Battle of Philippi

Official Records
Volume II, Number 1
pp. 64-74

JUNE 3, 1861. - Action at Philippi, W. Va.


Numbers 1. -Major General George B. McClellan, U. S. Army.

Numbers 2. -Brigadier General T. A. Morris, Indiana Militia.

Numbers 3. -Colonel J. M. Heck and Majs. R. E. Cowan and M. G. Harman, C. S. force.

Numbers 4.-Major M. G. Harman, commanding Virginia forces at Staunton.

Numbers 5.-Colonel George A. Porterfield, Virginia forces and reply of General Lee.

Numbers 6.-Findings of a Court of Inquiry.

Numbers 1. Reports of Major General George B. McClellan, U. S. Army.

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 Philippi 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.

Major-General, Commanding.

Colonel E. D. TOWNSEND, Assistant Adjutant-General.

Cincinnati, Ohio, June 10, 1861.

SIR: Inclosed I have the honor to forward the report of Brigadier General T. A. Morris, Indiana Volunteers, commanding the U. S. volunteer forces in the vicinity of Grafton, Va., giving a detailed account of the operations connected with the attack and occupation of Philippi.

After the two branches of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad leading from Wheeling and Parekrsburg had been secured and Grafton occupied by our troops, I learned that the insurgents had retreated to Philippi and received very considerable accession to their numbers.

To prevent their further outrages upon the railroads or upon the property of loyal citizens, I directed an immediate movement to dislodge and disperse them from their new position. This was executed under the orders of General Morris, Colonel Kelley, of the First Virginia Volunteers, having the immediate command of the attacking columns; and the result as will be seen from General Morris' report, was in many respects highly creditable to the troops engaged, and perfectly successful. The insurgents, about 2,000 in number, were surprised in their camp routed, and in great confusion driven before our troop for several miles towards Beverly.

Although quite a number of them were killed and wounded and a large portion of their munitions captured, yet it is much to be regretted that exhausted condition of our men, consequent upon a long night march through mud and rain prevented them from overtaking and capturing the mass of the fugitives. It is believed, however, that the effect of this decisive engagement will be to inspire the Union people of the country with confidence in our ability to afford them protection.

Had the attack been supported by a few companies of cavalry, it is probable that many of the enemy would have been captured or cut to pieces. As I have no available troops of that description in my department, I would very respectfully urge upon the consideration of the general commanding the importance of a mounted force (regular cavalry if they can be furnished) to insure the success of future operations in this department.

Colonel Kelley, who conducted the movement on Phillippi with marked ability and zeal, received a severe wound early in the action, which at the time was supposed to be mortal, but i am now happy today that he is considered out of danger. From the moment he received my orders at Wheeling to move on Grafton up to the time he was wounded he has exhibited in an eminent degree the qualities of an efficient commander, and I take this opportunity of renewing my recommendation for his promotion to the rank of brigadier-general in the Virginia Volunteer Militia.

Colonel Dumont deserves great credit for his conduct in the attack and pursuit of the rebels.

Colonel F. W. Lander, volunteer aide-de-camp, rendered very valuable assistance in the movement from Parkersburg and in the attack on Phillippi, where he displayed marked gallantry, and captured the officer who shot Colonel Kelley.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Major-General, U. S. Army.

Lieutenant General WINFIELD SCOTT,
Commander-in-Chief U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.

Numbers 2. Report of Brigadier General T. A. Morris, Indiana Militia.

Grafton, W. Va., June 7, 1861.

GENERAL: I have the honor to report that I arrived at Grafton on the on the evening of the 1st day of June, and found that Colonel Kelley, of the First Virginia Regiment, had organized an expedition for that night against the enemy at Phillippi. The available forces then at his command consisted of six companies of his own regiment and nine companies of the Ninth Indiana Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Milroy. After a full conference with Colonel Milroy. After a full conference with Colonel Kelley as to the position of the enemy, his strength, and the character of the approaches to his position, I deemed it advisable to postpone the attack until the succeeding night.

Having satisfied myself during the evening that we were in the midst of spies, who readily obtained every information in regard to our movements, I endeavored to arrange the expedition so as to give a false impression, and thereby secure the advantage of a surprise of the enemy.

With this view the following order was given to Colonel Kelley:

HEADQUARTERS U. S. VOLUNTEERS, Grafton, W. Va., June 2, 1861.

