Elevating a Battle Site From a Historical Footnote
By Linda Wheeler
Washington Post (DC)
When discussing the Battle of Shepherdstown, Edward and Carol Dunleavy
would often get the same response: "The battle of what?"
But after three years of lectures, rallies and fundraisers to help
preserve the West Virginia battlefield, the Dunleavys say they believe
1862 skirmish, known as the last battle of Robert E. Lee's Maryland
Campaign, might finally be getting its place in history.
Edward Dunleavy, president of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation
Association, and Carol Dunleavy, its secretary and webmaster, said their
group originally formed to stop proposed residential development of the
battlefield because it would be inconsistent with the rural character of
that part of Jefferson County.
But the association's mission soon grew to include getting recognition
protection for the battlefield, which is about 1.5 miles southeast of
Shepherdstown and includes a 200-year-old brick house, high bluffs
overlooking the Potomac River and the remains of an 1850s cement factory
on the shoreline.
The association's efforts got the attention of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd
W.Va.), who introduced legislation last month to request a study by the
National Park Service to determine the suitability and feasibility of
including the battlefield in the national Civil War battlefield system.
"There are 300 acres in the core battlefield, and we've already saved 84
acres through easements," Edward Dunleavy said. "We intend for the site
be preserved as a park."
The Shepherdstown battle, which played out Sept. 19 and 20 in 1862, has
never received much attention because it occurred after the cataclysmic
Battle of Antietam on the 17th. The Shepherdstown battle is sometimes
called the Battle of Boteler's Ford or Pack Horse Ford, referring to the
place where the armies crossed the Potomac.
The Army of Northern Virginia was in retreat from Antietam and headed
toward the perceived safety of Virginia. At the time, Shepherdstown was
Virginia, a state that had seceded from the Union. In less than a year,
Sheperdstown would be part of the new state of West Virginia, a Union
Lee sat on horseback in the middle of the river, watching the last of
exhausted troops cross into Virginia at dawn Sept. 19. At that moment,
might not have expected the ever-cautious Gen. George B. McClellan to
pursue him, but the Army of the Potomac caught up with the Army of
Northern Virginia about three hours later.
Brig. Gen. William Nelson Pendleton had the artillery cover of 33
in place on the bluff above the river to guard the ford when Maj. Gen.
Fitz John Porter's V Corps came into sight on the Maryland side. Seventy
Union cannons were soon arrayed against the Confederates, who were
to fall back. Some Union artillery shells crashed into houses in
Shepherdstown, causing panic among the residents.
A small infantry detachment crossed the river and seized several of
Pendleton's guns before crossing back over the river for the night.
The next morning, the Union men crossed the river again and climbed the
bluffs, and an infantry battle ensued around the brick house. The Union
forces were outnumbered 2 to 1, and a retreat was called, with some of
soldiers dying as they fell down the steep bluffs under Confederate
The battle and retreat took place over four hours. Approximately 900 men
were involved, with more than 600 casualties. The Army of the Potomac
returned to Maryland, and the Confederates retreated farther into the
The battlefield is a serene place now. The ford and a ruined dam built
the cement factory are visible, and anglers use them to fish. Trees
growing on what was the factory floor are framed by broken walls of
cut stone blocks. The rugged bluffs that rise above are a challenge to
experienced climber. At the top, the ground levels off into soybean
and wooded areas.
The old farmhouse, now a rental property, shows the marks of battle. A
cannonball protrudes from the brick wall on the second floor, just
Linda Wheeler may be reached at 540-465-8934 or cwwheel@...