SHARPSBURG, MD. -- Peaceful and pastoral Antietam National Battlefield, scene of the Civil War battle that produced the bloodiest single day in American military history, is once again the setting for an ugly turf war.

This time the skirmishes are over land use in and around the battlefield 70 miles northwest of the District of Columbia. The 3,245-acre battlefield park, where about one-third of the land is privately owned, recently was named by the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the nation's top 11 most endangered historic sites. The group cited the burgeoning growth and development pressures in the Washington region as the major threat.

But the dispute at Antietam, unlike that at other historic sites around the country, is not over whether to permit development, but over how best to make sure the property forever stays the way it is. All sides are in agreement that they want the area to maintain its bucolic atmosphere, nestled as it is amid wooded hills and rolling pastureland, but the groups differ bitterly on what methods to use and who should have the power to decide.

Consequently, in a place where whizzing bullets cropped a quiet cornfield bare in three hours and where a sunken road was later christened Bloody Lane, the accusations today are flying as fast as the artillery fire did on Sept. 17, 1862, when 23,110 Confederate and federal troops were killed.

While historic preservationists and Civil War buffs argue that the Antietam battlefield is a national treasure that must be preserved and restored at all costs, some farmers who live there -- including some who are descendents of the families who lived there at the time of the battle -- see the proposals as a thinly disguised effort to strip them of their livelihoods and heritage and force them off the land.

"It all boils down to who is going to control the land," said Nancy Kefauver, whose family owns a dairy farm inside the battlefield park that it has farmed for four generations, since before the Civil War.

At the heart of the matter is a 20-year management plan being considered by the National Park Service, the largest property owner here. The park service is mulling over three separate proposals for the park's future.

Two of the proposals leave things more or less as they are, but a third -- called Alternative B -- would seek to restore the area to its condition in the summer of 1862, just before the battle. To accomplish that aim, existing paved roads would be ripped out and replaced by dirt or gravel roads, and those roads that are not essential to tourist traffic would be removed entirely or replaced with footpaths. It would also provide for acquisition of historically significant land that is now in private hands.

Alternative B also proposes longer-term plans to demolish the current visitor center, an obtrusive modernistic structure atop a hill in the middle of the battlefield, and would promote construction of a highway bypass around Sharpsburg to divert traffic from the park area.

Public interest in the park's future is running high nationwide as Civil War enthusiasts, historic preservationists and community activists speak their piece on the issue. According to park service planners, the agency has received about 1,900 written responses to a request for opinions on which plan would be best.

"This is unusual," said Bill Koning, a Denver-based planner with the National Park Service charged with reading the responses and drafting an environmental impact statement that examines the issues more thoroughly. "The volume of response is overwhelming compared with other plans {including one for the popular Yosemite National Park} that I've been involved in."

For preservationists, Alternative B provides the best hope for saving and restoring what has been called one of the most pristine historic sites in the nation. The idea of restoring it entirely as an 1862 experience for visitors appeals to them. They also fear that some farmers in the area, even though well-meaning, will eventually succumb to development pressures and sell their land to the highest bidders.

"I favor the plan because it creates a safety net," said Tom Clemens, a Hagerstown history professor who is also president of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation, which has been trying to preserve properties by buying them when they come up for sale. "When something happens, the {National Park Service} can move. And they have much deeper pockets than we do."

Some see the issue in Antietam as representative of the larger pressures on endangered historic sites threatened by development.

"Antietam is symbolic of a whole class of properties throughout the country," said J. Jackson Walter, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "The federal government extends more legislative protection to the snail darter than land of this kind if it's not owned by the park service. We think that's an outrage."

For farmers in the Antietam area, however, the preservationists are pursuing an intellectual exercise in restoration that carries a steep emotional price.

The Kefauver family, for example, which has lived there for four generations, feels threatened by the preservationists' proposal and by the park service proposal. They say their lives already have been touched by tragedy because of the pressure under which they have been placed.

