The last sleep
HILLSBORO W.Va. -- Caleb Skaggs had a personal reason for marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Droop Mountain last week.
Skaggs' great-great-great-great grandfather fought in the Civil War battle that took place on Nov. 6, 1863.
"To commemorate what he did, I wanted to take part in this event, for my whole family," said Skaggs, 19, a resident of Rupert.
The Battle of Droop Mountain, fought on a mostly nondescript hillside about 25 miles north of Lewisburg, came out of a federal attempt to cut the Confederate-controlled Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which ran south of Lewisburg and White Sulphur Springs in Virginia.
Prior to the battle, U.S. Brig. Gen. William W. Averell was to be part of a pincer movement designed to trap Confederate forces in the area and capture the railroad. During the first week of November 1863, Averell sent his troops toward Lewisburg, then occupied by Confederate forces under Confederate Brig. Gen. John Echols.
But Echols got word of the plan, and sent troops from Lewisburg to try to stop Averell. After a 27-mile march over what is today U.S. 219, Echols arrived at Droop Mountain, where his soldiers clashed with Averell's forces on Nov. 6, 1863. During a daylong, hard-fought fight that sometimes devolved into hand-to-hand combat, the Confederates were forced to retreat back to Lewisburg.
Averell won the battle, but Echols succeeded in stopping the Union army from capturing the railroad, at least for a while.
But in the ensuing 150 years, little has been done to remember the men who fought and died at Droop Mountain. Michael Smith, director of Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, said at least 78 men -- 45 Union and 33 Confederate -- died during the battle or succumbed to their wounds.
Smith said there may have been more, because records of some units who took part in the fight were poorly kept at the time or have been lost. Hundreds more men were wounded.
The park has hosted a series of events remembering the 150th anniversary of the battle. On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Smith and 14 others, including many Civil War re-enactors, recreated Echols' march from Lewisburg. They left Lewisburg at about 2 p.m. Tuesday and arrived at Droop Mountain around 1 a.m. on Wednesday.
Caleb Skaggs and his brother, Isaac, 17, were among those who made the 11-hour trip.
"History will be lost if we don't take part," Caleb said.
Henry H. Skaggs, who lived near Ansted, fought at Droop Mountain with the 22nd Virginia Infantry, Caleb said. His ancestor took a musket ball in the leg during the battle. Afterward, he was taken to Roanoke, Va., where his leg was amputated. But the younger Skaggs said the wound wasn't enough to keep Henry Skaggs from re-enlisting in the Confederate Army.
John Groves, 16, who lives on Droop Mountain, also recently became involved in Civil War re-enactment. "I think it's good to keep history alive," Groves said. "As the generations grow older, the younger ones should take their place."
Smith said the names of the men who died on Droop Mountain have never been collected in one place. During a solemn ceremony on the Wednesday anniversary of the battle, Smith unveiled a monument bearing the names of those known to have died that afternoon.
Before a group of about three-dozen spectators, each name was read out loud. Re-enactors clad in Union blue and Confederate gray fired a salute to the men with their rifled muskets, and bugler Rob Taggart of Green Bank blew the somber notes of Taps.
Many in the crowd bowed their heads as the last note echoed down the valley, to be replaced by the wind in the trees. Such a wind would have cleared away the smoke and the sounds of battle that swept Droop Mountain on an unseasonably warm day in November 1863.
Reach Rusty Marks at email@example.com or 304-348-1215.
Those killed at Droop Mountain include:
Henry Emmerling, Andrew M. Barnett, Samuel Bowden, Edward Doyle, William L. Hughes, Charles Ritz, Thomas J. Akers, William Garroll, Moses Moore, John Murphy, Marcus D. Kenney, Edward C. Malley, William B. Simms, Jacob G. Coburn, William H. Matlick, Lemue D. Bartlett, Enoch F. Basnet, James A. Simonton, Carey Woods, Richard J. Grinstead, William Lewis, Right Bird Curry, General Jackson Shaw, Samuel Swecker, Benjamin Moore, Charles Bryson, Jacob K. Dodd, John Forrester, Marion Shriver, John D. Baxter, Coleman Channel, Wesley Pulens, David W. Saunders, Henry Schadelman, Charles Dalhammer, Fritzolin Gutzwiller, James Heitz, Jacob Frintz, Frederick Schafer, Henry Bettsheider, David Wickerschimer, Joseph W. Daniels, James Jackson.
John Aquilla Myles, George W. Lewis, James W. Morgan, James H. Morrison, Owen V.B. Davis, James Marison, Ulysses Morgan, Thomas B. McIntire, John B. Price, William G. Straight, John W. Young, James W. Fulwilder, N.B. Holland, David Robinson, Robert Augustus Bailey, William H. Hubbard, William S. McClanahan, William S.S. Morris, John J. Short, Thomas Smith, George Criner, Morris Chapman Chandler, Richard Greenway, Moses Hunter, Shadrach A. Jackson, Turpin Jones, William Rose, Pete E. Stribling, William Perry Allen, Hamilton B. Caldwell, James A. Brammer, W.A. Simpkins, Jordan Pack, Joseph C. Delung, John J. Lampee.