First Battles of the Civil War

First Battles of the Civil War


The Battles & The Men

Stories about First Battles of the Civil War

The Battle of Philippi

    By Maj. D. B. Stewart, Morgantown, W. VA.

    Having been urged to write of the battle of Philippi, W. Va., which occurred on the 3d of June, 1861, just one week before the battle of Big Bethel, and therefore the first infantry fire of the War between the States, I do it the more readily since I was a participant in that first fire. * * *

    Having been detailed on detached duty in Monongalia County, I did not reach Grafton until the morning of the 28th of May, having passed through Fairmont on the previous evening when Colonel Kelley's forces were supposed to be somewhere between Farmington and Barracksville, advancing on Colonel Porterfield's position at Grafton. When I reported to Colonel Porterfield on the morning of the 28th, he was breaking camp to fall back to Philippi, which place we reached about nightfall the same day.

    On the Saturday following as officer of the day I was surprised to find that there was only a detail of a guard sufficient to place sentinels around the camp, with a relief guard for the night watch, which was stationed on the top of the hill at the junction of the Clarksburg and Beverly roads. After relieving the old guards and placing the guard for the day, not being satisfied with the arrangement, I returned to town, hoping to secure an additional detail for picket duty. On meeting Captain Moomau, of Pendleton County, I told him my idea of the situation. He fully agreed with me, but suggested that, instead of asking for the guard as intended, I make a requisition on the captains of the several companies for the number of men needed, saying that he would honor my requisition and get the others to do likewise. Believing this to be the easiest if not the surest way, I made the requisitions for the additional number of men, about eighty to place pickets on the roads leading to town, and the requisitions were all honored.

    Pickets were then placed on the roads below town. Believing that if an attack was made on our position a force crossing the river at the ford would be sent across the hills northeast of Philippi to cut off our retreat or rather to surround the town, a picket was placed at the crossing to detect and report any move in that direction, while the reserve was stationed at the forks of the road leading to Clarksburg and up the west side of the river.

    Perhaps we ought to have reported this to the commander; but, being new in military affairs, it was not done. Next morning Captain Stofer, of Pocahontas County, relieved me as officer of the day. What disposition was made of the pickets or what was the detail for duty, I was not informed, but suppose it was only the usual detail, which was inadequate as it was on the day before. The pickets, if any, were withdrawn on account of the rain that night.

    On that day (Sunday, June 2) Miss Abbie Kerr and Miss Mollie McCloud, of Fairmont, having learned of Colonel Kelley's intention to surprise and capture our forces, arrived at Philippi about 2:30 in the afternoon, having made a detour around Grafton and through a part of Harrison County, and gave us full information in regard to Colonel Kelley's plans to take the place.

    The forces in Philippi at this time consisted of seven companies of infantry armed with altered army muskets. They had been virtually without ammunition till the Morgans of Marion County constructed molds in a blacksmith shop and from lead pipe molded enough bullets to make about seven rounds to each man. In addition to the infantry, we had the Churchill Cavalry from Augusta County and Captain Dangerfield's company from Bath County, with two or three other companies whose locality I do not recall, but all from about Warm Strings and the Shenandoah Valley. They were better equipped than the infantry. A council of the officers was called that afternoon, and it was agreed that an evacuation would take place at daybreak the next morning.

    Some time later I went down to headquarters, and was surprised when informed by our commander that he believed he would stay and "give them a little brush in the morning." I suggested to him that his small force and want of ammunition would not enable him to make much of a fight; but he replied that he would "try it anyway."

    I then went back to the hotel, the Barron, where I was stopping, and told some of the other officers I met of the change of plan and had my horse saddled and hitched, so I could get him at a moment's notice. Capt. (afterwards Col.) W. P. Thompson occupied the room with me, and we both lay down with our clothes on. Just as day was breaking next morning we heard the cannon go off on top of the hill across the river from town. Thompson thought it was a small arm; but it fired again quickly, when he jumped over me, landing on the floor. By the time we got to the door his company was passing. I got my horse and rode out in front of the hotel, to find Colonel Porterfield mounted and facing the road leading to town from the direction of Grafton.

    It was now light enough to see the enemy, two regiments marching down the hill west of town. Shortly afterwards Hon. Robert Johnson, member of Congress from the Clarksburg District, came out on a horse got from the quartermaster's department rigged out with a wagon saddle. By this time all of the soldiers had passed out of town, and Kelley's force had crossed the bridge, entered Main Street, and marched up as far as Strickler's store, where they halted. Colonel Porterfield started to ride down toward them. Thinking that he must be acting under some mistake, I rode to him and asked whether he was not close enough to the enemy, He replied: "O, no, these are our own men." I asked him if he had not discovered that they were marching under the stars and stripes. He exclaimed: "Why, yes, and the blue uniform." We were then within about a square and a half of them and close enough to see even the brass buttons on their uniforms. He turned his horse round and started up the street. Not being so well mounted (my horse was lame from a kick), Johnson and I followed as fast as we could. We had not gone far when a volley of musketry from a platoon of Kelley's soldiers greeted us, this being the first infantry fire of the war.

    Captain Jordan, quartermaster of the command, his clerk, Mr. Sims, and others were loading the contents of the office into the wagon. The office was next to the hotel, and may have been in sight of the firing squad. It was there that Colonel Kelley was wounded. His soldiers charged Sims with the shooting, and would have killed him on the spot had not Colonel Kelley very generously interfered, commanding his men to desist.

    We passed on. The cavalry halted some distance farther up the road toward Beverly. Shortly after this the Federal force that had been sent to cut us off crossed the hill, and were engaged by the cavalry and a small portion of the infantry. Captain Dangerfield, of Bath County, was wounded in the leg by a musket ball so badly that the limb had to be amputated that night. He had been hauled the entire distance to Beverly in a wagon. Young Hanger, of Augusta County, who was visiting the men from that county in their quarters, had his leg broken by a cannon ball, and it was also amputated. There were a few casualties among the skirmishes, but no others were killed.

    We reached Beverly that evening and the next evening fell back to Huttonsville, where we remained until General Garnett arrived with reenforcements, relieving Colonel Porterfield. He organized our command, established the two camps, one under Col. John Pegram at Rich Mountain and the other at Laurel Hill, which he commanded in person.

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    bgill -Contributions private
    14 Jun 2007
    14 Jul 2007
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