SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — After more than a decade of research, meetings and land acquisitions, the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association, Inc. has announced that land involved in the Battle of Shepherdstown may be included in the Antietam National Battlefield Park as National Park land.
According to Edward Dunleavy, president of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association, Inc., a Special Resource Study published by the National Park Service in 2014, determined the Shepherdstown Battlefield would make a good addition to the park at Antietam due to the battle’s significance in the Maryland Campaign.
“To understand the entire Maryland Campaign, you have to understand that there were three real battles in a major surrender, and the third battle was the Battle of Shepherdstown,” Dunleavy said. “That ended Robert E. Lee’s campaign.”
The day before the Battle of Shepherdstown, Sept. 18, 1862, Lee ordered his Army of Northern Virginia to go to Williamsport, Maryland, cross the river and continue the Maryland Campaign, Dunleavy said.
The Battle of Shepherdstown, Sept. 19-20, 1862, convinced Lee that George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was aggressively pursuing him, and Lee decided not to continue the Maryland Campaign, but instead retreat South to Bunker Hill, and later, Winchester, Virginia.
“Two days after the Battle of Shepherdstown, President Lincoln made a preliminary announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation,” Dunleavy said. “While the Battle of Shepherdstown was small, it’s important in the context of the Maryland Campaign, and there are a lot of historians who would say the Battle of Shepherdstown was really the end of the Battle of Antietam.”
According to Tammy Stidham, Chief of Planning, Compliance and GIS for the National Capital Region of the National Park Service, though Harpers Ferry National Historical Park may be geographically closer to the Shepherdstown Battlefield, the Battle of Shepherdstown and the Battle of Antietam are linked, and would provide a more thorough interpretation of the Maryland Campaign for visitors.
“The addition of Shepherdstown Battlefield would allow Antietam National Battlefield to expand upon existing interpretive themes, provide visitors with a more complete understanding of the Maryland Campaign, and protect significant resources and values while enhancing opportunities for public enjoyment related to the park purpose and enabling legislation. This option also allows for the protection of resources critical to fulfilling the park purpose,” she said.
Dunleavy said he met with the director of the National Park at Antietam 10 years ago, and was told that park rangers wanted to send tourists across the Potomac River to see the site of the Battle of Shepherdstown, but didn’t because there was nothing there and no interpretation of the history and the land was privately owned.
“In the 10 years or so that (the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association) has been active, we’ve saved about 104 acres, both through conservation easements and having the Civil War Trust purchase land and deed it to the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission,” he said.
The process of working to preserve the Battle of Shepherdstown site by making it a National Park has taken many years, Dunleavy said, and it’s still not finished.
In 2006, Dunleavy said, he met with the late Senator Robert Byrd and his staff. Byrd then convened a meeting with Congressmen from West Virginia and Maryland and the National Park Service to begin the process.
“We wanted to get the Shepherdstown Battlefield included inside and existing National Park. We figured it was an easier way to preserve it than trying to declare it a new National Park,” he said.
Dunleavy said the next step in the preservation process would be Congress passing a bill to expand the boundary of Antietam National Battlefield Park to include the 510 acres of core battlefield in Shepherdstown identified by the National Park Service in the Special Resources Study.
Stidham said the final decision as to whether the Shepherdstown Battlefield will become a National Park will be made by authorizing committees, and Rep. Bishop, Rep. Grijalva, Sen. Murkowski, Sen. Cantwell (Authorizers) and Sen. Manchin, Sen. Capito, Sen. Mikulski, Sen. Cardin, Rep. Delaney and Rep. Mooney (delegation), bill sponsors for the local delegation.
On Saturday, Sept. 19, the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association will hold a tour of the battlefield to commemorate the 153rd anniversary of the Battle of Shepherdstown, followed by a barbecue and living history demonstration.
Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or twitter.com/mstortstromJN.