Battle of Droop Mountain

West Virginia Review
October 1928

The Battle of Droop Mountain

By Roy Bird Cook

Near the Virginia border, on. the West Virginia side, runs the beautiful Greenbrier River. For over a hundred miles it hugs the base of the main Alleghany Mountain, on its way to join the New River. In one of the "sinks" in. the lower valley is located the historic town of Lewisburg, county seat of Greenbrier County, an. important point on the nationally known Midland Trail that reaches out from old Virginia on. the east to Ohio and Kentucky on. the west. This also marks the junction point of another well known highway, the Seneca Trail, a highway running north and south. Leaving Lewisburg at an altitude of 2,300 feet, it runs northward, gradually rising to the top of a mountain twenty-four miles away, at 3,100 feet, and then glides down and across the Little Levels into Marlinton, the county seat of Pocahontas County, fourteen miles the other side. This mountain is now and has for many years been known as Droop Mountain. Its history is enshrouded in many interesting phases from the time that an ancient lake bathed its brow down to the stirring days of the "Civil War" as West Virginians call that fratricidal strife.

The battle of Droop Mountain was fought on November 6,1863, by Federal forces led by General William W. Averell and Confederate forces under General John Echols and Colonel (later General) William L. Jackson. It marked the waning of the Confederacy in West Virginia regions. Then, after the close of the war, the scene of conflict was occupied in peace by men who wore the Blue and the Gray. In January, 1927, the Legislature of West Virginia was in session. Among the members were some who saw service in the affairs of sixty-four years before. One member, John D. Sutton, had participated in the battle of Droop Mountain. A resolution was adopted (No. 8 - January 25) reciting the fact that "West Virginia soldiers, both Union and Confederate" had taken part in this battle, and directed that a commission be appointed to mark battle lines, preserve records, and acquire land on the battlefield to be set aside as a State Park, as a memorial to the brave men who participated therein.

The result of the labor of the Commission appointed under this authority was that on July 4, 1928, Honorable Howard M. Gore, Governor of West Virginia, formally accepted 141 acres as a part of the State Park system. A notable gathering was present and among the assemblage mingled Federal and Confederate.

The mention of "both Union and Confederate" in the enabling act of the West Virginia Legislature is something that the "deep South" cannot clearly understand. In the Virginias it is common property and has been discussed for years. It is not possible in the narrow confines of an article of this nature to dwell on all the reasons which culminated in the formation of a new state, and led to such a situation as existed at Droop Mountain, McDowell, Second Manassas and many other fields where the brave met the brave.

The division of Virginia in 1863, and the erection of West Virginia, has no parallel in history. The roots of this episode ran back into long years before the "War." The question of slavery was of minor importance. Indeed in all, forty-seven counties out of present West Virginia only had an average of two slaves to the square mile. But differences over commerce and education, the origin and habits of citizens, and Virginia's policy of internal improvements had caused to arise years before various schemes for division. At each constitutional convention able men from west of the mountains plead for a "fair deal." One governor alone had come from their number.

Nothing that could be written, however, no matter how fair the historian, would exactly suit the proponents of either side. One distinguished historian recounted that Virginia felt a right to secession but objected to secession from secession. Be that as it may, when time tore states asunder, about thirty thousand men from the hills of West Virginia took up arms for the Union, and approximately seventy-five hundred, equally as brave, shouldered their muskets and marched to the South. It is our own chapter of national history. The uncles and brothers from the same families who took opposite sides were our people and we may well be permitted to be a bit proud of both.

Even Margaret Junkin Preston, sister -in-law of "Stonewall" Jackson, a boy from the West Virginia hills, recounted that the most gentlemanly Yankees she met were from West Virginia. A statement we hold to be true, even though few actual "Yankees" carried arms from this "side of the mountains." The result was that out of this background strange things came to pass; men from "Old Virginia" met in conventions and founded a new state in 1863. Wise, Floyd, Jenkins, Imboden, Jones and Witcher, led military expeditions into West Virginia, with many minor excursions, cutting through Federal lines, and yet in the fall of 1863 only occupied the Greenbrier Valley while their Federal neighbors watched over the headwater region with envious eyes.

In October, 1863, General B. F. Kelley, commanding the department of West Virginia, looked over his maps and decided that seventy miles of straggling Confederates along the Greenbrier did not look well. He issued orders to Averell at Beverly and General Scammon at Charleston to start out two expeditions, effect a junction at Lewisburg, and drive the Confederates out, or better still, capture them.

Scammon sent an expedition under General A N. Duffie to march 110 miles to Lewisburg. At the same time (November 1st) Averell moved out of Beverly with his command, consisting of the 28th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Colonel A. Moor; 10th West Virginia Infantry, Colonel T. M. Harris; 2nd West Virginia Mounted Infantry, Lieutenant Colonel A. Scott; 3rd West Virginia Mounted Infantry, Lieutenant Colonel F. W. Thompson; 8th West Virginia Mounted Infantry, Colonel J. H. Oley; 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Colonel J. N. Schoonmaker; Gibson's Battalion and Batteries B. & G., First West Virginia Light Artillery, Captain J. V. Keeper and C. T. Ewing.

Jackson's command at this time was scattered along the Greenbrier, a company at Glade Hill in upper Pocahontas County; 20th Virginia Cavalry, Colonel W. W. Arnett, at the site of Marlinton; and Jackson with the main part of the 19th Virginia Cavalry and Lurty's Battery was at Mill Point. Colonel W. P. Thompson with a detachment of the 19th was absent on the road leading over Cold Knob into the Gauley River regions. General John Echols with the main body of troops was at Lewisburg.

