Thursday, June 2, 2011

June 3, 1861 (Saturday): The Philippi Races

Town of Phillippi (covered bridge from time of battle).

                                    Reports of Maj. Gen. George B. McClelan, U.S. Army

                                    HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE OHIO
                                                                                    Cincinnati, June 3, 1861
    I have just received a telegram, dated to-day, from General T. A. Morris, Indiana Volunteers, commanding United States troops at Grafton, Va., In which he says:
    We surprised the rebels, about two thousand strong, at Phillippi this morning.  Captured a large amount of arms, horses, ammunition, provisions, and camp equipage.  The attack was made after a march during the entire night in a drenching rain.  The surprise was complete.  Fifteen rebels killed.  The gallant Colonel Kelley, of the First Virginia Volunteers, I fear is mortally wounded.  No other important casualties on our side.
    The dispatch from General Morris informs me that the troops at last advices were in hot pursuit of the rebels.
                                                                        GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
                                                                        Major-General, Commanding.
Col. E. D. TOWNSEND, Assistant Adjutant-General.

McClellan attempted to protect the critical Baltimore and Ohio railroad supply line and pro-Union Virginians in the western part of the state, while making grand plans to eventually move on Harper's Ferry.  After rebels burned a bridge in Farmington (south of Wheeling), McClellan sent a small force to move on Fairmont (70 miles south of Wheeling).  Another column moved on Grafton.  Confederate forces under George Porterfield retreated to Phillippi, 17 miles south of Graton along the critical Beverly to Fairmont turnpike.  There, with few pickets posted because of the rainstorm mentioned, they were surprised by Morris and Kelley and put to flight in what has become described as the "Phillippi Races".  After the battle Porterfield was replaced by General Robert S. Garnett, familiar to readers of this blog as the adjutant-general of Virginia's forces at the beginning of the war.  Phillippi, and other early successes in the west of Virginia, added to McClellan's stature and self-opinion.  Days later, encouraged no doubt by the battle, westerners repudiated Virginia's secession, forming what is now West Virginia.

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