"In June 1977, on a day my neighbor had chosen to {harvest} barley, a {National Park Service} negotiator from Philadelphia came to discuss how much better life would be with a scenic easement and control by the NPS," Kefauver wrote in May in a letter to the editor of the Hagerstown-based Herald-Mail. "I went out from this meeting very disturbed, in haste forgot the primary rules of farm safety, and ran over and killed my only daughter."

The Kefauvers and other longtime farmers in the area said they believe they are being wished out of existence by a government agency with the frightening power of eminent domain. They find Alternative B particularly chilling because removing the roads to their homes would make it difficult -- and perhaps impossible -- for the passage of the milk trucks they rely on. They also note that park service maps that depict Alternative B do not include their farms on them at all.

Park service employees said that they have no intention of forcing the farmers to leave, and that the omission of the farms on the proposed map was an oversight. It was a "mapping error," said John Ochsner, also part of the Denver-based planning team involved in the Antietam proposal.

At least one preservationist and supporter of Alternative B agrees that the needs of the farmers who live there have not been given adequate consideration.

"We want to maintain as much agricultural land" as possible, Walter said, adding that the plans need to be modified to accommodate the needs of longtime farmers in the area. "And the agriculture is best done by private farmers working their own land."

Some longtime residents argue that control by the park service is not a guarantee of preservation, and that the government agency doesn't have enough money to pay for the upkeep and restoration of all the properties it would like to own.

Page T. Otto, for example, is a lifelong Sharpsburg resident and a descendent of Civil War-era farmer John Otto. The Otto homestead now is owned by the park service, and Otto said the property has been allowed to deteriorate.

"The property is falling down and all they'll be able to say is this is where it was," Otto said. "Numerous other properties are falling apart, too. But the park service wants to spend millions tearing down roads."

But some of the farmers also have opened themselves up to charges that they are pursuing their own financial aims. The owners of about a dozen farms late last year offered to sell development rights to the state of Maryland to be held in perpetuity for $4,000 an acre, or about a total of $8 million. They promoted the plan as a way to maintain the land's farm use but to keep it out of the hands of the park service.

For now, however, despite the fears voiced by all, there is little immediate threat of development around the battlefield, which is out of easy commuting range of Washington and an arduous 90-minute drive on congested highways and narrow, winding roads.

Nearby, the biggest planned projects are an American Legion Home, as yet unbuilt, where members hope to hold dinners and memorial activities, and a small shopping center hidden behind overgrown trees and brush, where the land has not been prepared for construction and no activity is evident.

It was the rezoning of the shopping center parcel in 1985 from agricultural to commercial uses that first ignited the controversy about the fate of the battlefield.

"A bunch of us were outraged it was happening," Clemens said, calling the action "callous and heartless."

Consequently, the development threat became a rallying cry, particularly in light of what had happened at Manassas, where developers John T. "Til" Hazel and Milton V. Peterson planned construction of a regional shopping mall and more than 500 houses. The question there was resolved when the federal government eventually agreed to buy the 150-acre site for $34.1 million.

"There's some spillover from Manassas," said the park service's Koning. "The Civil War communities are more active since that. Manassas energized a group of people, and they are more active than they'd been in the past."

To some extent, however, while development around Antietam may still be years away, there is nevertheless a new interest in real estate speculation, with local residents recounting the prices paid for land and who paid it when.

The 20-acre shopping center site, for example, which sold in 1986 for $30,000, traded hands in 1987 for $300,000, Clemens said.

Even the preservationists have benefited from the price appreciation, which has stirred suspicions in some quarters. Clemens's group, for example, bought a dilapidated 18th-century house at auction in May 1989 for $26,200, and has it on the market now for $39,000.

Even more controversial, however, were the profits made in 1988 by a worker associated with the Arlington-based Conservation Fund, who bought farmland near the battlefield, subdivided it and eventually sold much of it to the Conservation Fund.

Even after 128 years, the battlefield still has the power to stir intense emotions. To some residents, in fact, it is as though the battle at Antietam never really ended.

"The battle at Antietam lasted just one day but for the people around here it goes from generation to generation," Jo Ann Frobouck said.