Winding my way along the curvy West Virginia roads was a nice way to start the day. I was in West Virginia for a caving convention but wanted to get out and see some local sights while I was there. That morning I was heading towards an outdoor recreation area called Bear Creek and I just happened to see a sign for Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. I decided to stop and check it out. It’s a lovely little park, well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
The last big Civil War battle in West Virginia took place here on this little round mountain deep in the woods. The date was November 6, 1863. Union General William W. Averell was part of a plan to raid several Confederate railroads to disrupt supplies and travel in the area. Averell was set to raid a part of the Virginia-Tennessee railroad, a critically important railroad system during the war to move Confederate men and supplies between Richmond, VA and Chattanooga, TN.
The day before, Averell fought a short skirmish in Mill Point in Pocahontas County. Averell drove the Confederates out of Mill Point, forcing them to take refuge on Droop Mountain. The retreating troops were reinforced by troops under Confederate Brig. Gen. John Echols. On November 6, Averell attacked. He had a slightly larger force, but the men under Echols were able to hold their position throughout the morning. After noon, Averell changed tactics, using his infantry men to drive out the Confederates. He then sent in his calvary (without their horses) for a frontal attack. The battle was short but very violent. In the end, Union forces won the day. Many of the Confederate soldiers had fled the battle near the end, so Averell spent a lot of time rounding up prisoners and confiscating weapons while Echols had to round up the remainder of his troops. His only option then was to retreat to Virginia.
This battle pretty much caused Confederate support in the state to collapse, and West Virginia was under Union control for the rest of the war. Averell’s raid on the railroad wasn’t successful, though. His troops were so worn out from the battle, they had to wait until December for another try on the railroad, when the Union forces did successfully raid and disrupt the railroad line.
I didn’t know any this when I pulled off of highway 219 and drove through a tunnel of green trees. At the first intersection I turned right to get to the small park. The park office was closed, so I wandered around through the woods. A sign near the office pointed to an old Confederate cemetery, and it’s a quick walk from the parking lot. A simple sign says “Confederate Graves.” Small stone markers are placed haphazardly under the trees, often above sunken impressions in the soil.
A bit of reading tells the story of the rough graves:
Roughly 78 men, 45 from the Union army and about 33 from the Confederate army, were killed in battle. In addition, approximately 214 soldiers were wounded: 93 from the Union side and about 121 from the Confederate side. Men fought hand to hand there, sometimes with neighbors and relatives.
[The men were] buried, one on top of the other, in shallow graves covered by only a thin layer of dirt. Within three weeks of the battle, scavengers such as wild hogs had dug into the graves to consume the bodies. Local citizens reburied many of the Confederates in area cemeteries. In 1867, a group funded by the federal government removed all the Union remains and reburied them, mostly as unknowns, in the national cemetery in Grafton.
The sunken graves in the cemetery at Droop Mountain serve as reminders of the violent deaths of many men. “It’s no wonder that the battlefield has a long history of ghostly sightings, unexplained sounds, and scary stories,” says Smith.
After looking at the sort of spooky graves, I wandered over to a small log cabin nearby. It’s a small museum that has some very nice displays explaining the history of the area, the history of the battle, and artifacts from the day of the battle. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the cabin in the 1930s and it served as a vacation cabin until changing into a museum.
Posters in the first rooms explain the history of Civil War battles in the area and how the Battle of Droop mountain started. Maps show routes soldiers took on that day to end up on this tiny West Virginia mountaintop.
The museum has an impressive number of artifacts, over 500, for such a small museum. Some of the more interesting ones are on displays, including a unique Confederate drum, on of the key ways troops communicated during battles.
After I finished up in the museum, I went back out to the grounds. A nice cannon is stationed not too far from the museum.
You can also visit a small tower, built long after the battle, to see the surrounding area. It’s a gorgeous view!
Overall, this is a nice little museum with some nice areas for a a family picnic or a rest break along the road. If you’re interested in Civil War re-enactments, this battle is re-enacted every two years, and the next one is coming up in October, 2012:
October 13-14, 2012
Reenactment/Living History of the Battle of Droop Mountain
The WV Reenactors Association hosts the battle reenactment over a two-day period.
Open to the public. No charge to attend the events.
Review reenactor packet, event info
Another fun way to relive this area’s rich history is coming up next year:
November 5, 2013
Confederate Soldier’s Night Hike from Lewisburg
Pre-register to march from Lewisburg to Droop Mountain following the same path walked to the battle of November 6, 1863. A 150th anniversary event. Pre-registration will be required. Physical endurance important for this overnight experience.
If you want to visit Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, here are the particulars:
- Droop Mountain Battlefield Web page
- Located in Pocohontas County, WV
- Driving Directions: You can find an interactive map here. The park is located on route 219 north of Lewisburg, WV and Interstate 64.
- Admission: Free!
- Two picnic areas with shelter, plus playgrounds for the kids
- Maps of the park: a PDF file is available
- Hiking trails: There are quite a few trails in the park. I didn’t have time for hiking, but the area is very pretty and I’m sure they’re worth it.
- Camping: nope. There is a campground north in Marlington (I have no idea if it’s nice or not… if you find out, let us know)
- Hotels: There are a variety of hotels to choose from in Lewisburg, about 45 minutes to the south. I didn’t notice any other places to stay along the way. I didn’t venture north of the park but there are a few hotels to choose from in Marlington.
Droop Mountain is part of the Official Civil War Discovery Trail Site:
The Civil War Discovery Trail links more than 300 sites in 16 states to inspire and to teach the story of the Civil War and its haunting impact on America. The Trail, an initiative of the Civil War Trust, allows visitors to explore battlefields, historic homes, railroad stations, cemeteries, parks and other destinations that bring history to life. For more information on the Civil War Discovery Trail and other programs of The Civil War Trust, call 1-800-CWTRUST.
- Wonderful West Virginia, Guardian of History article
- Droop Mountain Battlefield Park web page
- Article in Harper’s Weekly, 1863, that mentions the battle (scroll down)