National Conservation Groups Join Forces to Preserve Historic Battlefield Land at Harpers Ferry
(Harpers Ferry, W.Va.) - The Civil War Trust and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today announced a successful public-private partnership to protect 3.89 acres of hallowed ground at the western gateway to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (NHP). The purchase was financed by federal funds, a major gift from an anonymous donor and a number of smaller private donations. The land, long identified as a priority for preservation by the National Park Service (NPS), played a significant role in the September 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry, which resulted in the largest surrender of Union troops during the Civil War.
"It wasn't all that long ago that this land was being talked about as a location for a gas station or mini-mart," said Trust President James Lighthizer. "Today, thanks to a partnership among NPCA, NPS and the Bank of Charles Town, these critical acres will remain forever protected, preserved and pristine to honor the brave soldiers who fought and fell on these fields."
"Harpers Ferry's historic landscape helps tell the story of our American journey from our founding, to the Civil War and civil rights for all Americans," said Joy M. Oakes, NPCA Mid-Atlantic senior director. "More than 250,000 visitors travel to Harpers Ferry each year to walk in the footsteps of Civil War and civil rights leaders, and contemplate the history and sacrifices made here. These visitors also patronize local businesses, providing significant economic benefits to the local community."
A number of national and local organizations and local community leaders have worked for years to protect Harpers Ferry's historic character. The most recent additions to the national park are located along Route 340, immediately adjacent to the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau facility. "We couldn't be happier with this preservation victory," said Rebecca Harriett, Superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. "Thanks to the work of the National Parks Conservation Association and Civil War Trust, the western gateway to the park will be protected and ultimately transferred to the National Park Service."
Harpers Ferry NHP Chief Historian Dennis Frye explained the rich history of the land, noting its role in the fighting on Bolivar Heights on September 15, 1862. "Resting along the primary road on Bolivar Heights, control of these properties was essential to the U.S. forces defending Harpers Ferry," Frye said. "Confederate artillery on the heights surrounding Harpers Ferry bombarded the turnpike and its adjoining fields to disrupt movements and set the stage for Stonewall Jackson's flanking maneuver that ultimately forced the Union surrender. Fifty years later, these lands witnessed a pilgrimage by early civil rights leaders from Storer College to John Brown's Fort, made famous when abolitionist John Brown's raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry helped spark the Civil War."
The Bank of Charles Town (BCT) also played a key role in the preservation of the properties along the western gateway, agreeing to sell its 2.39 acre parcel to the Civil War Trust for eventual transfer to the NPS. In addition, the Trust acquired the two Drumheller tracts, totaling 1.39 acres, immediately adjacent to the Bank of Charles Town tract.
"Since its establishment in 1871, Bank of Charles Town has had strong roots in both Harpers Ferry and Jefferson County," Bank of Charles Town President and CEO Robert F. Baronner said. "It is gratifying to see this property preserved, and we are proud to play a part in working with the Civil War Trust and its partners on making the transfer a reality. In keeping with BCT's longstanding philanthropic commitment to our community, the property was sold to the Trust at a discount to bring all interested parties to the table in a combined effort to preserve the property for generations to come."
Earlier this year, the Trust announced a national fundraising campaign to preserve the three tracts. Thousands of private donors, large and small, contributed to the effort. The most generous donation came from NPCA, due to the generosity of an anonymous contributor, who provided $345,000 toward the acquisition. "America is losing at least one million acres a year to development, and NPCA's members work in many ways to protect and enhance our national parks for our children and grandchildren," said Oakes. "This member has provided critical financial support to protect historic lands for their history and meaning."
The historic pedigree of the three properties being preserved today is beyond question. The preserved properties were traversed by the historic Harpers Ferry-Charles Town Turnpike, an important thoroughfare and Confederate military target during the battle. Due to its strategic significance, Captain Benjamin Potts's Ohio Battery moved to this location to reinforce Captain Silas Rigby's First Independent Indiana Battery, in order to confront Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill's forces to the west. From these properties, Potts and his men would fight a brave delaying action to prevent the Confederates from gaining the Turnpike.
The Battle of Harpers Ferry, fought September 12-15, 1862, was one of the most dramatic moments in General Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North. In a daring operation, Lee divided his outnumbered army into four columns in order to surround and besiege Harpers Ferry. On September 15, soon after the fall of Bolivar Heights to Confederate forces, the 12,000-man Union garrison was forced to capitulate. It was the largest surrender of U.S. forces during the Civil War.
About the Civil War Trust
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its goal is to preserve our nation's endangered Civil War sites and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds through education and heritage tourism. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 36,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states, including 1,184 acres in West Virginia. The Trust's website is located at www.civilwar.org.
About the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its 800,000 members and supporters, and many partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation's natural, historical, and cultural heritage for our children and grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.npca.org.