Colonel B. F. KELLEY,
Commanding First Regiment Virginia Volunteers:

COLONEL: With six companies of your, regiment nine companies of Colonel Milroy's Ninth Indiana, and six companies of Colonel Irvine's Sixteenth Ohio, you will proceed this morning to a point about six miles eastward from this place on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and march by the shortest and most practicable route towards Philippi. You must regulate your march according to your discretion, and your bivouac or rest at night in such manner that you are sure of coming before the town of Philippi as near 4 o'clock to-morrow morning as possible. Should you this evening receive certain information that the rebels have retreated eastward from Philippi you will make the resting time of your troops as short as possible, in order to follow them up with all the speed strength of your troops will allow. In such case you will as early as possible inform Colonel Dumont on the order bank of the river, and direct his co- operation whit you in the pursuit, which, if in your discretion you are in sufficient force, you will continue until they are beyond Beverly, and you will also apprise these headquarters, in order that supplies may be forwarded to you.

By command of Brigadier General T. A. Morris:

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

This column (the left of the attack) moved by railroad train on the 2nd at 9 o'clock a. m. towards, and was generally understood to be an advance on, Harper's Ferry.

After leaving the cars the distance to Philippi was about twenty-five miles, on a road but little traveled. The instructions required a rapid march during the day and early part of the night to a point from which, after a sufficient rest, Philippi could be certainly reached at 4 o'clock next morning.

My information induced me to believe that two attaching, columns, one on the left, the other on the right side of Philippi, would secure every exit which the enemy could use in retreat. I therefore organized the right column, under Colonel Dumont, in conformity with the following order:

Grafton, W. Va., June 2, 1861.

Colonel DUMONT,
Commanding Seventh Regiment Indiana Volunteers, near Grafton, Va.:

COLONEL: You will proceed by railroad this evening at 8.30 o'clock to Webster, with eight companies of your regiment. At Webster you will be joined by Colonel Steedman, with five companies of his regiment and two field pieces, also by Colonel Crittenden, with six companies of his regiment. From Webster yo will, with this command, march, on Philippi, using your own discretion in the conduct of the march keeping in view that you should in front of the town at 4 o'clock precisely to-morrow morning.

Information is received that the rebels are in some force at Philippi.

The object of your column will be to divert attention until the attack in made by Colonel Kelley, and should resistance be offered you are to aid him to the extent of your ability. In the conduct of your columns of your column you must use your discretion, being governed by such circumstances as may occur. When joined by Colonel Kelley, the whole force will be under his command.

The companies of your regiment will take two full days' rations. Should you receive instructions from Colonel Kelley that the rebels have retreated, you will join him at once, and act his command.

By command of Brigadier General T. A. Morris:
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

This force, in leaving Grafton after dark, had reasonable assurance of reaching the enemy in advance of any information from their friends, and, as event, proved, did so. The enemy was entirely off his guard, and was completely surprised, as the reports of those engaged in the attack attest.

The failure to capture the entire rebel force can only be attributed to the storm during the night. this unforseen misfortune served to call forth and endurance seldom, exhibited, and I feel that the heroism of officers, and men was as truly displayed in a march of fifteen miles in pitchy darkness, drenching, rain and one a mountainous country as in the irresistible attack and hot pursuit of the discomfited enemy. The last five miles of Colonel Dumont's column was made in one hour and a quarter. many men fainted, and were left on the road. Others threw away their haversacks and provisions to keep up, rushing forward with a determination that showed what spirit animated the command. I regard it as remarkable that under such circumstances the two columns were but fifteen apart at the time assigned for their meeting. An able reconnaissance in advance of Colonel Dumont's column was made by Colonel F. W. Lander, whose voluntary aid I gladly accepted and to whose advice and assistance I am greatly indebted. The immediate direction of the artillery was confided to him. After the bridge was taken he pressed forward and joined Colonel Kelley, rode into the enemy's ranks, and captured the prisoner reported to have shot Colonel Kelley. He had great difficulty in restraining the Virginia Volunteers from summarily dispatching the man, who is a noted secessionist and a quartermaster of the rebel forces.

From the reports of Colonel Dumont (who by the fall of Colonel Kelley, had command) you will perceive there is much difficulty in an accurate of the enemy's losses. His killed is estimated from fifteen to forty, which were carried off, supposed by friends, during the confusion incident to the pursuit of the enemy. A large amount of camp equipage, provisions, arms, wagons, horses and medical stores were captured, an inventory of which will be made as soon as possible.

Whilst I am happy to state that we have none killed, I am extremely sorry to report that the gallant Colonel Kelley, of the First Virginia Regiment, whilst leading the attack of his column, fell severely wounded by a pistol-shot in the right breast. The wound, supposed at first to be mortal, I am glad to know will only deprive us of his valuable counsels and assistance for a few weeks. Although he still suffers, his ultimate recovery may be now regrade as certain. Much of the success of our attack is due to him. His thorough knowledge of the country, his skill in rendering that knowledge available, his cool and unflinching courage, will deprive us for the time of a great support in our enterprise. [Sic.]

To Colonel Dumont, who led the column on the right, too much praise can scarcely be given. For his energy, tact, and cool daring we are greatly indebted.

