Battle of Droop Mountain

Wheeling Daily Intelligencer
November 25, 1863

Particulars of General Averill's Late Campaign

Camp of Gen. Averill's Brigade,
Near New Creek, West Va.,
November 21, 1863.

Editors Intelligencer:

The newspaper accounts of Gen. Averill's late campaign are so incomple[te] and inaccurate, and thinking that your readers would like to know the particulars of the movements that led to the expulsion of the last vestige of an organized foe from the limits of the new State, I have concluded to pen you a harried sketch.

We left Beverly on Sunday, the 1st inst., and driving steadily before us the guerrilla band that infest the mountains, reached Mill Point, 12 miles beyond Huntersville, on the 5th. We here came upon the camp of Col. Bill Jackson, who with the 19th and 20th Virginia cavalry and a section of artillery, was holding what he termed the "Huntersville line." As our advance approached he withdrew his outposts, concentrated his forces, and put on a cold face for a while, but after a little brisk skirmishing the illustr[i]ous hero of Beverly and Bulltown fell back precipitately to the summit of Droop Mountain - a few well directed shots from a section of Ewing's Battery considerably accelerating his speed. Col. Jackson being reinforced by Gen. Echols with his force from Lewisburg, consisting of four regiments, two battalions and a battery, and Gen. Averill desiring to give the Kanawha forces ample time to reach some point on the enemy's line of retreat, the attack was deferred until the next day. We accordingly bivouac[k]ed for the night on what is known as the "Little Levels," about three miles distant from the enemy's position.

On the morning of the 6th, a little after sunrise, the brigade was moved forward to the little village of Hillsboro, where a few skirmishers were thrown forward and divers[e] manoeuvres executed for the purpose of mystifying the enemy in regard to our numbers and intentions. The enemy in the meantime wasting a great deal [of] ammunition firing at our troops, whenever they uncovered themselves, but doing no damage whatever. Whilst this was going on General Averill, with his staff, rode quietly along the base of the mountain, carefully noting every knoll, and ravine and strip of woods, now and then stopping to survey the enemy's positions from the different stand points, but holding no converse with those around him, save to give the necessary orders, which was done in that cool, deliberate manner peculiar to him, and so well calculated to inspire confidence. Then slowly, as if to map the whole topography upon his mind, taking a final comprehensive view of the enemy's position and the different approaches to it, the general galloped away to make his dispositions for the attack, which was done with wonderful promptness, there being no hesitation and no consultation with subordinates.

The infantry, under that true and trusty soldier, Col. Moore, who has served in the Florida war and in Mexico, was sent round by a circuitous route to turn the enemy's left, and strike him in flank and rear. The cavalry and mounted infantry regiments were dismounted and moved forward, under cover, by routes previously selected, to within striking distance of the enemy's front, though concealed from his view and protected from his artillery. Keeper's Battery was placed in position and directed to open fire, and a line of skirmishers advanced, to keep the enemy's attention drawn to the front and enable our flanking parties to get into the positions assigned them.

And thus situated we rested upon our oars and listened for Moor's guns to open upon the enemy's flank and rear. About two o'clock a few scattering reports like the first leaden drops that herald the April shower, announced that the infantry was driving the rebel pickets - a little later and there was a crash - a volley - and then the rattling fire "by file" and "at will," told that the time had come for us to act. In an instant the dismounted regiments, in obedience to orders previously received, emerged in splendid style from their hiding places, and advanced steadily to attack the enemy in front. Ewing's Battery now added its thunder to that of Keeper's, for, although the guns had to be fired at too great an angle of elevation to do much execution, yet the moral effect was just the same.

Our troops had advanced but a few paces, when the enemy opened a terrific fire, of musketry, fringing the whole crest with a lurid glare of mingled flames and smoke. However our line wavered not for an instant, but steadily advanced up the steep mountain side, and gave volley for volley. The fighting now became terrific; the musket firing being as rapid and incessant as I have ever witnessed.

Gradually our lines approached the summit of the mountain, driving the enemy from the rude breastworks of logs and stones which he had constructed during the night, until at last, after two hours of desperate fighting lulled not for an instant, the glorious 2nd and 3d Virginia, with yells that rose high above the crash of battle, charged and carried the crest, and the day was ours. The brave Moore, who had struggled heroically with the superior force pitted against him, came up a moment after with his infantry. The 8th Virginia, which had fought its way upon the enemy's right center, the 14th Pennsylvania, which had been detached to make a demonstration against the enemy's extreme right, and both batteries, all came up notably, the enemy retreating precipitately in the direction of Lewisburg.

Gibson's Independent Battalion, which had been held in reserve, and a section of Ewing's battery was hurried forward in pursuit, the whole force following on in supporting distance. Many of the infantry and dismounted men kept up with the advance, following the enemy with a tireless blood hound pertinacity that would have done honor to the wolves that pursued Mazeppa through the wilderness. The pursuit was kept up for about twelve miles, the roads being strewn with rebel dead and wounded. Oh! it was fearful to follow along that bloody trail, and see the ghastly upturned faces staring so reproachfully through the gathering shades of the cheerless November night. But then it was a "glorious victory." We captured three pieces of artillery, a large number of small arms, several wagons, some ammunition and about two hundred prisoners, including the wounded - the enemy's loss in killed and wounded more than doubling ours.

Taking into consideration the advantage the enemy had in numbers and position, our success was wonderfully complete. The generalship displayed by the commanding officer was all that could be desired; and the troops fought with a reckless bravery and an unflinching determination that could not have been surpassed. But the true secret of the success is that General Averill had spent two months of unremitting toil in drilling and disciplining his command. He had, after much delay and difficulty, succeeded in procuring new arms, new equipments and good ammunition in lieu of the old, and consequently the brigade left Beverly full of confidence in themselves and their commander. There was no straggling on the march or in the action, and such men under such a commander cannot fail to succeed...

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