November 6, 1863 – An engagement occurred as part of Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal raid on Confederate supply lines in West Virginia.
On the 1st, Averell led 5,000 Federals (two mounted infantry regiments, four cavalry regiments, and an artillery battery) southward from Beverly toward Lewisburg in the Greenbrier River Valley. His goal was to destroy the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad, which Major General Samuel Jones, commanding the Confederate Department of Southwestern Virginia, used to transport troops and supplies between Virginia and the west. Two days later, Brigadier General Alfred N.A. Duffie led 1,700 Federals out of Charleston, West Virginia, to link with Averell at Lewisburg.
Averell’s Federals advanced on the Staunton Pike to Greenbrier Bridge, and then moved through Camp Bartow and Green Bank. Under continuous harassment from Confederate partisans, the Federals reached Huntersville around noon on the 4th. Averell dispatched two cavalry regiments to destroy a 600-man Confederate force guarding Marling’s Bottom.
Colonel William J. Jackson led the Confederates. He was a cousin of the late Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, but he did not have his troops’ respect and was thus nicknamed “Mudwall.” Jackson’s men fell back to Mill Point, where Jackson requested reinforcements from Brigadier General John Echols, who commanded an infantry brigade at Lewisburg.
Averell tried cutting Jackson off the next day but failed, and the Confederates withdrew to the crest of Droop Mountain. Echols led his 1,700 troops and six cannon out to reinforce Jackson; they arrived on the 6th and Echols assumed overall command. This combined Confederate force ascended the summit of Droop Mountain and formed a line of battle at 9 a.m., with infantry on the right (eastern) flank, artillery in the center, and Jackson’s cavalry on the left. According to Averell’s report:
“On the morning of the 6th, we approached the enemy’s position. The main road to Lewisburg runs over Droop Mountain, the northern slope of which is partially cultivated nearly to the summit, a distance of 2 1/2 miles from the foot. The highway is partially hidden in the views from the summit and base in strips of woodland. It is necessary to pass over low rolling hills and across bewildering ravines to reach the mountain in any direction.”
Averell opted not to attack directly. He instead sent his infantry and a cavalry company around the Confederates’ left to attack their flank and rear. Meanwhile, the artillery would demonstrate against the rest of Echols’s force. A guide failed to lead the flanking troops around Jackson’s horsemen, and they began trading fire around 1:30 p.m.
Averell brought up his dismounted cavalry to link with the infantry’s left. He also brought up the rest of his artillery as Echols moved his Confederates behind breastworks. After holding about an hour, the Confederates, outnumbered two-to-one, broke around 3 p.m. and fled down the south side of the mountain.
Averell directed a pursuit, but it was halted by darkness. The Federals captured a cannon and a battle flag in their victory. Echols raced to get back to Lewisburg before Duffie’s Federals could get there; Echols had to move 28 miles before Duffie moved 10. Echols won the race nonetheless, passing through Lewisburg on the 7th and escaping. Averell arrived at the town at 2 p.m. and learned from Duffie, who had just arrived, that Echols was gone.
The Federals sustained 140 casualties (45 killed, 93 wounded, and two captured), while the Confederates lost 255 (33 killed, 100 wounded, and 122 missing). The Federals destroyed vast amounts of Confederate supplies and, on Sunday the 8th, they advanced toward Dublin based on intelligence that Echols’s men were regrouping there. The pursuers soon found their path blocked by felled trees and other obstructions.
Averell and Duffie, their men exhausted even without having cleared the road, agreed to end their expedition. Although the Federals scored a victory at Droop Mountain, they did not accomplish their main goal of destroying the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad. And as soon as they withdrew from Lewisburg, the Confederates returned.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 339; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 366-67, 369; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 430-31; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 228, 707-08