Shepherdstown Battlefield 2024 Outlook

Dr. Mike Nickerson
Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association
January 2024

From the SBPA team of Directors, Officers and Volunteers, we hope ALL Battlefield Supporters have a wonderful, healthy and happy 2024!

Our efforts in 2023 carried on the momentum of 2022 when a SBPA fundraising effort raised over $89,000 towards the $2,000,000 Osbourn Farm purchase. This demonstrated strong local support for the battlefield. These funds were critical for the American Battlefield Trust to secure the remaining funds from the WV Outdoor Heritage Fund and the National Parks Battlefield Protection Program. However, along with the 2023 successes described below, there was key battlefield ground lost forever to development. We ask all SBPA members to renew their membership so that we may continue our efforts to preserve, improve and publicize the Battlefield.

Major Events in 2023

Most notable was the fantastic news that $500,000 was obtained by the WV Farmland Protection Board and Senators Capito and Manchin, with funds from the National Parks Battlefield Protection Program, for a farmland preservation easement on a Trough Road farm.

The farm was A.P. Hill’s encampment on September 18 – 20, 1862 during the Shepherdstown Battle. The property is a key piece of our preservation efforts. When the current round of multiple property deed transfers and easements are in place, our efforts with our partners will have resulted in the preservation of 914 acres, with 190 acres purchased outright.

The Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission has been doing a great job of holding the property deeds for, hopefully, eventual recognition as a new National Battlefield. The Landmarks Commission and the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle secured National Historic Registry status for the Osbourn Farm house, a singular achievement in itself!

The Spring Battlefield cleanup day occurred on April 15, 2023 and was followed by a 3+ hour battlefield tour by Author and Professor Tom McGrath. In the morning, a ‘Union’ cleanup group worked at the Cement Mill and Riverside Park under the direction of SBPA VP Steve Alemar. A ‘Confederate’ group worked on the Osbourn Farm directed by Dr. Nickerson. At 11 am, both groups worked down Trough Road picking up trash – and there was a LOT. We spent the day immersed in the battlefield in so many ways.

The cleanup crew had lunch on the Osbourn Farm house lawn thanks to member Rosemary Nickerson bringing subs and chips. Tom McGrath took over and little did we know a multi-mile hike was planned for the afternoon! It was so, so great. Folks were strung out for miles on the return hike. Thanks again Tom!

The SBPA sponsored a Battlefield Awards Picnic for members and our partners with a tent, catered food, and music on the Osbourn Farm in August to celebrate the Farm’s preservation. The occasion was marked by an award to Battlefield Supporters and the SBPA from the Two Rivers Giving Circle, a local philanthropic organization. We had a capacity crowd of 65 who shared a wonderful afternoon of great company, speeches, Osbourn Farm tours, snacks, music and the beautiful view of four states.

An October visit by Tanya Gossett, the Acting Superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Park was especially informative as she and Dr. Nickerson discussed scenarios about the future of the battlefield. The SBPA presented an exhibit of books, maps and artifacts; and Dr. Nickerson led a tour of the Osbourn Farm, Cement Mill and the Riverside Park. She is very supportive of our preservation efforts and our advocacy to establish a new National Battlefield affiliated with Antietam, Harpers Ferry, or both.

Local Partnerships Strengthened

Throughout 2023, we established, strengthened and renewed ties to other local organizations. This year was notable in that we established several new partnerships to promote education about the battle. In February, Dr. Nickerson met with the Shepherdstown Public Library’s Director, Ms. Hali Taylor, to provide books, maps and pamphlets for a display in the Library’s Local History Room. Thanks Hali! A similar display has been set up at the Shepherdstown Middle School through the efforts of SBPA member and History Department faculty, Ms. Stephanie Unger. Great job Stephanie!

The SBPA provided a mounted battle map to the Shepherdstown Police Department to display and the employees were quite interested in the battlefield. We hope to provide a tour of the battlefield to Department staff in the near future.

