In the fall of 1988, a national debate ensued over the approval of a 1.2-million square foot shopping mall on the historic Civil War battlefield north of Manassas. Nationwide concern for the integrity of the Manassas National Battlefield Park was aroused when the Hazel/Peterson Companies obtained approval and began to build the regional shopping mall on this site. In response, the U.S. Congress employed a rarely used procedure called a “legislative taking” to acquire the contested mall site at a cost of $134 million to buy the 550 acres of land from the Virginia development firm. The Manassas Mall controversy is currently taught as a “planning failure” in many planning curriculums. In Virginia, many residents asked, “who would protect ‘hallowed ground’ if local authorities were not inclined to do so?”Fortunately, Maryland elected leaders and state officials took a different approach to Civil War site preservation. That is why tens of thousands of tourists who will visit Antietam and South Mountain over the next couple of weeks will have the opportunity to see and walk ground that remains reasonably true to the original conditions of 150 years ago.
If I can believe one-tenth of what is reported, God has seldom given an army a greater victory than this.
–General George B. McClellan to his wife after the battle of South Mountain
As the Maryland communities of Frederick, Middletown, Boonsboro, Hagerstown and Sharpsburg commemorate the many events associated with the 150th Anniversary of the Maryland Campaign of 1862, it provides an opportunity to look back two decades ago at the involvement of state agencies in the preservation of many of the key sites and battlefield parcels associated with this campaign of the American Civil War.
A little Maryland history is in order: Tuesday September 4, 2012 marked the beginning of the 150th Anniversary of the Maryland Campaign of 1862 in which the confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland. This event 150 years ago was highly significant in both the state and nation’s history. It involved the invasion and occupation of Frederick and Hagerstown and the battles of South Mountain (Sept. 14), the surrender of Harpers Ferry (Sept. 15) and the pivotal battle of Antietam (Sept. 17) on the fields and ridges surrounding the town of Sharpsburg in southeast Washington County. Antietam was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with more than 23,000 casualties on both sides.
Most notably, following the retreat of Lee’s army from Maryland on Sept. 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln’s Executive Order, dated Sept. 22, 1862, proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the 10 states then in rebellion, applying to 3.1 million persons of African-American descent. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation took effect on Jan. 1, 1863.
One hundred and twenty-five years later, many of the sites and battlefields associated with the Maryland Campaign of 1862 were under threat of development by low-density residential subdivisions. This was clearly recognized when subdivision plats were submitted in Washington County in the late 1980s for parcels immediately adjacent to the Antietam National Battlefield on properties that were part of the historic battle. This prompted the formation of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) consisting of local historians and community leaders in Washington County. This group began a public effort to address land use issues associated with development on or near to Maryland Civil War battlefields. Soon, national historians, academics and planners were taking note. Later, state elected leaders recognized the significant threat that residential subdivisions on historic battlefields would have on the future interpretation and historical tourism associated with Antietam and nearby South Mountain. What began as a local land-use issue evolved into a broader discussion of Maryland’s heritage and the future economic potential of Civil War sites that remained undisturbed and visually true to the natural conditions of the properties.
By the late 1980s, then-Governor William Donald Schaefer became actively engaged in the preservation of lands associated with Antietam, South Mountain as well as other Civil War heritage sites in Maryland. What ensued was a coordinated effort by several state agencies lead by Maryland Office of Planning Director Ron Kreitner, Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer and Program Open Space Director H. Grant Dehart to identify and inventory endangered Maryland Civil War sites and to develop strategies for protection, including purchase of easement programs, local land trust acquisition, and fee simple purchase of properties by the state.
By 1989, the Maryland Environmental Trust under Dehart began working to establish local land trusts in the Middletown Valley and Sharpsburg to assist in the preservation of key sites through both easement acquisition and through fee simple acquisition. By the early 1990s, Maryland Program Open Space became actively involved in these preservation efforts often involving national land trusts such as the Conservation Fund in easement negotiations.
The Maryland Office of Planning (currently MDP) conducted viewshed analyses of the lands surrounding Antietam battlefield along with fiscal impact analyses, zoning assessments and growth projections for Antietam and South Mountain. These efforts involved MDPs emerging GIS mapping capabilities and the department’s established zoning and fiscal analysis capabilities. Soon parcels in areas such as the “Redhill Middleground” were identified and assessed as to the impact that development as residential building lots would have on Antietam battlefield.
Fortunately, in 1992, MDOT acquired a funding tool though the newly approved Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) that proved to be very effective in the funding for this effort. Funding from the “Transportation Enhancement” program under ISTEA was used in the early and the mid-1990’s to assist in the acquisition of protective easements in historic viewshed areas. By 1996, protective easements had been acquired at many of the highly significant properties in and around the Antietam and South Mountain battlefield sites. This included some fee simple land acquisition by land trusts including the Central Maryland Heritage League of key Civil War heritage sites at South Mountain and at Sharpsburg.
In succeeding years many other successful efforts were achieved to protect and interpret these key Maryland sites, including establishment of South Mountain State Battlefield commemorating Carmpton’s Gap, Fox Gap and Turner’s Gap where separate battles took place on Sept. 14, 1862. Today, the historic properties are held in private ownership, mainly as farmland. The land has largely been preserved and appears as it would have during the Civil War era. With mounting interest of residents and tourists, these projects will not only conserve scenic cultural landscapes threatened by future potential development, but also contribute to economic development through heritage tourism.
Just last month, Governor Martin O’Malley announced funding of $980,000 to go toward protecting seven properties that make up Maryland’s core Civil War battlefields in Frederick County. The Civil War Trust, together with the Maryland Environmental Trust, permanently protected more than 150 acres of battlefields, including key routes in the Heart of the Civil War Heritage area. With the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War underway, many Maryland residents have unprecedented interest in this significant chapter in American History. Through effective planning and coordination of resources, as well as the willing participation of property owners, Maryland set a new standard for protection of hallowed ground that is emulated nationally.
See the following sites for additional information on Antietam, South Mountain and commemorative events associated with the 150th anniversary of the Maryland Campaign of 1862:
- Sept. 8-22 150th Events Calendar: http://marylandcampaign150.org/Calendar.html
- Maryland My Maryland Civil War Anniversary Reenactment, Sept. 8 & 9: http://marylandcampaign150.org/Reenactment.html
- Sesquicentennial 150th Antietam/Sharpsburg Reenactment, Sept. 14-15: http://150thantietamreenactment.com/
- Antietam National Battlefield 150th Anniversary Events: http://www.nps.gov/anti/planyourvisit/antietam150.htm
- South Mountain State Battlefield: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/western/southmountainbattlefield.asp