Journal of the House of Delegates of West Virginia, Regular Session, 1929.
Speech by John D. Sutton to the House of Delegates
Concerning Droop Mountain Battlefield
Speech by John D. Sutton to the House of Delegates
Unanimous consent being given, Mr. Sutton spoke as follows:
MR. SUTTON: I am very glad to be with. you this afternoon and, have the opportunity to speak to you. In the legislature of one thousand nine hundred and twenty-three, there were a good many parties in that House whose faces are familiar. I see them scattered all over the hall. It was a noble body of men. I shall never forget them while memory lasts. No less noble and grand were the members of the legislature of one thousand nine hundred and twenty-seven. They treated me with such kindness that whatever partisan feeling I may have had. I was disarmed by their kindness. I think that every bill I offered in that legislature, every motion, every bill and measure I offered, I had the unanimous vote of the entire body, not only of this House, but of the Senate also. I want to speak to you briefly about West Virginia, some of the early days of West Virginia, and shall only detain you a few minutes.
We wish here to speak of the new state of West Virginia, of her birth and her wonderful resources. It was only in the recent years before the Civil War that Virginia realized the value and importance of her western front. Oil and gas had just been discovered, but her great coal beds were unknown. Her forests, comprised of millions of majestic trees, were unsurpassed and incomparable with any other forest in America. Taking the native products of West Virginia at her entrance into the sisterhood of states, she was richer in natural products than the diamond fields of Africa or the gold deposits of Alaska.
West Virginia gained her statehood in the darkest hours of the Civil War. You will excuse me for a personal reference: When a boy in my teens, I went to Holly River within two miles of a Confederate camp to act as clerk of an election. We were trying to elect delegates to a convention to form the new State. There was but one vote cast and that was by the commissioner. Our presence was not discovered, and I reported the result of the vote. The state of West Virginia was not brought about in the most regular way. It was the only way we knew, but it worked.
You will excuse me for another personal reference. You know that the egotism of an old person is as boundless as the enthusiasm of a boy. Later we were trying to elect a Representative to the Legislature; the first to be assembled in Wheeling in 1863. We held an election in Sutton. There were six or eight persons voted. I acted as Clerk and wrote out a certificate of election, and on those credentials Braxton County was represented in the first Legislature that sat in West Virginia. As a boy I had sat around the counsel table of the old leading Whigs of the county. I had listened to their complaints; how the western countries had been wronged by the eastern part of the state in representations, in appropriations, in public improvements in the state's indebtedness. These things wonderfully impressed me, and in thinking over the past I believe I would have given a certificate as Clerk if a single vote had not been cast. You can't tell what a boy will do when he starts out to form an empire, as rich as the land of figs and pomegranates, fruits and flowers, a land as prolific as that from which the spies returned bringing clusters of grapes and whose barley fields produced to the nobility and integrity of the Fathers of that day. Men in whose breasts dwelt the noblest thoughts and aspirations, and the mothers whose virtue and motherhood was the crowning shield of their glory and whose noble offspring gave lift to the nation and a pillow to the church.
If the counties west of the Alleghanies had remained neutral or had remained loyal to the mother state, the gate-way would have been opened to a battle front bordering the states north of the Ohio River, and not on the spurs of the Alleghanies, and the disaster might have been irretrievable. At the time the new State was coming into form the Government had lost two battles, namely Bull Run and Manassa. Gen. Lee was confronting the National Capital with a great army. Beauregard was marching up the Mississippi and the Red Rivers, seeking the grain fields of the west. Mason and Slidel, agents of the Confederate government, were captured on an English blockade runner and the Government of England demanded their release. This demand was opposed by the war party of the North and many of the officials of the government.
In this trying hour, when the two governments breathed in suspense, and when the earth trembled beneath the tread of the great armies, England began to assemble her navy; she began to coal her bunkers, she began to clear her decks, for at best she was not a friend of ours. It was at this tragic hour that Mr. Lincoln said we cannot fight England and the South, and in his characteristic way said England can feed the prisoners as cheap as we can and ordered their release. These were some of the conditions prevailing in the Nation when the great battle of Droop Mountain was fought. Not as great as some battles in the numbers of men engaged, but great in their heroism and in their patriotism, and for the reason that they were Virginians in whose veins flowed the royal blood of the Fathers.
Virginia and the South were just as determined that Virginia should not be divided, as the western counties were that there should be a division of the State, born and baptised in blood, should live, and the moral influence and the 36,000 that West Virginia threw into the breach, had a very decided influence in the turning point of the war. Hence the great struggle at Droop Mountain for the possession of the western front of Virginia's soil.
