Preservationists set off on the trail of Md. history Protection: In a win-win situation, residents of Frederick County work with state and federal officials to preserve Civil War sites and the Appalachian Trail.

July 05, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

MIDDLETOWN -- The ghosts of Civil War heroes who fell mortally wounded in the Battle of South Mountain surrounded George F. Brigham Jr. on Wise's Field in Fox Gap.

In the meadow, Texas sharpshooters shot Union Maj. Gen. Jesse Lee Reno. In the woods, Union soldiers killed Confederate Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland Jr. When Sept. 14, 1862, was over, Union troops dumped the bodies of 58 Confederates down a well.

Not many Marylanders know about this episode in the war, lamented Brigham, 50, a Middletown cabinetmaker. But by purchasing land and giving tours of the battlefield, he and his colleagues in Frederick County are trying to end the anonymity and prevent development that would destroy peaceful scenes for future generations.

It's a twofer. In working with federal, state and Appalachian Trail officials to preserve Civil War history, they also are helping to protect a small corner of the more famous project, the 2,158-mile AT.

The trail-protection plan, begun in 1978 and advocated recently by President Clinton, is to envelop the Georgia-to-Maine path in a 1,000-foot-wide buffer by the end of 2000.

"We help them and they help us," Brigham said of the cooperative effort.

History and hiking are not unrelated here. Parts of the trail were used by both armies in 1862. A ridge-top stone wall by the trail is the same one Confederate soldiers waited behind as Union troops charged up the hill. And Brigham hikes the trail.

"There is more history along Maryland's AT than along the trail in other states," said Donald T. King, who directs the Park Service's land-acquisition efforts for most of the remaining 32.1 unprotected miles scattered through several states. "The Maryland group is doing its part to preserve history and assist us."

South Mountain might be the only American battlefield through which the Appalachian Trail passes, said Brigham, an assertion supported by the Appalachian Trail Conference and National Park Service.

"We made the Park Service and others aware that it's not just a trail but also a very historic piece of land. A lot of young men sacrificed their lives there," Brigham said.

Fortuitous was the remark Brigham overheard at an 1989 party marking the 100th anniversary of the Reno monument at Wise's Field. It led several people, including Brigham, to form the Central Maryland Heritage League and begin buying land to keep it from developers.

"Someone that night said, 'We're going to be selling some land to a developer near Wise's Field,' " Brigham recalled. "I asked if he would entertain a bid from a preservation group. He would. We formed the league, made a bid and bought 10 acres at Wise's Field."

The league later bought a parcel along Alternate U.S. 40 near Turner's Gap. A sliver of it through which the AT passed was sold to the Park Service. The league also advised the Park Service on other purchases, and it owns two other South Mountain parcels that might enhance battlefield appreciation.

Brigham praised H. Grant DeHart, director of the state's Open Space program, for helping to preserve South Mountain. Agricultural easements purchased by the state last year brought the total mountain property protected to more than 1,000 acres.

Along 895 miles of the trail, the federal government has spent more than $170 million since 1978 to acquire or otherwise protect 171,816 acres. Much of the acreage is not crossed by the trail but is adjacent to it. The resulting buffer preserves the rural ambience.

Clinton said $15.1 million would be earmarked to buy the remnants. As of May, King and others had sought protection for 11,885 acres in 309 tracts along the 32.1 miles.

'Very close' to goal

Remaining in private or municipal hands in Maryland are 935 acres in 35 pieces over five miles. An easement is sought for the biggest tract, the 575-acre Hagerstown Watershed.

"It's very close," said Brian King of reaching the 2000 goal. He is information director of the Appalachian Trail Conference, based in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., which manages the trail daily through volunteers from 31 member clubs.

The Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the 14 states the trail traverses have shared responsibilities for buying, managing or securing long-term easements on land, or allowing groups such as the league to provide protection.

King said the government tries to negotiate purchases with appraisals and offers at fair market value. Most landowners accept the offers, but some don't. Some disputes are settled, and some end up in court.

South Mountain's battlefield -- not cluttered, as some say of Gettysburg -- is the height of informality. Ownership of land is varied. The battleground fields and woods have some markers.

Detailed interpretations of the area are given by historian Steve Stotlemeyer in tours organized by Brigham's heritage league.

The fighting occurred at Turner's Gap and Crampton's Gap, 7.2 miles apart, and Fox Gap near Turner's.

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