Last Tuesday afternoon, a group of 13 hikers walked north from Lewisburg, re-tracing the steps of Confederate soldiers who marched 150 years earlier.
On November 5, 1863, Confederate Colonel William Jackson sent an urgent message to Brigadier General John Echols. Jackson had established a defensive position on Droop Mountain and a big Union brigade was on its way to attack. Jackson pleaded with Echols to quickly bring his brigade to Droop Mountain, because a Union assault was imminent.
Echols had anticipated such a development and had already started moving his brigade north on the Seneca Trail. After receiving Jackson’s message, Echols marched his brigade the rest of the way to Droop Mountain and arrived on the morning of November 6, to the great joy and relief of Colonel Jackson and his men.
The Union brigade, commanded by Brigadier General William Averell, did not allow the rebels time to rest and recover. Despite the Confederate force’s high morale, Averell’s brigade won a great victory, routing the rebels and forcing them to flee in disarray.
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park Superintendent Mike Smith organized four hikes this summer and fall to walk in the footsteps of Union and Confederate units engaged in the battle. Tuesday’s hike was the fourth and longest hike in the series, covering the same 28 miles that General Echols’ brigade marched on their way to fight at Droop Mountain.
Smith and two Confederate re-enactors were among the group that marched on Tuesday. The group took a short rest every three to four miles, and a support van was available for weary hikers – but most made the trek without vehicular assistance. The weary hikers arrived at the park at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, having completed their expedition in 12-and-a-half hours.
The following afternoon, Smith hosted a sesquicentennial memorial ceremony at the park. During the event, the superintendent unveiled a stone memorial, bearing the names of the 80 soldiers killed during the battle. A combined Union and Confederate honor guard fired a volley in remembrance of those fallen. Poet Helena Gondry read Louise McNeill Pease’s poem about the battle. Civil War author Terry Lowry talked about the battle. Attendees enjoyed vegetable soup and cornbread.
The new memorial is a 12-foot, elongated slab of sandstone, weighing 7,000 pounds, and pointing to the sky. It was moved to the park from the Greenbrier River Trail, north of Sharp’s Tunnel.
A portion of Pease’s poem reads: “Once on this cool moutain slope, Where grasses green and trees now wave, Brothers were enemies, friends were foes, Who now sleep here in one great, silent grave.”
Geoff Hamill may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org