1861 June 3rd

June 3 1861 Monday

Philippi, VA (CWSAC Limited Battle – Union Victory)

McClellan’s West Virginia Campaign

Chesapeake Bay Blockade

USA. Stephen Arnold Douglas, Democratic Party candidate for US President in 1860, died of typhoid fever and exhaustion at the age of 48.

Kentucky. A convention of delegates from Border States met at Frankfort to discuss matters relating to secession.

South Carolina. The privateer Savannah (Captain Thomas H Baker) was the first acknowledged Confederate privateer to leave Charleston Harbour. The Savannah captured the American brig Joseph with a cargo of sugar. The Savannah was then captured in turn by USS Perry, Lieutenant Enoch G Parrott.

Philippi, Virginia. At Philippi, a covered bridge spanned the Tygart Valley River at an important segment of the vital Beverly to Fairmont Turnpike. Union forces under Colonel Ebenezer Dumont and Colonel Benjamin Franklin Kelley arrived at Philippi with about 3,000 men before dawn. They encountered about 800 to 1,500 untrained Confederate troops under Colonel George A Porterfield. Porterfield had been sent to Grafton to organize and recruit new members for the Confederate state forces. The aim was to hold northwestern Virginia for Virginia and the Confederacy. Porterfield also was ordered to hold and protect the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, or to destroy bridges to impede Union forces if it could not be held. Porterfield found that sympathies at Grafton were largely pro-Union and the Grafton Guards under Captain George R Latham had been organised by Union supporters at Grafton. Porterfield moved to nearby Fetterman and began to gather a company from the area, the Letcher Guard or Letcher’s Guard, and added companies from other parts of the region. Porterfield’s men briefly held Grafton while the Grafton Guards went to Wheeling to be mustered into the Union Army on 25 May 1861.

A few days later, Porterfield learned that larger Union forces were moving toward Grafton and he withdrew to Philippi about 30 miles south of Grafton. Porterfield’s command then became the advance guard of Colonel Robert Selden Garnett’s command at Beverley, which was advancing towards Grafton. After an overnight march in rainy weather, the two Union columns of Colonel Ebenezer Dumont and Colonel Benjamin Franklin Kelley arrived at Philippi before dawn. Union Colonel Thomas Armstrong Morris had planned a predawn assault that would be signaled by a pistol shot. The inexperienced Confederate troops had failed to establish picket lines or to provide perimeter security, choosing instead to avoid the cold morning rain inside their tents. A Confederate sympathiser, Mrs Thomas Humphreys, spotted the approaching Union troops and sent her young son on horseback to warn the Confederates. While Mrs Humphreys watched, Union pickets captured the boy and she fired her pistol at the Union soldiers. Although she missed, her shots prompted the attack to begin prematurely. The Union forces opened fire with their artillery and awakened the sleeping Confederates. After firing a few shots at the advancing Union troops, the Confederates broke lines and began running frantically to the south, some still in their bedclothes. Dumont’s troops entered the town from the bridge but Kelley’s column arrived from the north on the wrong road and was unable to block the Confederate escape. Kelley was shot and wounded while chasing some of the retreating Confederates, but Colonel Frederick West Lander personally chased down and captured the soldier who shot Kelley. There were two significant Confederate casualties. Both were treated with battlefield amputations, believed to be the first such operations of the war. One was a Virginia Military Institute cadet, Fauntleroy Daingerfield. The other Confederate was James E Hanger, an 18-year-old college student. After recovering and being released, Hanger returned home to Virginia. He made an artificial leg from barrel staves with a hinge at the knee. His design worked so well that the Virginia State Legislature commissioned him to manufacture the “Hanger Limb” for other wounded soldiers. The remaining Confederate troops retreated to Huttonsville, about 45 miles to the south.

Although this is considered the first major land action in the Eastern Theatre it was a skirmish rather than a battle. The victory was trumpeted in the Union press as the “Philippi Races”, with exaggerated claims of 2,000 prisoners. In fact, very few or no prisoners were taken and Union losses were one man wounded (Kelley). Philippi was the first organised land action in the war (the impromptu action at Fairfax Court House, two days earlier, could not be counted as an organised action).

Union victory in this relatively bloodless battle propelled McClellan into the national spotlight. The Northern press, hungry for battle stories, presented it as an epic triumph, encouraging politicians to demand a rapid advance on Richmond, a premature move that resulted in the fiasco at Bull Run. McClellan was not personally involved in the action but was seen as the strategic genius behind the liberation of western Virginia and became a popular hero overnight.

The victory also inspired vocal protests in western Virginia against secession and only a few days later, pro-Unionists at the Wheeling Convention nullified the Virginia ordinance of secession and named Francis H Pierpont as governor of the western part of the state.

Following the battle, Porterfield was replaced in command of Confederate forces in western Virginia by newly-promoted Brigadier-General Robert Selden Garnett. The companies of Confederate recruits who had been at Philippi were attached to various regiments, including the 9th Virginia Infantry Battalion, 25th Virginia Infantry, 31st Virginia Infantry, 11th Virginia Cavalry, and the 14th Virginia Cavalry. The Barbour Light Horse Cavalry, commanded by Captain William Jenkins, was disbanded after the retreat from Philippi.

