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Battlefield preservation journey offers plenty of tales

March 12, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - If nothing else, the effort to save the site of the Battle of Shepherdstown is turning up interesting stories.

Some Jefferson County residents began discussing the idea of establishing a park to save the Civil War battlefield off Trough Road east of Shepherdstown after a controversial proposal to build 152 homes on 112 acres.

Far Away Farm LLC's proposal to build the homes generated opposition from several residents and preservation groups who say the site was part of the Battle of Shepherdstown.

After winding through a long county regulatory process, members of the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals turned down a conditional-use permit for the development, saying it was not compatible with the area where it was going to be built.

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The asking price for the property at one time was $3.6 million.

The developers are appealing the decision through the state Supreme Court, according to officials trying to save the site from development.

Meanwhile, members of the local organization trying to save the battlefield, the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association LLC, have been raising money in an attempt to purchase the site. Group members also have been working to obtain protective easements from private property owners in the area to protect land in and around the battlefield.

Ed Dunleavy, president of the organization, and his wife, Carol, secretary of the group, have been digging up historical accounts of the Battle of Shepherdstown.

The Battle of Shepherdstown took place Sept. 19 and 20, 1862.

After the Battle of Antietam, Gen. Robert E. Lee began to pull his Army of Northern Virginia back across the Potomac River, crossing at Pack Horse Ford.

There were various northern and southern troop movements in the Trough Road area after Lee pulled his army back across the Potomac River and on Sept. 20, the sides clashed in open fields around the Far Away Farm property, Dunleavy said.

Members of the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteers realized that their guns were defective and were unable to fire at the Confederates.

Many of the Pennsylvanians fled in panic and jumped to their deaths over high rock bluffs along the Potomac River near Pack Horse Ford, Dunleavy said.

Pursuing Confederates shot many Union soldiers as they crossed the Potomac River and 63 members of the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteers were killed and 101 were wounded.

Confederate dead totaled 33 and 252 were wounded.

Dunleavy and his wife have been able to find historic documentation of the Battle of Shepherdstown, including an account from Union Capt. Frank Donaldson.

The Dunleavys discovered that Donaldson wrote a 25-page letter about the battle and the letter is being kept at the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia.

The couple visited the museum about two weeks ago and obtain copies of excerpts from the letter.

Some of Donaldson's account of the battle also is contained in the book, "Inside the Army of the Potomac. The Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adam Donaldson."

While Donaldson was fleeing from Confederate forces, he recounted what he saw as he waded through the waters of the Potomac River in the area of Pack Horse Ford.

"I shall never forget the scene as I worked my way across the dreadful causeway. The bullets struck all around me, men were shot in various places of the body, some falling, others again staggering and struggling to make the other side," Donaldson wrote.

Donaldson also recalled coming upon a fellow soldier about halfway across the river. Donaldson said the man grabbed hold of Donaldson's overcoat and called out, "Help me Captain, for God's sake don't leave me here."

Donaldson wrote that the man "reached the presence of the Great Commander" by the time he made it out of the river.

Dunleavy said he has found that there is not a lot of focus on the Battle of Shepherdstown.

After the Battle of Antietam, the nearby Civil War action "gets lost in the sauce. That's one of the things that's surprising to me," Dunleavy said.

A two-story brick house and barn were on the Far Away Farm site during the battle in 1862 and the structures still stand.

Dunleavy said he knows a relic hunter who has searched the battlefield area many times and has found more than 10,000 items including ordinance, buttons and a wax seal used for envelopes.

Dunleavy said he believes the house would be a good site for a museum to educate the public about the battle.

Dunleavy said his organization has collected $125,000 toward the purchase of Far Away Farm and hopes to raise another $312,500 soon.

Last Thursday, Dunleavy asked the Jefferson County Commission for a little more than $1.1 million to help purchase Far Away Farm.

The commissioners did not make any decision on the request.

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