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POCAHONTAS COUNTY, W.Va. – The Battle of Droop Mountain, in November of 1863 is known as the largest Civil War battle on West Virginia soil and the action that ended Confederate resistance in the Mountain State.
Mike Smith spent 32 years working at the Droop Mountain State Park and retired as Superintendent in 2016. He says during the Civil War, the only way to move large amounts of supplies and troops in rugged terrain was the rail road.
The Confederate Army had the Virginia Tennessee and Virginia Central Railroads and the Union Army relied on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad for supplies.
“Everything that happened in West Virginia was a result of the Confederates either trying to go up and tear up the B & O Railroad,” Smith said,”Or the Union Army trying to push down into the south tearing up the Virginia Tennessee or the Virginia Central Railroad which connected the Shenandoah Valley with Richmond.”
When Confederate troops were dispatched west after Chickamuaga in the fall of 1863 trying to push the Union Army out of Tennessee. That troop movement left many military targets relatively unprotected in the area of Dublin, Virginia.
When Union Army officials heard the news they sent Colonel William W. Averell and 3,800 men to strike the railroad and other military targets.
Soon, Brigadier General John Echols was at the Confederate headquarters in Lewisburg, got word of the movement. Echols marched his troops through the night to Droop Mountain. Droop Mountain was the high point on the way to Lewisburg and provided an ideal defensive position.
“(Echols) Got there about dawn and held off the Union Army through the early part of the day,” Smith said,”But, in the afternoon was driven back and the Union Army followed up through the night, chasing him back to Lewsiburg and into Virginia.”
The second in command of the Confederate forces was the grandfather of World War II General George S. Patton, Colonel George Patton Snr. Echols regularly left Col. Patton in charge while he performed political duties. On one occasion, Patton successfully battled Union forces in August of 1863 in White Sulphur Springs while Echols was away from the battlefield.
“He was sent over to the left flank at the tail end of the battle by Echols to try to pull things together, but it had already fallen apart,” Smith said,”It was chaos as the men fell back to the highway and tried to escape.”
After 275 Confederates were killed they were chased into Virginia. The Union Army losses totaled 119.
Like many Civil War battles, brothers fought against brothers and neighbors fought against neighbors.
“They has been fighting on opposite sides in the war, and some of them had a hard time getting back together,”Smith said,”Some just couldn’t get along and moved west, but others managed to put their differences aside and went back to being neighbors.”
Smith says for 32 years it was a privilege to open the gate every morning and take in the beauty and history.
“It’s about 3,000 feet to the top of the mountain, and the valley below is about 2,300,”Smith said,”So, all along it you can see the fog coming up from the river, sometimes it looks like the ocean out there and you could just walk on top of the clouds, sometimes the fog is low enough and the little hills stick and they look like islands in the ocean.”
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The USS West Virginia was a Colorado Class battleship that was commissioned in 1923. Through the 1930’s the battleship participated in routine training missions called Fleet Problems.
The warship was 624-feet long, had eight 16-inch naval guns, torpedo tubes, anti-aircraft guns, 16 5-inch guns and was built by the Newport News Shipbuilding Company.
On December 4, 1941 the ship was moored alongside the USS Tennessee on battleship row in Pearl Harbor. At Pearl Harbor the “Wee-Vee” was being retrofitted for action in the South Pacific Theater.
During the Japanese attack the Wee-Vee was hit by seven torpedoes and two aerial bombs. A total of 106 members of the 1,400 crew were killed during the attack.
Captain Mervyn S. Bennion commanded the ship and was struck and killed by shrapnel while directing anti-aircraft fire during the attack.
“Shrapnel from the bomb strike that killed him did not hit the West Virginia, it hit the Tennessee,”U.S. Naval Historian Rick Stone said,”But, the shrapnel flew across the bridge of the West Virginia and killed Cpt Bennion who later received the Medal of Honor.”
The first African-American to earn the Navy Cross was Doris Miller, a mess attendant on the USS West Virginia earned the honor for his efforts to continue anti-aircraft fire.