Dr. Nickerson worked with the Historic Shepherdstown Museum to update and edit exhibited material about the battlefield in the museum. Thanks for input from SBPA Directors Dr. Tom Clemens and Terry Lindsay. The museum display is key to representing accurately what we know about the battle and why our preservations efforts are so important.

Equally important is providing access to preserved acres for Jefferson County residents and others. The SBPA hosted members of the Potomac Valley Audubon Society to the Osbourn Farm and Riverside Park, who assessed the potential for bird watching tours and nature hikes. The birdwatchers provided a detailed list of birds they observed during their hikes. Hopefully the PVAS will lead bird watching tours for the public in the Battlefield in the future!

The SBPA continues to work very closely with the Historic Landmarks Commission, WV Farmland Protection Board, Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle, both Jefferson County Visitors Centers, the Jefferson County Museum and the George Tyler Moore Center of Shepherd University.

Volunteer Enthusiasm

Volunteers contributed to the maintenance of the Riverside Park, Cement Mill and the Osbourn Farm. On the Osbourn Farm, this included removal of a metal shipping container behind the workshop, clearing brush and vines around the farm building, and removal of vines and invasive trees along the Farm driveway. The Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission has been diligently addressing electric and plumbing work inside the farm house, and exterior issues such as gutter repair and maintenance of the landscaping. Great job SBPA volunteers and member Martin Burke.

After 160 years exposed to the weather and unprotected, member Jerry Moore and Dr. Nickerson installed plexiglass over the initials and dates carved into the boards of the Osbourn Farm Corn Crib. This includes the ‘J Osbourn 1861’ carved signature. Great job protecting this key history on the Farm JT!

Member Steve O’Donnell and Dr. Nickerson installed 2 owl and 2 kestrel nesting boxes on the Osbourn Farm as part of the Birds in the Battlefield Program. In the Riverside Park, we already have 2 owl, 2 wood duck and 3 bluebird boxes installed. Steve made the nesting boxes with input from Kristen Alexander, President of the PVAS. Thanks Steve and Kristen. Mike and Steve also screwed shut the perennially open barn doors on the second floor of the Osbourn Farm. This was a major safety concern as there is no barrier to prevent someone from falling out of the barn.

In September, Dr. Nickerson presented ‘The Battlefield Past and Present’ in a one-hour talk to about 40 members of the Shepherdstown Area Independent Living (SAIL) group at their annual luncheon. Lively questions and discussion followed. The talk was accompanied by a Battlefield exhibit. Remarkably, a participant was able to identify a battlefield artifact as a saddle tree from a standard issue Union calvary saddle – the McClellen saddle. So, we have yet another fantastic find from the battlefield.

Lost to Development

Unfortunately, 18 acres of land in the Battlefield core was lost in 2023. A new housing development is already well underway there, near the intersection of Trough and River Roads. A new road (Potomac Ridge Road) was cut into the beautiful hillside off Trough Road to provide access to multiple homes on the ridge above the river. The location is now forever altered – adding urgency to the work of the SBPA. The development occupies the bluffs above the Potomac River that were the site of intense fighting between Union Divisions including the 1, 2, 6, 10 and 11 U.S. and Confederate Gregg and Thomas’ Brigades.

An additional 3-acre property on Trough Road directly across from the Osbourn Farm driveway was lost as well. The lot was sold in the Spring of 2023 and has been cleared, levelled, and a well drilled. So all is ready for a new house. Notably, there are several current requests for zoning variances on Trough Road properties that may also impact the battlefield. One request is a permit for a retirement home business on Deer Trail Lane in the Far View Farm development. The request is for up to 16 individuals to reside in several buildings planned for the property. This may have consequences for Trough Road vehicle traffic, and the property’s septic field drains directly into the Trough. A second request for a 15-acre property on Trough Road bordering the Osbourn Farm plans to establish a commercial dog kennel with outdoor dog runs. This may impact the currently peaceful soundscape of the neighboring Osbourn Farm.