I feel it would be a trespass upon your patience to enumerate all who deserve especial praise, and would revel you to the report herewith forwarded for mine information, both as respects individuals and the various commanders engaged. I cannot, however, conclude without expressing my obligations to Captain H. W. Benham, U. S. Engineers, for the valuable aid he has afforded me. Indeed, his great knowledge and experience are invaluable to me at all times, and particularly on this occasion.

Immediately after the action, knowing the exhausted condition of the officers and men, I dispatched, Captain Benham to the scene of action, gave him full command, and have the satisfaction to state that he restored order, and placed all in position to repel an attack with a promptness that exhibited his consummate ability and unbounded energy.

Justice obliges, me, in conclusion, to say, that of my staff brigade inspector, Major Love; my aide-de- camp, Captain Hassall, and Acting Assistant Adjutant-General John A. Stein deserve all the encomiums that a deep sense of my depended upon my them obliges me to express. They are all thorough in their knowledge and untiring in their duties, and I feel sure that their services in my command will be duly appreciated by you, and be remembered, gratefully by all.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier General, Commanding U. S. Volunteers in Western Virginia.

Captain N. H. McLEAN,
Asst. Adjt. General, Department of the Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Numbers 3. Joint report of Colonel J. M Heck and Majors Cowan and Harman.

STAUNTON, VA., June 6, 1861.

Messrs. Spalding and Cook have just reached here, leaving Philippi on Monday morning. The Federal troops surprised Colonel Peterfield's command, opening fire upon the town with artillery, and drove us out, with a reported loss of about six killed and a considerable quantity of arms, baggage, and provisions. Much heavier loss to the enemy in men. McClellan led the Federal forces. Our forces retreated to Beverly.

The expedition under Colonel heck leaves here on Friday for the Northwest. We urge you will send by express train two thousand men, with arms and ammunition, to drive the vandals out, or else give up our border. These gentlemen were in the engagement; say Colonel Porterfield had but little ammunition of any kind. Send an officer of experience to command our forces, or a battery and five thousand arms, if possible.

M. B. HARMAN, Major.
J. M. HECK, Colonel.
R. E. COWAN, Major.
Governor LETCHER or General R. E. LEE.

Numbers 4. Report of Major M. G. Harman, Virginia Volunteers.

Staunton, Va., June 6, 1861.

SIR: Inclosed is a copy of a letter that I have written to Colonel Peterfield, at Beverly. From this you will perceive that, while I have received no communication from. Colonel Porterfield informing me of the wants of his command, learning of their great need of supplies of ammunition from private sources, I have dispatched an express to him with a supply. From all the information that I have received I am pained to have the express my conviction that Colonel Peterfield is entirely unequal the he occupies. The affair at Philippi was a disgraceful surprise, occurring about daylight, there being no picket guard or guard of any kind on duty. The only wonder is that our men were not cut to pieces. They were all asleep, and were only aroused by the firing of the enemy. the safety of the Northwest and of our inexperienced soldiers depends upon an immediate change of commanders, and giving the command to a bold an experienced leader.

I start in the morning the expedition under Lieutenant-Colonel Heck, under escort of two companies of cavalry, three companies of infantry, and one artillery company, with a battery, if the Tennessee company arrives. I send a large supply of provisions, fifteenth hundred muskets, clothing, and all the ammunition that I can raise. I have arranged to concentrate the militia on the route, which will join Colonel Heck, and will be armed by him as they come in. I have the arrangements in progress to start promptly the detachment, which, I am informed, will be sent up on Saturday to this point. We are sadly in want of ammunition, our whole supply being exhausted by this exhausted by this expedition. I hope you will have a sufficient supply forwarded as early as possible to this point.

I would again urge rapid re-enforcements to regain possession of the Northwest, and that I shall receive authority from you to call out and arm the companies from all the valley counties, and send them to that quarter, instead of their going, as heretofore directed, to their different rendezvous. Send up five thousand flint-lock muskets from Richmond and I will have them overhauled and put in order for use. We shall need these in addition to what we have.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Major, Commanding.

Major General R. E. LEE, Richmond, Va.

Staunton, Va., June 6, 1861.

Commanding Virginia Forces, Beverly, Va.:

COLONEL: I send you a supply of ammunition by Messrs. Trotter and Crawford, an account of which is herewith inclosed.

To-morrow I shall send you a field battery, accompanied by cavalry and infantry, which will be joined by other troops on the way, and the whole force will report to you at Beverly. On the day following, from two to three thousand troops will be sent to you by President Davis from Richmond. I have received a telegraphic dispatch from the commander-in-chief our army, saying. "Send a messenger to Colonel Porterfield to be valiant and maintain his ground until relief reaches him. Send him supplies, if he wants them."

