Averell Attacks

As dawn broke on the morning of November 6, Averell was busily arranging his units for battle. Averell first sent out three infantry companies to probe the Confederate position. The skirmishing attack proved the position to be too strong to make a frontal attack practical, whereupon Averell decided to send a detachment far to the west to outflank the Confederates and to fall upon their left. While this flanking movement was in progress, Averell sent other units and artillery to move against the right and center to divert the attention of the Confederates.

Averell assigned the flanking movement to a veteran of campaigns in West Virginia who had proved his abilities in many similar operations, Colonel Augustus Moor, commander of the Twenty-Eighth Ohio Infantry. Moor was supported by the Tenth West Virginia and Captain Julius Jaehae's company of the Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. Leaving camp about nine that morning, Moor led his company some four miles in a northwesterly direction with the aid of a local guide. He then turned due south for about an hour, having marched some nine miles in a semicircle to a point near the Confederate left without having been detected. Shortly after noon his advance contacted Confederate skirmishers. Guided by the sounds of gunfire at the Confederate camp, Moor continued to advance upon the left flank.

Meanwhile, Averell directed units to move against the Confederate right and center. Colonel Schoonmaker led the Fourteenth and Keeper's battery against the Confederate right. Driving the Confederate skirmishers before him, Schoonmaker placed his artillery in position about two-thirds of a mile from the lines. The battle was joined about eleven o'clock that morning when the Confederate artillery opened up on Schoonmaker's battery, which directed its fire toward the Confederate center.

Schoonmaker's artillery fire fell among the horses and Confederate batteries. Jackson, Lurty, and one piece of Chapman's battery returned the fire in this duel which lasted about a half hour. Directed some 500 feet below them, the Confederate fire was accurate and forced the Federal artillery to withdraw. The Confederate artillery continued to shell the Federal infantry and cavalry whenever a target was exposed. Fearing that the Confederates, if not pressed continuously, would detect Moor's flanking movement, Schoonmaker moved his artillery from the right toward the center of the line. He managed to fire several telling rounds before he was again forced to change position by the heavy Confederate artillery fire. About one o'clock the three pieces of Federal artillery firing upon the Confederate center were again forced to withdraw by Jackson's battery and Chapman's rifled piece. In the meantime two artillery pieces were advanced up the road and opened up on the Twenty-Second Virginia to the left of Chapman, only to be silenced and driven away by Chapman's and Lurty's batteries.

About 1:45 General Averell decided, by the sounds of heavy fighting on the left flank, that Colonel Moor had engaged the Confederates and that the time for the frontal assault was at hand. Averell then ordered the attack to commence upon the center. Leaving one company of the second to guard the horses of the mounted infantry, the Second, Third, and Eighth West Virginia regiments attacked. After an hour of hard fighting, exposed at times to the Confederate artillery, the three regiments moved up the mountain and gained a position within fifty yards of the line in front of the Confederate center and batteries. The Confederates repulsed the first charge and the Federals fell back to regroup for a renewed assault. In the meantime the Confederate commander had weakened the center to reinforce the left flank which was wavering and threatened to collapse.

On the left flank the Confederates were sheltered by timber while the Federals advanced in line of battle through heavy undergrowth. Colonel Thompson was vainly struggling to resist the overwhelming numbers of Federals under Colonel Moor with the Twenty-Eighth and the Tenth West Virginia. To prevent being outflanked, which was constantly attempted, Thompson had extended his line much farther than his strength would warrant.

Colonel Moor's advance skirmishers had been joined by three companies of the Twenty-Eighth when they arrived in front of Thompson's position and were confronted by a hedge constructed of logs and brush. The Twenty-Eighth moved forward in line of battle as Colonel Harris brought up the Tenth West Virginia just in time. Trees and undergrowth limited their view to about twenty-five or thirty yards and the Confederates allowed them to approach within that distance before opening fire. Rising with a "Rebel" yell, the Confederates greeted the Twenty-Eighth with a deadly fire and charged the wavering line. This was the critical moment for the Federals and Colonel Moor saved the day by ordering his regiment to hit the ground and fire by file. The sudden disappearance of the regiment and the increased fire through the underbrush checked the Confederate charge. Having some difficulty in bringing up his regiment through the cavalry horses and confusion, Colonel Harris arrived just in time to hold the line. The Tenth took a position on the right of the Twenty-Eighth as the assault was renewed.

Erroneously informed that the Federals were trying to gain the rear by a more circuitous route than actually taken by Moor, Colonel Thompson had moved far to the extreme left. When the firing began, Thompson realized his error and returned quickly to reinforce Captain Marshall. It was at this point that the Confederates charged and drove the Federal skirmishers back to their main body. Thompson then sent a request for reinforcements to Colonel Jackson at the center. The Union troops pushed the Confederates back and forced their line to give way gradually. Quite a number of the Confederates were unnerved by the overwhelming odds, and knowing the importance of holding this flank, Thompson repeatedly tried to rally his troops.