The short-story writer and satirist Ambrose Bierce was a Union recruit at Philippi. Twenty years later, he wrote, in an autobiographical fragment he called “On a Mountain”:

We gave ourselves, this aristocracy of service, no end of military airs; some of us even going to the extreme of keeping our jackets buttoned and our hair combed. We had been in action, too; had shot off a Confederate leg at Philippi, “the first battle of the war,” and had lost as many as a dozen men at Laurel Hill and Carrick’s Ford, whither the enemy had fled in trying, Heaven knows why, to get away from us.’

The Union reported 4 casualties and the Confederates 26. (CWSAC Limited Battle – Union Victory).

Union Organisation

Commander in Chief: President Abraham Lincoln

Vice-President: Hannibal Hamlin

Secretary of War: Simon Cameron

Secretary of the Navy: Gideon Welles

  • Coast Blockading Squadron USN: Flag Officer Silas Horton Stringham USN
  • Gulf Blockading Squadron USN: Flag Officer William Mervine USN
  • Pacific Squadron USN: Captain John B Montgomery USN
  • Western Gunboat Flotilla USN: Commander John Rodgers USN
  • Potomac Flotilla USN: Commander James Harmon Ward USN

General–in-Chief: Winfield Scott

  • Department of Annapolis: John Adams Dix interim Nathaniel Prentiss Banks awaited
  • Department of the East: John Ellis Wool
  • Department of Florida: Harvey Brown
  • Department of Kentucky: Robert Anderson
  • Department of New Mexico: Edward Richard Sprigg Canby
  • Department of Northeastern Virginia: Irvin McDowell
  • Department of the Ohio: George Brinton McClellan
  • Department of the Pacific: Edwin Vose Sumner
    • District of Oregon: George Wright
  • Department of Pennsylvania: Robert Patterson
    • Army of the Shenandoah: Robert Patterson
  • Department of Texas: Vacant
  • Department of Utah: Philip St George Cooke
  • Department of Virginia: Benjamin Franklin Butler
  • Department of Washington: Joseph King Fenno Mansfield
  • Department of the West: Nathaniel Lyon

Confederate Organisation

Commander in Chief: President Jefferson Finis Davis

Vice-President: Alexander Hamilton Stephens

Secretary of War: Leroy Pope Walker

Secretary of the Navy: Stephen Russell Mallory

  • Department No 1: David Emanuel Twiggs
    • “Forces in New Orleans” “Army of Louisiana”: Braxton Bragg
  • Department of the Potomac: Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
    • Army of the Potomac: Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
  • Department of Norfolk: Benjamin Huger
  • Department of North Carolina: Theophilus Hunter Holmes
    • Defences of North Carolina: Theophilus Hunter Holmes
  • Department of the Peninsula: Daniel Harvey Hill temporary
    • Army of the Peninsula: Daniel Harvey Hill temporary
  • Department of South Carolina: Daniel Harvey Hill
  • Department of Southwestern Virginia: William Wing Loring
  • Department of Texas: Earl Van Dorn
  • Department of West Florida: Braxton Bragg
    • “Forces in Pensacola”: Braxton Bragg
  • Defences of Savannah: Alexander Robert Lawton
  • Indian Territory: Benjamin McCulloch
  • Potomac Line: Daniel Ruggles
  • Forces in Harper’s Ferry”: Joseph Eggleston Johnston
  • Forces in Richmond: Thomas Turner Fauntleroy
  • Forces in the Kanawha Valley: Christopher Quarles Tompkins

Union Generals

Note: Italics, awaiting confirmation of the commission

Major-General USA

Winfield Scott
George Brinton McClellan
John Charles Frémont

Major-General USV

John Adams Dix
Nathaniel Prentiss Banks
Benjamin Franklin Butler

Brigadier-General USA

John Ellis Wool
William Selby Harney
Edwin Vose Sumner
Joseph King Fenno Mansfield
Irvin McDowell
Robert Anderson
William Starke Rosecrans

Brigadier-General USV

Samuel Peter Heintzelman
David Hunter
Erasmus Darwin Keyes
Andrew Porter
Fitz-John Porter
William Buel Franklin
William Tecumseh Sherman
Charles Pomeroy Stone
Don Carlos Buell
Thomas West Sherman
Nathaniel Lyon
John Pope
George Archibald McCall
William Reading Montgomery
Philip Kearny
Joseph Hooker
John Wolcott Phelps
Ulysses Simpson Grant
Joseph Jones Reynolds
Samuel Ryan Curtis
Charles Smith Hamilton
Darius Nash Couch
Rufus King
Jacob Dolson Cox
Stephen Augustus Hurlbut
Franz Sigel
Robert Cumming Schenck
Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss
Frederick West Lander
Benjamin Franklin Kelley
John Alexander McClernand
Alpheus Starkey Williams
Israel Bush Richardson
James Cooper

Brigadier-General USA (Staff)

Montgomery Cunningham Meigs

Confederate Generals

Note: Italics, awaiting confirmation of the commission

General ACSA

Samuel Cooper
Albert Sidney Johnston

Major-General PACS

David Emanuel Twiggs

Brigadier-General ACSA

Robert Edward Lee
Joseph Eggleston Johnston
Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
Braxton Bragg

Brigadier-General PACS

Alexander Robert Lawton
Milledge Lake Bonham
Benjamin McCulloch
William Wing Loring
Charles Clark
John Buchanan Floyd
William Henry Talbot Walker

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