“The United States Navy has decided to the next aircraft carrier after him,” Stone said,”So, a nuclear aircraft carrier named the USS Doris Miller is underway.”
Following the attack, sailors began to rescue and recover shipmates who were trapped in lower compartments.
Three sailors trapped in a dry compartment tapped distress signals on the hull of the ship during the rescue. Stone says Marine guards heard the tapping nightly, but they were never able to rescue them.
“When she was finally raised and salvaged they found their bodies and there was a calendar on the wall where they had marked off the days until December 23,”Stone said,”So, they had lived from December 7 to December 23 and marked off the days on the calendar and probably succumbed to a lack of oxygen”
By September of 1944 the Wee-Vee was back in the Philippines with two other battleships damaged at Peal Harbor, the USS California and the USS Tennessee.
When the fight resumed the Wee-Vee continued to make history supporting invasion at Okinawa, Iwo Jima and participated in a historic battle according to Stone.
“The last known battleship-to-battleship engagement ever was by the Wee-Vee,” Stone said,”She took under fire at night, about three o’clock in the morning two Japanese battleships and a cruiser at a range of over 44,000 yards and scored a hit with her very first salvo.”
Stone says the Wee-Vee had a very distinguished record during World War II.
“The Wee-Vee was there at the beginning of the war on December 7 at Pearl Harbor, and she was there at the end of the war in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered,” Stone said,”They did the surrender ceremony on a newer battleship, the USS Missouri.
After the war, the ship was used to bring Americans home from the Pacific Theater.
In January of 1947 the Wee-Vee was decommissioned and in 159 the U.S. Navy sold it for scrap and by 1961 she was being broken up at the Todd-Pacific Ship Yard in Seattle.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Limitations on liquor stores in Monongalia County have been lifted. The Monongalia County Health Department has rescinded an order that restricted the sale of spirits and hard liquor to only West Virginia residents and limited customers to three items per purchase.
The order was issued back on April 4th after a reported influx of Pennsylvania residents into Monongalia County to purchase hard liquor. ABCA Stores in Pennsylvania had been closed on March 16th, by an order from Governor Tom Wolfe.
Health officials in Monongalia County were concerned the influx of out-of-state residents could increase community spread of COVID-19 in Monongalia County. At the time, Monongalia County had one of the highest totals of reported COVID-19 cases in the state.
Even though the order has been rescinded, social distancing guidelines limiting the number of people in a store, providing adequate hand-washing stations and wearing a mask, remain in place.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University officials are speaking out against a group called the Fraternity Forward Coalition. The coalition urges Greek organizations to disengage with institutions because oversight “is unnecessary and infringes on their right to assemble.”
WVU Dean of Students Dr. Corey Farris says three organizations already disaffiliated with WVU are members of the coalition.
“Our goal when we started down this path, not just at WVU but across the nation, is to make sure students have a great fraternity or sorority experience,” Farris said,”But, in a safe way.”
Over the past few years, local officials have worked with organizations to change the culture in order to prevent incidents like the 2014 alcohol poisoning death of Kappa Sigma member Nolan Burch. The campaign has lowered police response to alcohol related incidents on campus and in Morgantown.
“We’ve got an office that supports fraternities and sororities 24-7 where those students can walk into that office or seek help at any point,” Farris said,”This coalition is encouraging their members to step away if they don’t agree with the rules.”
Farris says they have demonstrated to students the value of being a part of the community through volunteer projects and major events that are important parts of student life.
“Homecoming Week or intramurals, great ways for them to engage with each other,” Farris said,”If you don’t want to be a part of those things that are a part of the student experience, then I think the students are losing out.”
Farris says many lessons are learned over the course of a college education and influence from the institution can keep those important events safe and memorable.
“In our case the specific death of Nolan Burch,” Farris said,”We don’t want that to ever happen again to any parent that sends their son or daughter off to school.”