The Confederates stubbornly defended the left flank against the heavy force of Federals and made several desperate attempts to break the strength of the drive, fully aware that the loss of this flank meant the loss of the battle. As often as they took a stand, the Confederates were driven back until Thompson was reinforced by companies A, E, and I of the Twenty-Second Virginia and an additional company of dismounted Fourteenth Cavalry. Realizing their advantage in numbers, the Federals pressed vigorously against the wavering line. Thompson deployed the two companies of the Fourteenth to the left of his line where the Federals were making their strongest assault.

Although General Echols was aware that the center and right were heavily engaged, he knew that he must reinforce the left flank to prevent being encircled. He ordered Major Blessing to move his Twenty-Third Battalion from the center to the left flank. With six companies, numbering about 300 men, Blessing deployed his troops to the right of Captain Marshall and led his battalion in a charge, driving the Federals back before he was checked by a heavy volley of musketry. The Confederates were then forced back to fence running parallel to the lines which they held for a short while.

Within 300 yards of the turnpike, Thompson was facing the Union lines some 20 yards away. He failed to rally the Twenty-Third Battalion and detachments of the Fourteenth which were giving way in some confusion. Echols observed the renewed assault on his center and right as the left was falling back; at this time the fighting was heavy along the entire line. As a last measure Echols sent Colonel Patton with the remainder of the Twentieth to support Thompson, but Patton soon informed Echols that the Confederates were hopelessly outnumbered and that the left flank was on the verge of collapse.

At the same time the Second, Third, and Eighth West Virginia pressed toward the center to join the left segment of Colonel Moor's detachment of some 1,175 men. At the time the Federals on the right were not pressing, and Echols went to the center to help Jackson rally the men to resist the attacking infantry. At Jackson's suggestion the artillery began to move to the rear. The center held for a half-hour longer when Echols ordered the Confederates to fall back because the left was giving way. Jackson remained at the center until the last two artillery pieces were withdrawn. Major McLaughlin perhaps prevented the capture of Echols' entire command by keeping the artillery in action which checked the federal advance until the troops withdrew.

The left flank finally gave way completely to Moor's charges. Detailing one company of the Twenty-Eighth and one of the Tenth to march in the rear as a small reserve and to guard his flanks, Moor ordered the final Federal charge against the left flank. With cheers completely drowning out the Rebel yells, the Union infantry pressed forward until the left was forced back to the hill where the Confederate artillery was stationed. The artillery had just begun to withdraw, and at this time, the Eighth joined Moor's left. Then a wild scene ensued -- the Union troops maintained a constant fire into the retreating Confederates, killing and wounding artillery horses, while Confederate officers vainly urged their men to make another stand. Confederate infantrymen were dispersed by their own cavalry as the officers drove cannon and caissons through the confused ranks.

Within a few minutes the Confederates had faded from sight into the woods south of the turnpike. When Moor's right wing came up to the pike, no Confederates remained but the dead and wounded. Farther up the pike a part of Moor's detachment fired at two rapidly moving spring wagons and killed both horses. They captured the wagons and found them loaded with wounded Confederates. As Averell arrived the Twenty-Eighth was ordered to pursue the Confederates.

The sudden collapse of the confederates lines, accompanied by heavy Federal artillery shelling and strong infantry charges made an orderly retreat almost impossible. The Twenty-Sixth, guarding the Locust Creek Road, was cut off by Averell's rapid movements, but they later rejoined the main body. Echols withdrawal from the position at Droop Mountain, begun about four o'clock that afternoon, saved his command from Averell's trap.

Averell arrived at the camp just as the Confederates were withdrawing. Assigning details to care for the wounded and dead, Averell brought up the horses of the dismounted cavalry. Gibson's Battalion, Ewing's Battery, the Second, Third, and Eighth West Virginia, with the Fourteenth Pennsylvania pursued the Confederates some seven or eight miles until they were halted by the darkness. Federal cavalry continued to harass the Confederate rearguard, to be checked temporarily on one occasion by a Confederate countercharge.

Soon after his escape from Droop Mountain, Echols learned of a greater and perhaps more dangerous trap confronting him. From Meadow Bluff a messenger informed him of the Federal column under General Duffie, estimated to be over 2,000 strong, which was rapidly advancing toward Lewisburg. The Confederates at Droop Mountain numbered about 2,000 men, while Echols estimated Averell's strength at about 7,000.

Still some 28 miles from Lewisburg, Averell hoped to keep the Confederates from returning there to quickly. If the Confederates moved too slowly, Echols might be trapped by Duffie who was scheduled to arrive in Lewisburg the following day. Descending the mountain the following morning. Averell's hopes were boosted by the sight of several camp fires to the east which indicated that the Confederates were somewhat dispersed. If they took time to regroup before continuing southward, the best-laid plans might be realized.

Battle of Droop Mountains Links

The Best Laid Plans
Mill Point
Droop Mountain
Averell Attacks
Objective Denied