W.Va. event marks 150th anniversary of Battle of Philippi

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James E. Hanger lost a limb but found his profession at the Battle of Philippi, W.Va.

Hanger, an 18-year-old Confederate cavalryman, had his leg shattered by a Union cannonball on the morning of June 3, 1861, during what was the first land battle of the Civil War.

A re-creation of the amputation of Hanger's leg and an unusual nighttime skirmish each will be part of the Blue & Gray Weekend 150th anniversary commemoration of the battle and its aftermath.

Events begin Thursday with an afternoon craft fair and food festival in the square in front of the Barbour County Courthouse in Philippi. The four-day festival will end Sunday with an 1860s-style church service and a battle re-enactment. In-between activities will include an artillery demonstration (11 a.m. Saturday) and fireworks (10 p.m. Friday).

A complete schedule of events is available at blueandgrayreunion.org. Reunion organizers can be reached at 1-304-457-4265 or 1-304-457-2368. Philippi is about 120 miles south of Pittsburgh.

About 250 Union and Confederate re-enactors are expected to participate, said Edgar Brown, chairman of the reunion committee. Between 2,000 and 3,000 visitors are expected to attend the weekend events.

That latter number is about equal to the number of Union troops who took part in the battle. They sought to capture a smaller force of 800 Confederates who held the town of Philippi and a 300-foot-long covered bridge over the Tygart River.

Reconstructed several times, the two-lane bridge continues to carry automobile and foot traffic across the river. Serving Route 250, it is the only covered bridge in the country to be part of a national highway.

Although almost all of the Confederates escaped when the nighttime attack began prematurely around 4 a.m., their panicked retreat in heavy rain provided another name for the clash: The Philippi Races.

The all-volunteer Blue and Gray Reunion Committee has been marking the anniversary of the battle annually since 1987, Mr. Brown said.

While little more than a skirmish when compared to the deadly actions to come, the Battle of Philippi had at least two long-term consequences.

The battlefield amputation of James Hanger's leg ended his fighting days, and he became a Union prisoner of war. After his release in a POW exchange, he designed his own hinged prosthetic limb.

After the war, he patented his design and created a company that still exists as part of Hanger Orthopedic Group, Mr. Brown said.

The victory by the North at Philippi also encouraged anti-slavery and pro-Union Virginians in the northwest corner of the state to take political action against secession. Meeting about a week after the battle, delegates to the Second Wheeling Convention voted to stay in the union. They first formed a "restored" state government and then created the new state of West Virginia.

"The delegates probably would have done it anyway, but the Union victory certainly helped encourage them," Mr. Brown said.


Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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