In the future, organizations that are sanctioned by the university will be promoted to students and parents. Additionally, Farris says they’ll take steps to strengthen relationships with groups that share like values.
“Are there any legal actions we can take? No,” Farris said,”Certainly we can make sure students at WVU and their parents know the ones that are recognized student organizations and we’re going to closely with, because those fraternal organizations and sororities are playing by the rules and want to be better.”
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Regular parking fees will return for all Morgantown Parking Authority metered spaces, lots and garages on June 1.
Parking fees were waived during the “stay at home” order.
Bagged meters on High Street and Walnut Street will remain free for pickup and delivery for customers shopping or dining downtown. Residential permits and parking garage permits are available at the Parking Authority office or call 304-284-7435.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Morgantown leaders are receiving multiple complaints about trash collection services by Republic.
In a written statement Republic officials say:
Republic Services is experiencing an increase in residential waste as more people are working from home and sheltering in place. Our 36,000 employees are operating safely and efficiently while continuing to provide consistent, reliable service to our customers and communities during these unprecedented times.
The local hauling division that covers communities around Morgantown was experiencing delays due to the increase in residential waste due to COVID-19 stay at home orders, followed by the West Virginia University student move out that took place May 2 through May 15 which increased weights and hauling demand even more. Our crews expect to be caught up today and will continue to communicate with the city.
City leaders are working with Republic Services to mitigate the problem.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Mon County commission has announced new insurance costs for general liability, workers compensation and health plans for county workers.
Through the West Virginia Community Risk Pool, the county’s general liability and worker’s compensation plan is effective July 1, 2020 and comes with a slight increase.
“The total policy is $736,148, the general liability portion of that is $544,647 per year which is a seven percent increase over last year or 1.32 percent,”Commissioner Sean Sikora said,”So, it’s a very modest increase.”
The worker’s compensation portion of the policy increased 6.9 percent to $191,501 per year.
Commissioners were able to avoid a health insurance premium increase of more than 25 percent, but the the annual health insurance premium will go up slightly to $4,754,262.
“A 9.5 percent increase, but as you are aware when we first started talking to the insurance companies we were looking for an increase in the mid twenties,” Sikora said,”We got it down to about 9.5 percent.”
Dental coverage premium for county employees went up about 4 percent.
The commissioners decided to keep employee contributions the same as last year and absorb the increase.
“There are so many changes going on and with the uncertainty of what’s happening financially in our community we wanted some stability for our employees,” Commissioner Tom Bloom said,”We believe we can pick it up and still deal with this crisis.”
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Morgantown City Council members have given the go ahead to a 23 percent increase of the city fire fee.
The ordinance council will increase the fire fee from .0766 to .0942 per square foot and add a provision for a hazard classification. Interim City Manager Emily Muzzarelli said the increased cost for the owner of a 2,000-square foot home would be $2.78 per month or $33.44 per year.
Muzzarelli also told council members there will be a special plan established to help some residents with the increased fee.
“Authorization of payment plans with, or without interest, or down payment for a time period determined by the finance director,”Muzzarelli said,”Waiving penalties for interest if applicable, of fees, dues or payments under payment plans and forgiveness of certain payments.”
According to information in the meeting details, the hazard classification will calculate the fee based on gross square footage of a structure and would be included in the FY 2022 budget. The document also says,”A proposed fee for fire protection service charges to be assessed based on hazard classifications, including the fee imposed on each use identified to which hazard classification will apply and the total revenue proposed to be raised by such fee.”
Muzzarelli says work on the fire classification program will become a priority as summer continues.
“A hazard classification to be presented on or before October 31 of 2020. For assessing fire protection service charges based on hazard classification of a building rather than square footage,” Muzzarelli said,”This would be addition to, or along with other fees.”
For people not within the city limits that require fire protection services the document says,”An hourly fee for each and every use of such fire protection services, payable on demand by the city, as determined by the City Manager or designee based o an hourly rate as calculated from the city’s current fire department budget divided by 8,760 hours. Additional charges for expendable materials not otherwise contracted for/by the city shall also be levied.”
