Land Trust Helps Protect Key Shepherdstown Battlefield Property From Development
With the help of the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle, a key 121 acres of the Civil War Shepherdstown Battlefield is being protected forever from becoming the housing development that was once planned for it.
The land, which was then known as the Osborne Farm and more recently has been known as Far Away Farm, lies at the center of the advance by Confederate forces as they successfully repelled the Union troops that had followed them across the Potomac River after the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. The American Battlefield Trust acquired the 121 acres November 30, using funds from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund , the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA) and its own donors. The property will be transferred to the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission, with the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle to hold a conservation easement protecting the land from ever being developed – a requirement for the American Battlefield Protection Program funding.
Preservation efforts over the past 16 years had already protected almost 400 acres of the battlefield: 43 acres owned by the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission (including the land where Confederate and Union forces landed on the south bank of the Potomac) and 350 acres covered by conservation easements held by the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle and the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board.
But the 120 acre Far Away Farm was always the largest and most central parcel of undeveloped land in the battlefield. Formed in 2005, the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association repeatedly went to court to oppose plans to develop the property with 152 houses.
As those court cases dragged on, the Land Trust together with the Farmland Protection Board negotiated conservation easements on two key, privately owned parcels totaling 59 acres north of Far Away Farm, protecting them from any further development. And, in 2013 the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission, with the help of the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, the American Battlefield Trust and the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA) acquired the first parcel along the river itself, protecting the southern side of Packhorse Ford, where General Lee’s forces landed after crossing the Potomac on the night of
September 19, 1862, and Union forces arrived in pursuit. The Land Trust holds the conservation easement on that land, which with additions in subsequent years, grew to 19 acres.
More recently, the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board obtained a conservation easement on 278 acres on the east side of Trough Road, and the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission acquired 24 acres next to that property. The Land Trust holds easements on another 52 acres in the study area of the battlefield, just outside its core.
While the 625 casualties in the Battle of Shepherdstown pale in comparison with those in the Battle of Antietam, the fighting was sharp, with one inexperienced regiment from Pennsylvania suffering 269 losses. Historians consider the battle as persuading Confederate General Lee not to try a second invasion of Maryland that year and Union General McClellan not to try further pursuit of Lee in what was then Virginia. And, of course, McClellan was fired by President Lincoln not long afterwards.
The Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission hopes that ultimately both the Far Away Farm property and the battlefield parcels already owned by the HLC will become part of Antietam National Battlefield Park – an action that requires congressional approval. Adjoining privately owned land, even if already under a conservation easement, can only be added with the consent of the property owners.