Ticonderoga The 1862 Battle of Shepherdstown is little more than a footnote in American history for most people, but to Tom McGrath it has become an important part of his life.
The Ticonderoga man, who accidentally learned about the significance of the Civil War encounter, is now part of a Congressional effort to preserve the West Virginia battlefield.
“This is all totally new for me,” McGrath said. “It’s almost surreal. It started out as just a personal interest and then all this other stuff happened.”
McGrath, who teaches at North Country Community College, went to Shepherdstown to do research on the famed 20th Maine, the regiment commanded by Joshua Chamberlain. It was at Shepherdstown that the unit saw its first combat.
But while studying the 20th Maine, McGrath became more and more interested in the Shepherdstown battle, which he and some others now believe to be a turning point in the War Between the States. The result — McGrath wrote the book “Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign, September 19-20, 1862,” the only full-length account of the battle. He also authored “Maryland September: True Stories from the Antietam Campaign” and has written many magazine articles.
When historians found the Shepherdstown battlefield threatened by development, they approached McGrath to help them gain National Park status, which can only be granted by Congress. The National Park Service hired him to created maps and complete a study on the battlefield. Both were submitted to Congress. He has also taken part in a series of public meetings on the proposed preservation of the battlefield.
“It’s a 150-acre battlefield untouched by development — a Civil War farmhouse still stands there with a shell in the wall,” McGrath said. “A developer wanted to build 120 houses on the site in 2004, that’s what sparked the preservation movement.”