Letters from the Past
Mike Smith, the superintendent of Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, is a Civil War guru with vast knowledge of the war and West Virginia’s role in the conflict. In addition to sharing his expertise of pure historical facts, Smith has shared a collection of Civil War era letters written between family members in Monroe and Pocahontas counties.
The letters detail the fear, worry, and, at moments, joy that a West Virginia family, the Dunlaps, experienced in the mid-1800s. The letters paint a portrait of what it was like to live in Pocahontas County during those times and offer a glimpse into real, documented emotions that help bring the past to life.
These letters, which were preserved by Helen Steele Ellison, peer into the lives of Mary Jane Dunlap, the wife of Mitchell Dunlap, who was the headmaster of the Academy at Hillsboro; her brother, Addison Dunlap; and his wife, Clara Petrie Dunlap.
One letter depicts the sense of concern felt by Mary Jane after not seeing or hearing from her brother for nearly six months, unaware of whether he was dead or alive. Another letter implores Clara and other women in the area to work together to gather necessities for soldiers in battle, while a third letter describes the aftermath of the battle at Droop Mountain.
Throughout the letters, the Dunlaps show the ways in which everyone, not only the soldiers, were affected by the battles. They are a true testament to the trials families underwent in order to maintain contact and relationships with loved ones during difficult times.
To learn more about West Virginia’s role in the Civil War, visit Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park in Pocahontas County.