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The Battle of Philippi
June 3, 1861
Web Author's Notes:
The text, below, is an excerpt (Chapter 4) from History of the First Regiment Virginia Infantry by C. J. Rawling and written in 1887. It describes the Battle of Philippi from the perspective of the first military unit formed by western Virginia loyal to the United States. This historic unit, which participated in the battle with the 16th Ohio, is described by Mark Tennant as follows:

The Rough and Ready Rifles The First Virginia Infantry, United States Volunteers, was organized at Wheeling as a 90 day regiment in April of 1861, and mustered into the Federal service on May 10. It was the first regiment organized by a Southern State under President Lincoln's initial call for volunteers. On 3 June, 1861, the First helped win a federal victory in the first land battle of the Civil War at Philippi, (West) Virginia. ...

ON the 27th of May the regiment, so far as men and arms were concerned, as described, being complete, received marching orders, and falling in at Camp Carlisle, marched to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad depot, there put on the cars for departure for the field of operations, which at that time was the burnt bridges on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, near Mannington. At Benwood the command was joined by Colonel Irvin's regiment of Ohio troops, the next day were joined by the Fifteenth Ohio, Colonel Andrews, and on the 29th, at Camp Buffalo, - being so called after the stream upon the banks of which it was located, - were joined by a part of the Sixteenth Ohio. The first death among the men occurred here, a member of Company G being killed and his comrade wounded by the accidental discharge of a gun. Thus was the sacred soil of the Commonwealth of Virginia invaded by United States troops, led by a Virginia regiment and backed by the noble fellows of a neighboring State. On the 31st Grafton was taken possession of, Colonel Porterfield's command having discreetly evacuated the town without a show of defending it. On this day the Seventh Indiana Regiment, Colonel Dumont, left Benwood for Grafton, followed the day after by the Ninth Indiana, Colonel Milroy, and part of the Sixteenth Ohio also left for the same destination.

Further than a few alarms nothing of importance occurred until Sunday, June 2, when orders were given for a movement. Accordingly, four regiments left Grafton at ten A.M. in two divisions, destination reported to be Philippi. One division, or rather brigade, consisting of a battalion each of the First Virginia and Sixteenth Ohio, and the Seventh Indiana Regiments, under command of Colonel Kelley; the other, composed of the Ninth Indiana and Fourteenth Ohio, was commanded by Colonel Frank Lander, the whole being placed under command of Brigadier-General Morris.

The first-mentioned body, which shall be denominated the First Brigade, moved east to Thornton; at that point the men left the cars and took up the line of march over the country roads towards Philippi, a distance of twenty-two miles. The Ninth Indiana, of the Second Brigade, moved west on the Northwestern Virginia Railroad to Webster, where the regiment was joined by the Fourteenth Ohio, thence took the road to Philippi, a distance of twelve miles. The object being, in thus dividing the command, to engage the enemy on the west by Colonel Lander's force, while the command of Colonel Kelley should get in the rear of the town and cut off his retreat. Here, some may say, was a fine opportunity offered to a bold, enterprising enemy, but such an enemy, fortunately for the success of the enterprise, was not found in Colonel Porterfield, or if he was such, he had not the necessary confidence in his men to take advantage of what was offered him. At a later period in the war this division would hardly have been attempted, as such disregard of prudence and of the generally accepted idea of properly meeting an enemy of at least equal force would certainly have been taken advantage of, and the command so offending taught a severe lesson. It may, however, be concluded, judging from the result, that the officers in command knew their enemy, at least placed a proper estimate on his enterprise and energy, and that he would take no advantage of their temerity, if such it could be considered in manoeuvring before such an enemy.

Both commands marched in darkness and rain and through the mud, being a new experience to most of the men; but they toiled along uncomplainingly. The gray of dawn of the 3d found them in the vicinity of the enemy. The Second Brigade, having much the shorter distance to march, arrived at the destined point first, and at once planted two guns on the brow of the hill overlooking and easily commanding the camp and the town of Philippi, though across the river and below the town, prepared to open on both with shell and shot at the appointed time, which was four o'clock. The First Brigade, having a very bad road, besides the additional ten miles to march, was behind time, for which, unfortunately, sufficient allowance had not been made, therefore was not in the appointed position, though using every exertion to get there. To add to the delay the command missed the way, and instead of coming into the Beverly road above the town and in rear of the camp, thus effectually cutting off all retreat in that direction, as was intended, the head of the column came in just below the town. When day began to dawn on the impatient men of the Second Brigade, it revealed a commotion in the camp of Porterfield's forces just below them; evidently they had been apprised of the presence of the Union forces, had taken the alarm, and were preparing for a fight or flight, in all probability the latter. The hour agreed upon had passed, and the First Brigade had not arrived at the appointed position. Impatient of restraint, - characteristic of the volunteers in the early part of the war, - and anxious to begin the attack, being fearful that the enemy, now almost within their grasp, should escape without punishment, Colonel Lander ordered the artillery to open on the camp, and the first Union messengers dropped among the tents of the enemy. The First Brigade just at this juncture came in below the camp and on the same side of the river. Colonel Kelley, at once comprehending the situation, rushed his almost worn-out men forward in the direction of the town and camp. The guns of the Second Brigade, having a good range, played upon the camp with marked effect, the shot tearing through the tents and houses, astonishing the inhabitants. Porterfield's force could not stand this; but scattered, no attempt, as far as could be seen, being made by him at organized defence, or even an orderly retreat, no time being allowed for them to make a show of resistance; in short, they ran, - fled most ingloriously, - and what promised at first a tragedy ended at this point in a farce. Firing here and there a random shot or a volley, which did little or no damage, was all the defence attempted. The First Brigade was close after them; the First Virginia in the advance - led by Companies C and B, with Colonel Kelley at their head - entered the town on the run, driving all before them. Porterfield's force - officers and men, horses with wagons, horses and riders, and horses riderless - all stood not on the order of going, but got out of that neighborhood at once. While the enemy was thus making good his escape, a man stepped from behind a wagon and shot Colonel Kelley through the breast, - a very dangerous, and at one time thought a fatal, wound, from which, however, the colonel recovered; after months of suffering, to do good service for the Union cause afterwards. The man that shot him was among the prisoners taken, saved from death at the hands of the men by the officers present. A survey of the ground revealed plenty of evidence that many of the enemy were wounded, but, such was the fear of being captured, their friends delayed long enough to help them escape. It was afterwards reported that a number of them were killed.

Thus ended the "battle" of Philippi. The First Virginia Battalion after the rout were quartered in the town, occupying houses and a church, the town being almost deserted by its inhabitants, - the Union people having left it on the advent of the enemy, and the sympathizers of the latter leaving upon their friends being driven out. This action is rather a remarkable one when it is considered that a body of men of about equal number of that of the enemy, poorly equipped and supplied for the purpose, attacked that enemy in a position chosen by himself, - dividing the force to do so, - dislodged and pitt him to flight, certainly was a gallant action and augured well for the final result.

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