Dave Castle, maintenance foreman for the C&O Canal park, said the site where the revetments were dug measures about 75 by 100 feet. He said this is one of the few opportunities for the park to get involved in Civil War history.

Will Burke, a member of the Sons of the Confederacy in Charles Town, W.Va., said he wants the group to volunteer to work with the park in developing the site.

On Saturday a dozen Girl Scouts from Laurel, Md., were helping clean up the area. Later they heard a lecture on women's roles in the Civil War by Brianna MacDonald, a park ranger.

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