HILLSBORO - All men at the battle of Droop Mountain were veterans. On Nov. 6, 1863, Federal and Confederate soldiers engaged in the last significant Civil War battle in what is now West Virginia.
Seven score and 10 years since that battle, to the date, a monument and memorial service occurred at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. Superintendent and historian Mike Smith planned and followed through on remembering West Virginia's sesquicentennial year with four memorial hikes that retraced the footsteps of soldiers and also designed and installed a natural monument to remember the men who died at the battle or died as a result of wounds.
The names of the fallen were read one by one during a memorial ceremony and monument dedication at 2 p.m. on Nov. 6, both Confederate and Federal, with re-enactor honor guards representing both sides flanking the plaque and standing as one West Virginia.
Droop Mountain re-enactors look on at the memorial monument dedication.
Re-enactor Rob Taggert of Green Bank examines the new memorial plaque at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. Taggert was the bugler who played Taps and also played the fife at the ceremony.
Superintendent Mike Smith examines the Battle of Droop Mountain Monument prior to its dedication.
"It probably was the first time ever that the names of men killed in battle were read one by one before a crowd of park visitors," Smith said. "More than 100 individuals were in attendance for the service. This event was the pinnacle of historical presentation and preservation of statehood history conducted during the sesquicentennial year."
The afternoon memorial service included the unveiling of a large sandstone monument with a bronze plaque listing the fallen. A poem, "Droop Mountain" by Louise McNeil Pease, was read by Helena Gondry. Terry Lowry, author of "Last Sleep," made remarks about why Droop Mountain should be remembered. Re-enactors and historians then reverently read the names of the soldiers as the monument were unveiled.
Following the unveiling, Rick Wolfe read a proclamation from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin recognizing Nov. 6 as the 150th anniversary of the Battle at Droop Mountain.
Vegetable soup and cornbread were provided by the Pretty Penny of Hillsboro as attendees mixed and mingled following the playing of taps by Rob Taggart of Green Bank. Taggart also played the fife before and after the ceremony.
"The entire day was a most moving experience for everyone in attendance," Smith said.
Hiking the History
Smith conducted four memorial hikes over the course of 2013. Hike No. 4, the last of the series, left from the Old Stone Church at Lewisburg at 2:20 p.m. for a 27-mile overnight march following the route of Echols' Brigade, Confederate Army of Southwestern Virginia. Fourteen individuals arrived at Droop Mountain at about 1:20 a.m.
"We experienced a gorgeous sunset, beautiful night sky, and almost no traffic after Spring Creek, the halfway point and no traffic incidents," Smith said. "We all talked and told stories for 11 hours, having a wonderful time. Fortunately, we did not have to fight all day, march back to Lewisburg the following night, then march all the next day south into Virginia as they did. Everyone should be very proud of themselves for persevering to the end."
The three prior hikes recognized the 10th West Virginia Infantry & 28th Ohio Infantry (6/22), 2nd & 3rd West Virginia Mounted Infantry (7/22), and the 8th West Virginia Mounted Infantry (8/31) routes.
Kelly Smith, assistant superintendent at Watoga State Park, provided hiker support along the route, setting up rest breaks and tending to the tired. Residents in the area are also commended for their support of the memorial hike series, Smith said.
Individuals who hiked with Smith Nov. 5 into Nov. 6 were: Christopher Quasebarth (Winchester, Va.), Chad Morrison (Sutton), Gayle Hyer (Marlinton), William Jackson (Gassaway), Danny Morrison (Sutton), Geoff Hamill (Marlinton), Caleb Skaggs (Rupert), Roger Forman (Buckeye), Isaac Skaggs (Rupert), Jerry Thompson (Danville), John Dudley (Hopewell, Ohio), William Paine (Dublin, Va.) , Walter Kinsey (Nitro) and Mike Smith (Droop Mountain).
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park is in Pocahontas County. It is one of 49 areas that make up the state park system and one of two Civil War battlefields preserved and maintained as day-use areas. Carnifex Ferry Battlefield in Nicholas County is the other area. State parks are maintained for and open to the public. To learn more about Droop Mountain Battlefield, visit www.droopmountainbattlefield.com.
Mike Smith's bugler contact could not attend at the last minute. The playing of taps was the final call and a proper ending for the service, "so I called a friend, Rob Taggart of Green Bank, whom I hadn't seen in six to eight years, trying to find someone else," said Smith. Taggart told Smith just two nights prior, he had woken up in the night from a dream of playing Taps on the bugle somewhere, and he told his wife. "Two days later I called him out of the blue looking for a bugler."
Taggart answered the call and played Taps to close the memorial service.
About the stone monument
Mike Smith provides this description of the native stone used to create the monument:
"The standing stone is a big slab of fine-grained Hampshire sandstone which fell from a cliff onto the Greenbrier River Trail about a quarter-mile north of Sharp's Tunnel. It is 12 feet long, 2 feet wide, 1 feet thick, and weighs about 7,000 lbs.
"It had blocked the ditch line and needed to be moved, so Brian Puffenbarger and I slid it off the hillside and onto cribbing with two 20-ton bottle jacks, one 15-ton railroad jack, and levers. Once we had it horizontal and alongside the trail, we placed long oak timbers from the cribbing onto an equipment trailer, then, with two 3-ton come-a-longs and four cast iron rollers (5-lb. window weights), pulled it onto the trailer.
"With a 2001 one-ton Dodge dump truck we moved it from the Greenbrier River Trail about 25 miles to Droop Mountain Battlefield. There we moved it, again with come-a-longs and rollers, onto temporary cribbing to await the final raising. After digging a 3-foot deep hole (no easy task on Droop Mountain!) we dropped one end to the ground and steadily raised the other with jacks to about a 45 degree angle. Final lifting to vertical was done with Mark Mengele's 1967 Dodge Power Wagon and heavy duty winch. A 10-foot railroad steel sleeper was placed horizontally in the ground about a foot deep, wedged tight against the stone, it and the stone wrapped with re-bar, and all covered with two cubic yards of concrete.
"The face of the stone, not wide enough for the bronze plaque, required a second stone leaned against it, and all surrounded by a flagstone viewing patio. The flagstones are local sandstone gathered by CCC workers in the 1930s and used for many years as flooring for the south picnic area shelter, but later replaced with a safer concrete floor.
"The original monument design included a very large, flat stone, a piece of Droop, or Pottsville, sandstone of about 7 feet long, 4- feet high and 4 inches think, weighing in at about 1,200-1,500 lbs. It was purchased years ago from a quarry near Alderson.
The flat Droop Sandstone was to sit horizontally against the Hampshire sandstone, but proved to be entirely too big and consequently was laid on the ground as part of the viewing platform in front of the monument. I cut a rectangular stone more appropriately sized for the bronze memorial plaque."