August 2011 Issue
Footprints in Time
West Virginia commemorates its Civil War heritage.
When it comes to the Civil War, echoes of the past resound in West Virginia.
In fact, the state’s creation was a direct result of the conflict: In 1861, Unionists broke away from mostly pro-Confederate Virginia to form their own government. Two years later, West Virginia was officially recognized as state No. 35.
Since our country is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the War Between the States this year, it’s the perfect time to visit the pivotal sites in West Virginia that helped change the course of history. Here’s a sampling.
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
Droop Mountain, located in the Greenbrier River Valley, has rightfully earned a place in the annals of Civil War history. On November 6, 1863, this oasis of pristine beauty was the site of one of the most important Civil War battles in West Virginia. During the Battle of Droop Mountain, Union forces under Gen. William W. Averell permanently foiled Confederate troops’ efforts to control West Virginia.
Now a state park, the area features eight hiking trails, picnic areas and an interpretive center. Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park is located off U.S. Rte. 219. Visit droopmountainbattlefield.com
or call 304/653-4254 for more information.
Harpers Ferry National Park
The pastoral landscape of Harpers Ferry belies its tumultuous past. For it was in this tiny hamlet, located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, that the state’s role in the Civil War officially commenced: On October 16, 1859, abolitionist John Brown seized the federal arsenal here with the intention of arming the slaves of northern Virginia and inciting an uprising. Instead, his action drew militia companies and federal troops from surrounding Confederate states — including the Second United States Cavalry, under the command of Lieut. Col. Robert E. Lee. On the morning of October 18, after most of his men were killed or wounded, Brown was captured. Following the abolitionist’s hanging on December 2, the North proclaimed him to be a martyr and his name became the title of a battle hymn as Northern troops invaded and overran the South.
Harpers Ferry would change hands eight times during the Civil War. Most notably, Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson achieved his most brilliant victory here in September 1862, when he captured 12,500 Union soldiers — the largest such surrender until World War II.
Today, Harpers Ferry has been restored to that earlier era. It’s filled with brick-lined streets; restaurants; quaint bookstores, antiques shops and art galleries; and picture-perfect vistas. Harpers Ferry is located off U.S. 340. For more information, call 304/535-6748 orn visit nps.gov/hafe
Independence Hall Museum
In 1857, nearly six years before President Abraham Lincoln signed the proclamation that made West Virginia a state, construction on this building — then known as the Wheeling Custom House — was under way. It was here that the heated political discussions and debates took place that ultimately led to the residents of “west” Virginia achieving the goal they had so feverishly worked for.
Over the years, the Renaissance Revival-Italianate building has been restored to its original splendor. Costumed interpreters recount the history of statehood and the role West Virginia played in the Civil War. A permanent exhibit features period artifacts. Independence Hall Museum is located at 1528 Market St. in Wheeling. For more information, visit www.wvculture.org/museum
or call 304/238-1300.
Barbour County Historical Museum
It was a rainy, sleepy morning in Philippi on June 3, 1861, when Mrs. Thomas Humphreys, a Confederate sympathizer, fired a pistol at a Union soldier. Thus began the first land battle of the Civil War.
The story of the skirmish is told through the artifacts that have been painstakingly preserved at the Barbour County Historical Museum, a restored depot located along the B&O railroad tracks in central West Virginia. In addition to an array of guns, swords and newspapers, the museum features a poignant variety of mourning jewelry — keepsakes worn in remembrance of loved ones who died in the war. Each serves as a reminder of the war’s many casualties.
The most startling exhibit, however, can be found in the restroom at the rear of the building: two mummified women reside there. Resembling carved wooden statues, the pair were mummified in 1888 by Philippi resident Graham Hamrick, who had successfully embalmed small animals before requesting the bodies from a local asylum.
The two have proved to be indestructible: They traveled the world on tour with the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the late 1800s, and survived a flood in 1985. Now, it seems, they’ve reached their final resting place. The Barbour County Historical Museum is located at 200 N. Main St., Philippi. For more information, call 304/457-4846 or visit philippi.org
Rich Mountain Battlefield and Beverly Heritage Center
“We have annihilated the enemy!” Gen. George McClellan dramatically announced to the world in a telegram from a desk in his headquarters in Beverly. It was July 12, 1861, the day after the first Union victory at the battle of Rich Mountain. His triumph set the stage for West Virginia’s eventual statehood.
Now, 150 years later, McClellan’s command center has become part of the Beverly Heritage Center, a museum complex containing exhibits on the Civil War and the early settlement of the state.
Visitors can also see a replica of Rich Mountain and nearby Camp Garnett — the site of the Confederate army — to get an idea of how the events of the battle unfolded. Tours are offered on the battle site, where trenches are well preserved and easily visible from the lookout tower. The battlefield is five miles west of Beverly on Rich Mountain Road. The Visitor Center is on Files Creek Road, one block away from U.S. Rte. 215/250. For more information, call 304/637-RICH or visit
Oh, if these walls could talk. Located in the heart of Greenbrier County, Organ Cave served as Robert E. Lee’s underground headquarters. For three years, under Lee’s direction, Confederate soldiers tapped the rich veins of potassium nitrate — also known as saltpeter — found here in order to make gunpowder. During the Civil War, more than 1,000 Confederate soldiers used the underground chamber for housing and shelter and held church services in the “chapel room,” located at the entrance.
The cave contains the largest collection of Civil War hoppers — the wooden vats used to leach saltpeter from dirt — left in the United States. In addition, the walls are filled with writings and petroglyphs made by the native Americans who were the cave’s first inhabitants. Organ Cave is located southeast of Lewisburg on St. Rte. 63. To learn more, call 304/645-7600 or visit organcave.com
Fort Boreman Civil War Park
It’s a place where imagination is sparked and strategic plans unfold before your eyes. Although Parkersburg was not a battle site, Fort Boreman, located less than two miles away, was vital to the protection of Union soldiers from Confederate raids. The park features reconstructed Civil War fortifications and trenches — as well as commanding views of the town and the Ohio River. Fort Boreman is located two miles south of downtown Parkersburg on Corridor D/WV-68. To learn more, visit greaterparkersburg.com
or call 304/424-1976.