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Group rallies to save battlefield land

August 30, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. - In Chuck Walker's mind, it was not supposed to happen like this.

One hundred and forty three years ago, Union and Confederate forces clashed in this small town in a battle that marked several firsts in the Civil War, Walker said.

It was the first battle for Confederate Col. Thomas J. Jackson, who would go on to become Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and a popular figure in the war. It was the first time cavalry forces fought in the conflict and it marked the first time cannons were used in the Shenandoah Valley, said Walker, president of the Falling Waters Battlefield Association.

At the Battle of Falling Waters on July 2, 1861, it is estimated that 20,000 Union troops and 3,500 to 6,000 Confederate troops faced off. The battle started as a result of the Union trying to keep a group of Confederate forces confined to the Shenandoah Valley, Walker said.

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The battle lasted two hours, and although estimates on the number of casualties vary, it is believed there were about 100 soldiers killed on both sides.

"The battle was violent enough that they are still finding artifacts in here," Walker said as he drove along U.S. 11 in the area of Bedington Crossroads Sunday.

Walker said a battlefield protection organization examined the local battlefield in 1990 and determined that the site was in danger of being lost to development.

But instead of an effort being launched to save the battlefield, development has steadily crept through the area.

Townhouses are being built on part of the battlefield across from the Interstate 81 Flea Market and other development that has popped up on the landscape over the years, including a Verizon telephone building, a used car lot and other businesses.

The parking lot at Barney's Restaurant, at the intersection of W.Va. 901 and U.S. 11, would have been the center of the battlefield, Walker said.

When Interstate 81 was built and the Falling Waters exit was constructed, the road went directly through the battlefield, Walker said.

"This battlefield has literally been allowed to be forgotten," said Walker, of Martinsburg, W.Va.

With roughly 200 acres of the battlefield left, Walker and a group of supporters are trying to save what is left.

Earlier this month, Walker and others formed the Falling Waters Battlefield Association, and currently 20 members are working toward the goal of saving sections of the battlefield.

But because an attorney is still working on the paperwork to get the Falling Waters Battlefield Association incorporated, the organization cannot apply for grants, Walker said.

"Time and money is our enemy now," Walker said.

The group cannot apply for grant money, but other developments are under way.

The owner of a pre-Civil War house in Martinsburg has offered to donate the house to Walker's organization if Walker can find someone to dismantle the structure.

Walker wants to reconstruct the house on a piece of battlefield property and use the building for a battlefield visitor's center and museum.

Walker wants to put the house on five acres that a local developer has offered to sell to the Falling Waters Battlefield Association for $375,000, Walker said.

Ideally, Falling Waters Battlefield Association members would like to enlist the help of Civil War preservation groups and purchase as much battlefield land as possible for preservation, Walker said.

Today, hardly a hint remains of what happened in the area in 1861.

In fact, the only landmark calling attention to the battle is a historical marker in front of a used car lot south of the I-81 Flea Market.

The marker, which was erected by the Berkeley County Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1929, pays tribute to Jackson. It marks a site where Jackson was sitting under an oak tree on July 2, 1861. Jackson was giving orders to his troops when a cannon ball fired by federal troops cut off a limb above Jackson.

Jackson rode calmly away from the tree and the maker pays tribute to his bravery "in the face of the gravest danger."

The Battle of Falling Waters started a short distance up U.S. 11 at the Porterfield/Crockett house, a log home that still sits today across from 81 Storage, a self-storage business, according to Walker.

Confederate sharp-shooters positioned themselves in the upstairs windows of the house, and when Union troops appeared from the north, a Confederate cannon was fired at them, Walker said.

The cannon was sitting in the middle of Valley Turnpike, which is now U.S. 11, Walker said.

Confederate troops dug trenches behind the house from which to fight, and treasure hunters have found large quantities of Civil War belt buckles, cannon balls and uniform buttons in the area, Walker said.

Walker said owners of the artifacts have said they would be willing to donate them for the organization's museum.

The house is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Charleston, and Walker said he wants to approach the organization to determine if officials there would be interested in selling the house and 14 acres around it.

Don Wood, president of the Berkeley County Historical Society, praised Walker for his efforts. At one time, part of the battlefield property was for sale, Wood said.

Wood said he tried to get help from Civil War enthusiasts in other parts of the state to purchase it, but no one wanted to do anything.

"I think it's great that he is getting interest," Wood said.

Anyone interested in helping Walker and his group save the battlefield can contact him at 304-754-7259 or email him at cwalk1861@dialtrax.net.

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