City buildings will reopen to the public next week, but there will be changes. City staff will have masks, gloves and cleaner for residents, but officials encourage the public to use their own protective equipment.
“Many of our public meetings will continue to be held electronically,” Muzzarelli said,”While Mon County has been removed from the designation as a hot spot we still have limitations on the size of gatherings.”
Many items of business with the city can be completed online for those who don’t want to come to city offices.
In addition to expanding outdoor dining in the city, coordination is underway with the Morgantown Area Partnership and businesses owners to convert some parking on High Street to outdoor dining or retail.
“We developed this temporary outdoor dining program that was able to extend outdoor dining within all of city limits,” Muzzarelli said,”And waiving fees for non-alcoholic permits.”
Morgantown council members also reported complaints from residents about the reliability of trash collection from Suncrest, Woodburn and residents on Mississippi Street.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Over the next 10 days or so, about 10,000 students and their families will move out of residence halls on the WVU campus.
To adhere to social distancing guidelines, the university policy only allows about five move outs per floor at one time, all people in the buildings must wear masks and gloves and students have about three hours to move out.
By local health guidelines visiting students and families are asked to leave the area with in 24-hours or voluntarily quarantine for 14 days in Morgantown.
Dean of Students Dr. Corey Farris, says it’s been an orderly process with few issues.
“Families and students coming into town have been following our guidance,” Dr. Farris said,”Which is wearing masks, pack up and move out quickly.”
Farris says in order to maintain social distancing the move process for thousands of students has become a long task.
“It is still a long, slow, drawn-out process to minimize students and their helpers and others from interacting while they’re doing the same thing,” Dr. Farris said.
School officials are working with students living on the west coast, foreign countries, serving in the military or have travel limitations, so every situation is different.
“Some of them we’re packing them up and we’ll mail things,” Dr. Farris said,”For other, we’re going to figure out how we can store it here in Morgantown until the students moves into the next years’ residence.”
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Free COVID-19 testing for vulnerable populations is coming to Mon County Friday and Saturday.
Friday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. testing will be offered at the Westover Big Lots parking lot and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. testing will be offered at the WVU Coliseum parking lot and the Mountainview Elementary School parking lot.
All locations can be accessed by using the Mountain Line Transit Authority.
Dr. Lee Smith, County Health Officer says the tests are offered on a first come, first served basis and no doctor’s order is required.
“While any resident of Monongalia County is eligible to get the testing, it is geared toward vulnerable populations, including minorities, those with special needs and individuals without primary health care providers,” Dr. Smith said.
Monongalia County Health Department officials will partner with the West Virginia National Guard to conduct the tests.
People tested will be asked to provide name, date of birth and telephone number in order to return testing information. Monongalia County Health Department staff will contact everyone who takes the test.
“People who test positive will be asked about anyone in their family and social circle, which is called ‘contact tracing,’” Dr. Smith said. “This will allow our staff members to find other individuals who also might have been infected with COVID-19.”
Residents coming for a test are asked to wear a mask or face covering. Those conducting the testing will be wearing full personal protective equipment and social distancing will be observed.
Other points for those who are interested in testing include:
• West Virginia National Guard medical staff will be assisting MCHD staff with nasal swabbing for both testing days.
• There will be a registration table where labels will be made for the tube that contains the specimen and the outer bag for submission to the lab.
• To obtain a good specimen for testing, the person performing the test places a small, flexible Qtip-like swab in the nose, which is advanced to the back of the throat and then removed after several seconds. There is slight and temporary discomfort.
• Specimens may take several days to run in the lab and those participating will be contacted with their results. This is why contact information from those taking the test is so important.
• Any questions may be addressed to Monongalia County Health Department at 304-598-5100.
• Frequently asked questions (FAQ) may be found on the health department’s website, monchd.org.
• For those who do have health insurance, there will be no charge or co-pay for anyone. However, MCHD would like to obtain some administration fees from the insurance company to help cover supplies and employee time.