Friday, June 3, 2011

Off To The Races

One of the first land battle of the Civil War, was fought June 3rd 1861, the Battle of Philippi is also known as the “The Philippi Races”.

By May 28th 1861 Union General George B McClellan placed about 3,000 troops in Western Virginia, all under the command of Brigadier General Thomas A Morris. The Confederates numbering about 800 in the area were under the command of Colonel George A Porterfield. As the Union troops advance, Porterfield’s men retreat from Grafton, Virginia to Philippi, Virginia about 17 miles to the south. There is a covered bridge in Philippi crossing the Tygart Valley River, along the Beverly-Fairmont Turnpike an important route.

Morris approved a two front attack against the Confederates in Philippi. Sixteen hundred men under Colonel Benjamin Franklin Kelley including the 9th Indiana Infantry and the 16th Ohio Infantry, depart by train to the east to make the Confederates think they were heading for Harpers Ferry. These troops departed the train in the village of Thornton, Virginia and marched back toward Philippi. While this was going on the 7th Indiana Infantry, 14th Ohio Infantry and 6th Indiana Infantry, being about 1,400 men march south on the Turnpike. The plan was for these two columns to envelope the Confederates. After marching through the rain, the Union troops arrived in Philippi just before dawn June 3rd 1861.

Union troops awaited a pistol shot which would signal the beginning of the battle. The green Confederate troop hadn’t placed any picket lines for protection. A local Confederate sympathizer; Mrs. Thomas Humphreys sent her son to warn the Confederate soldiers. When he was caught she fired a gun at the Union men, starting the fight. Union artillery woke the Confederates. After firing a few shots at the Union soldiers, the Confederate troops began a running retreat. Many of the newspapers called the Battle “The Races at Philippi” as the Confederates fled south, many in whatever they had slept in. The run ended in Huttonsville, Virginia some 45 miles south of Philippi.

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