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Battles Won, But Battlefields Still in Danger

A major point in the court battle over Corridor H centers on whether the WV Division of Highways identified and evaluated historic sites before making final decisions on the route of Corridor H. Historic sites are important here because 1) many are relatively pristine in this undeveloped area and 2) they form a promising base for tourism, West Virginia's fastest growing industry. Two relatively little known, but significant Civil War battle sites have emerged: Corricks Ford and Old Fields.

Located along the Shavers Fork River in Tucker County near Parsons, W.Va, Corricks Ford was a battlefield in the 1861 Western Virginia campaign. From Pleasants Run to Parsons, the Shavers Fork valley has changed very little since 7,000 Confederates, fleeing the Battle of Rich Mountain, were caught by 20,000 Union troops under Gen. George McClellan. The battle was fought in rain and mud, and Robert Garnett became the first the first general killed in the Civil War.

In 1995, the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, U.S. National Park Service, declared the battlefield eligible for the Register. Highway agencies then proposed to move Corridor H from the valley up onto geologically-unstable Fork Mountain. On April 16, 1998, the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation ruled that construction of a four-lane Corridor H highway on Fork Mountain above the battlefield would cause an "adverse effect." According to Don Klima of the Advisory Council, Corridor H "presents an intrusive and incompatible new element which will diminish the setting, feeling and association of the overwhelmingly rural Corricks Ford Battlefield."

Now, faced with the Advisory Council ruling, WV Division of Highways proposed to "mitigate" the impact by planting trees on steps of the 200-foot road cut and by constructing part of the highway on piers and using colored concrete. (An Advisory Council staff member compared this to "putting lipstick on a pig.") However, the Federal Highway Administration approved the scheme, so CHA filed a separate lawsuit to protect Corricks Ford. CHA proposed a simpler way to avoid the battlefield AND the environmentally sensitive Shavers Fork Valley: improve the existing US 219 and stay out of the battlefield area.

VIEW CORRICKS FORD from US 219 at an informal pullout south of the historic marker near Parsons, or from the Shavers Fork Road (County 39) betwen Porterwood and Pheasant Mountain Road. On the east side of the Shavers Fork the Government Road (County 41) is an unpaved forest road within the battlefield boundary. In 1996, local residents and re-enactors commemorated the battle's 135th anniversary. Historian Hunter Lesser is telling the detailed story in his forthcoming book on the Western Virginia campaign.

On August 7, 1864, confederate Cavalry Generals Bradley Johnson and JohnMcCausland were surprised and routed by Union General Averell as they rested their horses in the green fields of the South Branch Valley north of Moorefield, in Hardy County, WV. Later that same year, the rebels had a small revenge as Rosser's Cavalry and the local partisan McNeill's Rangers defeated an attempted Union raid on this breadbasket valley.

Still blessed with prosperous farms, brick antebellum plantation mansions, and a few log homes from George Washington's survey days, Old Fields is a very unusual spot. Tourists and historians are recognizing it: Nancy Powell's book "Things to See and Do in the Lost River and South Branch Valleys" gives you an auto tour. Local historian Stephen G. Smith's monograph on the Aug. 7 1864 Battle of Moorefield has been published by the Blue-Gray Education Society of Danville, VA.

Unfortunately, the very idea of Corridor H coming to the area has threatened its history. A Wal-mart has been built just south of the southernmost mansion in the district, the Meadows, despite the threat of flooding in the valley. Willow Wall, site of the battle, has been sold to a trucking firm. Nevertheless, many of the farmers in Old Fields intend to keep on farming, and if Corridor H does not go too close to them, they will continue with their way of life.

In December 1997, the Keeper of the National Register, despite pressure from Senator Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood, the poultry industry lobby, and state legislators, declared the entire historic district around Old Fields eligible for the National Register. The highwaymen are now studying several alternatives to route Corridor H around the historic district.

VIEW OLD FIELDS along US 220 from 2 to 4 miles north of Moorefield, and as part of the Potomac Eagle scenic train based in Romney. The WV online website has links to many scenic area attractions.

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