BRANDY STATION, VA., JUNE 9 -- Standing waist-deep in wheat, Clark B. Hall celebrated the 127th anniversary of the Civil War's largest cavalry battle by fighting to save the fields where it occurred from development.

"If any ground in this battle deserves to be called hallowed, this is it," Hall, who spent three years researching the battle of Brandy Station, said of the Culpeper County hillside where a developer wants to build a 1,500-acre business and industrial park.

Similar concerns today drew several hundred people -- many in full Civil War dress -- to this hamlet 65 miles from Washington. While mounted men dashed up and down the hills, environmentalists, local residents and Civil War buffs collected money for their fight against Elkwood Downs, the largest development proposal Culpeper has ever seen.

Brandy Station is just one of many battlefields in Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley where preservationists and developers are tangling over the future.

As the Washington metropolitan area continues to creep outward, the farms and streams that were battle scenes 125 years ago increasingly are prime targets for subdivisions, shopping centers and office buildings. And many people, not just Civil War buffs, are objecting.

"Some kid a hundred years from now is going to get interested in the Civil War and want to see these places. He's going to go down there and be standing in a parking lot. I'm fighting for that kid," said Brian Pohanka, a local historian.

In some cases, developers have been surprised by the outcry, saying they purchased sites that local officials long ago had deemed suitable for development. And some officials have criticized the preservationists, saying it is impossible to save all battle sites and that landowners are being asked to pay the cost of saving history.

Culpeper officials, several of whom attended the festivities, are of two minds about the project at Brandy Station. Located next to an airport, it could dramatically expand the employment base of a county that is trying to avoid becoming a bedroom community of Washington. But they are concerned about its environmental, historical and traffic impacts.

The Planning Commission voted 5 to 3 last month to recommend denial of the project, and the Board of Supervisors will vote this summer.

More than 100 years after the Civil War ended, there is a surge of interest in the conflict, which took 623,000 lives and left 471,000 people wounded in four years. That heightened interest in the war has dovetailed with a public reaction against suburban sprawl into rural Virginia, generating an unprecedented movement to preserve battlefields.

"They're not only hallowed ground. They're open space," said Jack Lynn, a spokesman for the Conservation Fund, which has launched a $5 million campaign for battlefield preservation.

"You've got a species on the verge of extinction," said Tersh Boasberg, a Washington lawyer specializing in preservation issues.

Capitol Hill lawmakers have introduced legislation to protect crucial areas and purchase land to expand existing national battlefield parks. Private foundations are springing up to protest development and sometimes purchase endangered land. And in some cases, developers are cooperating to save portions of the battlefields they own.

Nowhere is the conflict between development and preservation greater than in Virginia, where almost half of 129 Civil War battlefields listed in a recently published survey are located.

People on all sides of the issue in Virginia and elsewhere say they are trying to avoid the kind of costly and bitter fight that occurred in 1988 over a plan to build a mall next to Manassas National Battlefield Park and resulted in the federal government's taking the land. In fact, many preservationists are giving today's developers credit for trying to solve problems in a mutually agreeable way.

But even when developers try to cooperate, they sometimes find themselves at odds with the preservationists. At Brandy Station, for example, developer Lee Sammis has offered to give the county 240 of the most crucial acres, but preservationists aren't satisfied.

"If you've got isolated pockets of preservation, you've got nothing," Hall said, pointing across the wheat field. "You would have an artillery position overlooking warehouses."

There is a $2 million bill in Congress to survey battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley, where there are no national battlefield parks, and create a national commission to establish which sites throughout the country need protection.

Some sites, such as those in the Shenandoah, "haven't needed any protection until now," said Sen. James M. Jeffords (D-Vt.), one of the principal sponsors of the bill. "The problems we've had -- as at Manassas -- were that everybody was asleep and then the bulldozers moved in."

But some preservationists worry many battlefields may be lost before such a survey is complete. Five Virginia battlefields, including Brandy Station, are particularly vulnerable, preservationists say, either because they are entirely unprotected or they are in rapidly growing areas.

Some 35 miles southeast of Brandy Station, accelerating development around Fredericksburg threatens to engulf four major battlefields: Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse and Fredericksburg.

Meanwhile, NTS, a Kentucky developer that owns 2,700 acres on and near the Wilderness site, has won praise from Civil War groups by agreeing to discuss selling up to 400 acres.

Private purchases don't always solve the problem. At Cedar Creek, site of the Union's most decisive Shenandoah Valley victory, the Cedar Creek Foundation is struggling to make payments on a $450,000, five-year loan for 158 acres zoned for light industry.

Disputes in Winchester, where 700 houses are planned on the last of three battlefield sites to be developed, and at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, illustrate some of the difficulties in resolving conflicting interests.

Preservationists have criticized the decision by Jefferson County, W.Va., officials to rezone land just west of the park for development near Harpers Ferry.

"I understand where {the preservationists} are coming from . . . {but} I don't want this to be a fallow land community because we won't have any revenue," said Henry W. Morrow, president of the County Commission.

In Winchester, where preservationists are trying to raise money to buy 35 critical acres from a developer, the Frederick County Board of Supervisors has accused preservationists of being Johnny-come-latelies.

"That land was for sale for some time, and the whole time, no concern was raised. It was {raised} only after the rezoning," said Kenneth Stiles, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. "When people say we want to preserve somebody else's land at somebody else's expense, it doesn't go very far."

Some Battlefields Facing Development Pressure:

Harpers Ferry: Sept. 13-15, 1862

Troops: 38,000

Casualties: 13,000

Significance: Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's successful siege of a U.S. garrison enabled the South to invade Maryland.

Proposal: Land west of the National Park, which park officials want to purchase, is zoned for residential development, including 156 houses on 56 acres.

Brandy Station: June 9, 1863

Troops: 20,500, including 17,000 cavalry.

Casualties: 1,383

Significance: The largest cavalry battle in North America.

Proposal: A developer has proposed a business and industrial park on 1,500 acres on and near the battlefield, which has been designated a Virginia Historic Landmark.

The Wilderness: May 5-6, 1864.

Troops: 180,800

Casualties: 28,800

Significance: The first major encounter between U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee resulted in a bloody draw.

Proposal: National Park surrounded by land slated for shopping centers and residential development. Private preservationists are trying to buy 70 to 400 acres.

Third Winchester: Sept. 19, 1864

Troops: 56,500

Casualties: 8,900

Significance: Union Gen. Philip Sheridan defeated Confederates and began his successful slash and burn campaign in the Shenandoah Valley.

Proposal: Two earlier Winchester battlefields have been developed. Plans are to build houses on part of the land. Preservationists are trying to buy much of the remaining property.

Cedar Creek: Oct. 19, 1864

Troops: 53,000

Casualties: 8,600

Significance: The battle that allowed the Union to take final control of the Shenandoah Valley.

Proposal: Preservationists have purchased 158 acres from a developer and must raise money to make stiff loan payments.

SOURCE: The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Houghton Mifflin, 1990), and Washington Post staff research.