Prelude to the Battle of Droop Mountain
As the possibility of civil war in the United States evolved during the early months of 1861, Virginia was a divided state. Led by residents of the eastern part of the state, Virginians voted to secede from the Union rather than to comply with President Lincoln’s call for each state to provide volunteer soldiers to put down the insurrection that began at Fort Sumter in April. Having little in common with their neighbors to the east, residents of the mountainous area of western Virginia started their own movement to secede from Virginia and to remain in the Union.
During the summer of 1861, Union and Confederate forces struggled for control of western Virginia. The area was highly important because gaps in the Appalachian Mountains connected the East to the Midwest. The Virginia Militia acted quickly, disrupting traffic on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and taking control of turnpikes through the mountains.
The U. S. War Department countered by sending 20,000 troops into the area under the command of Major General George McClellan. McClellan’s forces pressed the Confederate troops in the area throughout the summer and fall, gradually driving the Confederates out of the region, paving the way for the creation of the State of West Virginia in October 1861, although the federal government did not formally recognize the new state until June 1863.
Kelley’s Plan to Rid West Virginia of Confederate Forces
Even after West Virginia entered the Union, the Confederacy maintained strongholds in the Greenbrier River Valley in the western section of the state near the Virginia border. In October 1863, Major General B. F. Kelley, the Union commander of the Department of West Virginia, decided to rid the newly created state of Confederate forces once and for all. Kelley ordered Brigadier General William. W. Averell and Brigadier General Alfred Duffié to lead separate details from Beverly and Charleston to converge near Lewisburg. Their mission was to disrupt traffic on the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad and to trap the remaining Confederate soldiers in the area between the two Union forces.
Forces Clash at Droop Mountain
On November 5, Averell encountered Confederates commanded by Colonel H. R. Jackson at Mill Point in Pocahontas County and drove them back to the summit of Droop Mountain, between Mill Point and Lewisburg. Upon arriving at Droop Mountain, Jackson ordered his 750 troops to entrench and construct temporary fortifications to hold off Averell’s 5,000 soldiers. As his troops dug in, Jackson requested reinforcements from Brigadier General John Echols at Lewisburg, roughly thirty miles to the south. Echols arrived at Droop Mountain at about 9 a.m. on November 6 with fewer than 1,000 men. The additional troops brought the combined Confederate strength at Droop Mountain to about 1,700 soldiers. Being the senior officer, Echols took command of the defenses.
Federals Rout Confederates
As Echols’s reinforcements arrived on the scene, Averell deployed his troops for an assault. After probing the Confederate center, Averell sent a detachment to the west to outflank the Confederates on their left. He then demonstrated against the Confederate right and center as his flanking detachment moved into position. After six hours of artillery fire and close-quarter combat, Averell’s detachment turned the Confederate left and routed the Confederate defenders. The Yankees chased the retreating Confederates as far south as Lewisburg. The next day, Averell and Duffié merged forces at Lewisburg but did not continue the pursuit.
Outcome of the Battle of Droop Mountain
The Battle of Droop Mountain was a Union victory that accomplished little. Averell lost 140 men driving the Confederates off of the peak, but the Federals did not damage the railway, nor did they drive the Confederates out of the Greenbrier Valley. The Confederates suffered 275 casualties, but within ten days they reoccupied their previous positions.