Conservationists seek to buy Civil War fort

March 19, 1991

HAGERSTOWN -- Conservationists launched a fund-raising campaign yesterday to buy 23 acres of Civil War history in Maryland near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

During the Civil War, Union soldiers manned a battery of heavy artillery at the Spur Battery to protect against Confederate attacks from the north. The property was given its name because it is on a descending spur of a mountain across the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

"The Spur Battery is one of the most significant fortification sites at Harpers Ferry," said James I. Robertson Jr., a Civil War historian and author at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Va. "Its booming cannons helped thwart Confederate advances against Maryland Heights in 1864."

The effort to raise $25,000 to buy the land is being organized by the Friends of Harpers Ferry and the Conservation Fund, a non-profit organization that has a three-month option to buy the land, said Jack Lynn, a spokesman for the fund.

The Washington County land is owned by Andrew L. and Meryl Steigman. It is surrounded on three sides by Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, but it is not part of the park.

Mr. Lynn said if the Conservation Fund is successful in buying the land, it might consider donating it to the National Park Service.

"We have a number of other options, including retaining ownership," he said. "Our No. 1 priority is to raise the money to purchase the land. We'll pursue the best options for management down the line."

The Conservation Fund, based in Arlington, Va., launched a campaign last year to preserve and protect Civil War battlefields. The fund is also raising money for projects at other Civil War sites in Shiloh, Tenn., and Port Hudson, La. The fund also has received land donations at Reams' Station, Va., and Grant's Canal, La.

Last summer, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, working through the fund, bought a 148-acre farm at Antietam National Battlefield in Washington County that included 30 acres known as "The Cornfield."

About half of the 23,000-plus casualties of the Sept. 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam fell at the cornfield. The Mellon Foundation donated the farm to the U.S. Department of Interior last July.

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