It is clear that our critical work is far from done as development pressures mount throughout the battlefield. We continue to see the impact of an increasing numbers of visitors to the Cement Mill, in part through the SBPA’s highly successful outreach efforts listed below. PLEASE CONSIDER RENEWING YOUR SBPA MEMBERSHIP IN 2024 TO INSURE WE CONTINUE TO PRESERVE AND IMPROVE THE BATTLEFIELD. Details are on the SBPA website “Become a Member” page, and Facebook page, or contact Mike Nickerson (304-995-6975).

On a final note, we can be immensely proud of our battlefield preservation efforts as they have resulted in the selection of the Shepherdstown Battlefield for the filming of a new Civil War movie. Filming is planned for March 2024 and requests for Civil War re-enactors to participate in the film have already been posted. I think we can all look forward to seeing the battlefield filled with Civil War soldiers during the filming of the movie, and eventually the final product that will hopefully include the Shepherdstown Battlefield! More info to follow…

2023 Battlefield Tours and Exhibits

February 24 – Tour of the Osbourn Farm for Mick Feeser and Steve Alemar led by Mike Nickerson.

March 18 – Battlefield tour for the Virginia Forum led by Kevin Pawlak, SBPA Director.

March 28 – Battlefield tour for a school group led by Kevin Pawlak.

May 19-21 – Battlefield exhibit at Evolve with members’ battle artifacts, with the Historic Shepherdstown Museum and the Jefferson County Museum.

May 27-28 – Battlefield exhibit at Evolve with members’ battle artifacts, with the Historic Shepherdstown Museum and the Jefferson County Museum.

June 17 – Battlefield tour for the Antietam Institute led by Dr. Tom Clemens, SBPA Director and President, Save Historic Antietam Foundation.

June 24 – Battlefield exhibit at the Shepherdstown Streetfest. SBPA members the Feesers, Alemars, Sara Smith, Jim Surkamp, Moores, and Nickersons.

July 15 – Member Tour (JT Moore) arranged by Mike Nickerson of the Osbourn House by Myers/Folk/Lowe Family members, descendants of Mountain View Farm (aka Osbourn Farm) owners. George Folk of Swan Pond purchased the Osbourn Farm in 1883 as a wedding present for their daughter, who married Daniel Myers. The Myers family owned the Farm from 1883 to 1967, a remarkable tenure. They were the primary caretakers of the battlefield for 90 years and were singularly responsible for maintaining the battlefield as we now see it. Thank you!

August 19 – Battlefield exhibit at Tomato Jam, a local music and agriculture festival, with SBPA Director Pam Underhill.

August 26 – SBPA Awards Picnic on the Osbourn Farm to celebrate preservation of the Farm. The picnic featured a battlefield exhibit with artifacts, maps, and merchandise; and member-led (JT Moore) tours of the Osbourn Farm buildings. 65 attendees.

September 16-17 – Battlefield exhibit at the Historic Shepherdstown Museum to recognize the Battle’s 161st Anniversary with battlefield supporter Jim Surkamp.

September 22 – Battlefield talk and exhibit to S.A.I.L. by Mike Nickerson.

October 27 – Battlefield exhibit and tour for the Acting Superintendent of Harpers Ferry NP, Tanya Gossett by Mike Nickerson.

November 27 – Battlefield tour for Sharon Capriotti guest, Mr. Ned Yates, by Mike Nickerson.

December 2 – Battlefield exhibit at the George Tyler Moore Center, Shepherd University after the Christmas parade. An engraved buckle from the Battlefield that was shown in the SBPA display was identified by Civil War re-enactors from Virginia as a shoe buckle likely from a Pennsylvania Dutch Union soldier.

If you’ve read this far, then expect in early 2024 a new SBPA-created ‘Self-guided driving tour of the Shepherdstown Battlefield.’ We are eagerly anticipating the release of a new, updated battlefield map with tour stops at key battle sites. This should greatly enhance the visitor experience to the Battlefield.