The very great interest that Governor Gore has shown in the interest of the Droop Mountain battle field made it possible for the State to acquire a portion of the land upon which the battle was fought, but to have also a very careful survey made of the battle field and together with the reports of the officers of both armies that participated in the battle, and by securing descriptive letters of private soldiers and the presence of soldiers who personally aided your Commission in accurately designating the exact ground occupied by each unit, their numbers and officers engaged.
The Commission was therefore enabled to plant 29 wooden markers, with proper inscriptions that will be replaced by marble slabs, handing down to coming generations a true and unbiased history of that trying event. As a sight for a State and National Park, we believe it is unsurpassed by any spot of land in America. From its summits and view points three thousand feet above sea one can behold the rich valley of the Little Levels with her broad fields and ancestrial [sic] homes, the flint; beds and granite deposits, the once metropolis and battle field of the Wild tribes of America. For enchantment we only have to look away to the distant hills, where peak after peak comes in view capped with everlasting rocks and evergreens of the forests. The view is only dimmed as we look beyond to succeeding mountains and as we trace the historic Greenbrier as it cuts through the foot hills of the mountains, its crystal waters dashing in spray from the clouds to the sea.
T. D. Gray of Morgantown, extension landscape architect says in a report to the Governor, the land for park purposes commands a number of excellent views of the Hillsboro Valley, which through the development of drives and walkways would make points of unusual interest to visitors, not only from West Virginia but from other states. The Park includes a cranberry bog of from ten to fifteen acres. It is of interest to know that this bog has a stream flowing from each end. That portion might well be flooded, making an interesting Lake of from 10 to 12 acres, and providing a very fine feature in the Park.
Accounts of historical societies from neighboring states recall the fact that several million dollars are expended annually along the highway by tourists. What would be more attractive than the pure air of the mountains to one weltering in the heated climate of the South, or equally to one from the North, who might stand upon the top of some lofty peak and see the crystal waters that flow out and from the fountain head of all the rivers of the State and behold a glorious sunset in some distant clime. West Virginians are just beginning to realize the wonders of their native state. Let us put our house in order that strangers coming within our gates may see the glory of our land, and behold the battle field where patriots fought and heroes died. We come to ask that their memories be cherished, that their heroism be honored and remembered by generations yet unborn.
We come my friends, not asking alms, far-be-it, but we come in the name of the eight thousand brave patriots, Virginians and others who fought as valiant soldiers. We come in the name of those who paid the last great tribute and fell in the lonely woods. We see them today as we beheld them on that bleak November night, cold and pulseless, with no covering but the eternal blue sky, then to be wrapped up in blood-stained garments in which they fell and without the drum beat or a funeral escort put in a little shallow grave to sleep in an unknown grave until the trumpet of the Lord shall sound.
We ask that we may be enabled to transform these lonely resting places from a place covered by brush and brambles to one of sod and flowers, that generations coming on may pause to honor the dead. When we consider that State road No. 24, passing through West Virginia for a distance of 200 miles and passing over the summit of Droop Mountain, directly through the battle ground, make it imperative that our state should improve her. greatest battle field and science view. The Commission has received letters from old soldiers, Union and Confederate, who participated in the battle, praying that the bistory of Droop Mountain may be preserved and beautified as a shrine around which their descendants might visit and call vividly to mind the battle field of their fathers.
When I call to mind that at the dedication on the 4th of July last of the battle ground where 12,000 cars by actual count on the ground, and ten thousand people visited the park that day, it becomes apparent that the park will be an asset and not a liability to the State.
Ah! my friends, when we recall the days of the sixties the questions were momentous. We live them over only in memory, but out of the battle clouds come the hand that directs, the hand that is invisible, immortal. And, whatever might be the pleasure of your body, amounts you may set aside for the completion and beautifying the battle field will be an honor to the State and to the memory of those who made it possible for the birth of our glorious West Virginia and to those who sleep in the tented city of the dead.
I am optimistic in the belief that after the clouds and unusual conditions shall have passed that we may correct many of the evils that have confronted us as a state and nation; that we shall be able to conserve the remaining great wealth that nature so bountifully stored in our mountain state. Shall we not in the near future see many reforms and policies adopted that would be beneficial to our state and nation? May we not behold a land limitless in wealth, radiant in knowledge, mighty in power, guaranteed through the liberty of her people when contentment and happiness shall reign supreme.
Let us erect a monument to the honor of West Virginia and the silent dead that will stand until God shall melt down the foundation upon which the mountains stand.
Could you but visualize a setting sun sinking as a mighty fiery ball behind some distant clime and see the twilight of the evening veiling the sky, and behold a new made grave on every hill and in every valley, when every hearthstone in the nation was bathe din tears, when the maidens and the mothers were dressed in the hibili of mourning. In this tragis [sic] hour West Virginia was born.
Parks and Recreation