By Thursday, the 5th, Jackson had concentrated his forces at Mill Point, and had sent word to Echols who prepared to move to his relief from Lewisburg. Jackson made a stand at Mill Point, forming along Stamping Creek for a mile or more with Lurty's Battery on the hill south of Mill Point. Here a skirmish of some note took place, and Jackson soon fell back to the summit of Droop Mountain, followed by Colonel Thompson and his detachment, aided by Lurty's Battery. That night with about 750 men the Confederates looked down on the camp fire of the Federals in the "levels" below.

On Friday, the 6th, about 9 A. M., the command under Echols arrived on the mountain, having made twenty-eight miles from Lewisburg in twenty-four hours. Echols, as senior officer, assumed general command, and placed the First Brigade under command of Colonel G. S Patton, including the 22nd Virginia Major R. A. Bailey; 23rd Virginia Battalion, Major Wm. Blessing; 20th Virginia Cavalry, Colonel W. W. Arnett; 16th Virginia (Jenkin's) Cavalry, Colonel Milton J. Ferguson; and the batteries of Chapman and Jackson; Derrick's Battalion; Edgar's Battalion; and the 14th Virginia Cavalry, Colonel J. M. Cochrane.

Averell at once threw out a skirmish line and cleared the way to the foot of the mountain on the Federal side. Shortly after nine, the 10th West Virginia Infantry (largely composed of men who were neighbors of the men in the 19th Virginia Cavalry); one company of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry; and two pieces of Ewing's Battery and 28th Ohio Infantry, under Colonel A. Moor, were sent around on a back road about six miles. Here they formed and advanced up the mountain side to attack the Confederate left. This detachment embraced 1,175 men, and was opposed by the 22nd Virginia, 23rd Virginia Battalion, Derrick's Battalion, Kessler's Battalion, and 125 dismounted cavalry under Captain J. W. Marshall.

The mountain is divided into an almost straight line by a ridge, and into the dense brush and forest first went Marshall's men in a vain attempt to stem the oncoming Federals. Then came Colonel Thompson and more of the same regiment. The 23rd Battalion entered the woods to support Thompson's left. The Fourteenth Virginia Cavalry soon followed, supported in turn by a detachment of the 22nd Virginia Infantry, under the gallant Captain John K. Thompson, who actually held the line for a short time. But the woods were so thick that no troop movements could be guided, and the Federals drove the Confederate forces back into a cleared section, where in a space of one acre thirteen were killed and forty-seven wounded.

About 1:45 Averell decided from the disturbance at the Confederate front, that Moor had flanked the left. The Second, Third, and Eighth West Virginia, dismounted, were moved in line obliquely to the right, up the face of the mountains, until their right joined Moor's left. The fire of Ewing's Battery was added to that of Keeper's, and the 19th Virginia Cavalry and the 22nd and 23rd Virginia Battalions were driven back on the remaining Confederate forces. Arnett and Cochrane at the center gallantly defended their positions but when it was seen that the left had been turned the whole force fell back under a severe shelling and enfilading fire.

In the meantime a courier had arrived reporting that Duffie with two regiments and a battery had arrived at Big Sewell en route from Charleston to Lewisburg. Echols and Jackson then ordered a retreat in an effort to get to Lewisburg and gain the James River and Kanawha Pike first. By 4:00 o'clock the road from Droop Mountain to Lewisburg was choked with inarching men, cavalry, artillery, and wagon trains.

While twelve Confederate units, regiments and battalions were opposed to nine Federal units, regiments, and battalions, the number of men engaged was almost even. The Federal loss was 119 and the Confederates lost 275 killed, wounded and missing. Among the Confederate dead was Major R. A. Bailey, a brave officer of the 22nd Infantry.

Averell was slow to follow up his gain and the Confederate troops escaped by a narrow margin. Echols and Jackson passed through Lewisburg seven hours before the Federal re-enforcements from Charleston arrived. On the 7th the two Federal wings were united at that place, but the Confederates had long before passed over the divide and down into "old" Virginia.

And so, gentle reader, comes to a close an epitome of the battle of Droop Mountain, "a battle in the clouds." Space does not permit a discussion of the human interest stories emerging from this conflict, or the careers of the many able men who participated. Of how the young wife of a Confederate officer spent the night searching among the wounded in the Federal hospitals for her husband who lived to fight many more battles in war and politics. Or the story of Frank Dye, of Wood County, West Virginia, who marched up the mountain on the right with the Federals, while his brother, Harrison Dye, with the gallant 22nd Virginia repulsed Federal onslaughts on the Confederate left.

Two years later found the survivors, mostly West Virginians, back at the old home. By 1872 all citizenship restrictions had been removed, and the former wearers of the Gray mingled with the men in Blue in occupying important places in the councils of the State. And in the writer's generation the men of that time, with hair turning silvery gray, gathered in groups and passed much good-natured "chaff." They recalled "swapping the Wheeling sheet (Intelligencer) for tobacco," and when. "John carried a letter for me back to my folks in Jackson County," while another put in, "Averell, yes, I saw him. Why, when he led his men through Romney my aunt went to him and he put guards around the house to keep stragglers from bothering my folks - and us in the Southern army." Such was the spirit of the men of the two Virginias, and it was in a large measure the spirit of American soldiers.

So, visit Droop Mountain Park. One may yet see traces of crude embankments, the house used as a hospital in which Major Bailey died, and the spot where he bravely attempted to rally his Virginians. A wonderful view down Locust Creek is to be seen and far below to the northeast spreads the Little Levels of Pocahontas County with the village of Hillsboro in the distance. Here may be seen the old Beard home used as a hospital by the Federals and near it Averell's headquarters. In the summer and early fall the mountain is often bathed in one of the famous "cloud seas" of the Alleghenies, and those who love the mountains, a sight of flowing rivers, and a bit of the plains, may travel far and wide and not find a more lovely spot.

Civil War

West Virginia Archives and History