Droop Mountain hosts reenactment
The sounds of rifles and artillery fire will fill the air the weekend of October 13 and 14 during Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park's biennial Civil War reenactment.
On November 6, 1863, soldiers of the Union and Confederate armies converged upon southern Pocahontas County's Droop Mountain in a battle that would firmly place the newly formed state of West Virginia in the Union column.
Confederate forces controlling the Greenbrier Valley under the command of General John Echols squared off against Federal troops advancing from the north under the command of General William Averell.
Following a skirmish at Mill Point, Confederate forces dug in at the pass over Droop Mountain. Union artillery pounded the Confederate position while another wing circled around the mountain to surprise and overwhelm the Confederate's left flank.
After fierce fighting Echols' forces retreated from the mountain and the Greenbrier Valley.
"Droop Mountain was the last significant battle in West Virginia," explained park superintendent Mike Smith. "The new state had been formed in June of 1863, but large portions of it were still controlled by the Confederate Army and peopled by Confederate-minded citizens."
"The Battle Droop Mountain in November, five months later, pushed organized Confederate armies out of the new state," Smith continued. "They were never able to move back in and hold territory here after that."
"The Confederates pretty much gave up trying to hold any of that country west of the Appalachian Mountains after the battle of Droop," added Smith. "Fighting in the spring of 1864 moved east into the Shenandoah Valley as Philip Sheridan started his big push up the Shenandoah Valley from Winchester. All the Confederates who had been here, west of the mountains, were pulled east into the valley. They never had a chance to move back into West Virginia after that."
October's re-enactment marks the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Droop Mountain.
The West Virginia Re-enactors Association is the host unit for the reenactment, sending out invitations to a number of other reenactment groups, said Smith. The battle typically draws 150 to 200 re-enactors, though as many as 350 have been known to take to the battlefield.
As many as 1,000 spectators come to watch the weekend's battles and living history events, Smith said. They come from as far away as California, Michigan and Texas. The bulk of the battle's spectators come from West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The weekend will feature two battles. The first takes place Saturday at 3 p.m., while the second is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. Saturday's battle will reflect the skirmish at Mill Point that took place prior to the Battle of Droop Mountain. Sunday afternoon's battle will be that of Droop Mountain itself, re-enacted on a portion of the original battlefield.
While these battles are the main event for many spectators, they aren't the only events on the mountain that weekend. Saturday morning, the Confederate and Union camps open to spectators at 9 a.m. Re-enactors engage in an unscripted tactical exercise at 10 a.m. A ladies tea is scheduled for 11 a.m., followed by living history demonstrations from 1 to 2:30. In the evening after the battle, the Droop Mountain Open Air Ball and Young Ladies' Cotillion takes place on the front lawn of the museum from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m.
On Sunday morning, a period church service will be held next to the park's lookout tower at 10 a.m., where worshipers will be treated to a view of the morning sun shining over the Little Levels.
It's a view that Smith has enjoyed frequently in his nearly 28 years at the park.
"I've really enjoyed living here as long as I have," Smith said. "I meet a wide variety of people daily who come here who have ancestors who were in the battle."
"You never know when something is going to turn up—a piece of canon shell or a bullet or something like that," he added. "Every time a tree gets knocked over or the snowplow gouges the bank, we're always looking at any fresh dirt that turns up, because you might find a button or a bullet."
In recent years, books connected to the battle have also turned up.
"A guy called me up one day from Missouri," said Smith. "He said he bought a box of old books. One them said 'Droop Mountain Battlefield.' He looked it up on the Internet and found out it was a real place."
It was a copy of Don Quixote, which was inscribed by a Confederate soldier—John Burgess, of Lewisburg—inside the front cover. Inside the back cover is written "John W. Ralston, Third West Virginia Mounted Infantry. Captured on the Droop Mountain Battlefield November 6, 1863."
A few days later, 145 years after the battle, the book arrived in Smith's mailbox. The volume is now on display in the park's museum.
After an article about the book appeared in the Charleston Gazette, a man in Elkins told Smith he had an old volume of world history with a similar inscription.
"Stuff like that happens every day," said Smith. "You never know what you're going to find."
What visitors to the park on October 13 and 14 will find is history coming alive on the battlefield and a park where this history lives on throughout the year.
More details about the reenactment, and events scheduled for the battle's 150th anniversary in 2013, can be found at www.droopmountainbattlefield.com