Having received no official communication from you, but learning from private sources, since the disaster to our arms at Philippi, that you are almost without ammunition, I have determined to send you a supply by express. I inclose duplicate receipts for the munitions sent, which you will please sign and return to me. Please keep in daily communication with me by couriers until relief reaches you. Very respectfully,

Major, Commanding.

Numbers 5. Reports of Colonel George A. Porterfield, Virginia Volunteers, and reply of General Lee.

Huttonsville, Va., June 9, 1861.

SIR: I have the honor to address you as regards the state of my command. The force here now numbers about one thousand, of which one hundred and eighty are cavalry and the balance infantry. This force is not only deficient in drill, but ignorant, both officers and men, of the most ordinary duties of the soldier. With efficient drill officers they might be made effective; but I have to complain that the field officers sent to command these men are of no assistance to me, and are, for the most part, as ignorant of their duties as the company officers, and they as ignorant as the men. I hope, if I am continued in command, that good staff officers may be sent, to aid in organizing this raw force, than which there is none more so now in the service. I have not been able to even get proper returns made out to send to your headquarters, and my own reputation has been injured by the character of my command; in fact, if it had been intended to sacrifice me, I could not have expected less support than had. Of its expected that the troops here should take the field effective, it is necessary that at least five thousand well-drilled men should be sent at once, as the enemy's army is being daily re-enforced, and if aids is not soon aid is not soon sent, it will be impossible to keep the open field, even as a mere corps of observation, but will have to retire to the mountains, where it will be most difficult, if not impossible, to provision even this small force. I have been reliable informed that two companies of negroes, armed and uniformed, have been seen at Fairmont. The country to the northwest is in a state of revolution, all law-abiding citizens being driven off by the traitors, assisted by Northern troops. The private property of secessionists, but other wise inoffensive citizens, their cattle, young unbroken horses and colts, and the clothing of women and children, have been seized and taken off from citizens of Philippi. Captain Alexander will give verbally my additional information that may be desired as to the condition of this command.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel of Volunteers, Commanding.

Colonel R. S. GARNETT,
Adjutant-General Virginia Forces, Richmond, Va.

Randolph County, Va., June 11, 1861.

SIR: I omitted to state in my last report that Lieutenant Colonel William L. Jackson, Virginia Volunteers, had reported to me for duty. He has been very active, and will become a most useful officer. Colonel Willey, who has also been very zealous and useful, was left sick in Philippi. I have assurance that he shall be well treated.

The enemy remains at Philippi, where they are reported to have about five thousand men, and are fortifying themselves. The same number are said to be at Grafton. From five hundred to one thousand are said to be at the Cheat River Bridge; but of this I have no reliable information. Other forces are stationed at different points on the railroads. I understand their object to be occupy the western part of the State, to the Aleghanies or Blue Ridge, if possible. The greatest outrages have, in numerous cases, been perpetrated upon the private property of secessionists. Some militia companies have recently joined this command. A regiment from Tennessee is expected the to-morrow, having in charge, as I am informed, some pieces of heavy artillery. No pieces heavier than 6-pounders should be sent to this country, until some position is selected to be fortified and a strong and reliable infantry force sent to support it. I am not informed what quantity of ammunition is in Staunton. I have never received any other than the most limited supplies from that place. The percussion caps sent have nearly all been of small size for shot-guns and not large enough for muskets. As re-enforcement are now expected, and we shall have active service in this part of the State, I desire to be continued on duty here. It was not until after repeated calls for aid, and when left, with a small militia force entirely unprepared for the field, that I asked for duty elsewhere. Beverly is now occupied by our cavalry.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel of Volunteers, Commanding.

Colonel R. S. GARNETT, Adjutant-General, Richmond Va.

Richmond, Va., June 13, 1861.

COLONEL: Your letter of the 9th has been received. I regret much the unfortunate circumstances with which you have been beset, and appreciate the difficulties you have had to encounter. General R. s. Garnett, C. S. Army, has been sent to take command in the Northwest with such a force as was disposable. It is hoped that he will soon reach the scene of action, that a more agreeable state of hinges will be inaugurated, and that load spirited citizens, of the country will be encouraged sand enabled to put down the revolution which you mention. Your services will be very valuable to General Garnett, in giving him information as to the state of affairs in the country under his command, and in aiding him to achieve the object of his campaign.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE,
General, Commanding.

Commanding, &c., Huttonsville Va.

Numbers 6. Findings of the Court of Inquiry.


Numbers 30. Richmond, Va., July 4, 1861.

I. -The court of inquiry, which convened at Beverly on the 20th ultimo, at the request of Colonel G. A. Porterfield, of the Virginia Volunteers, to examine into the circumstances of the retreat of the Virginia forces from Philippi on the 3rd of June, under his command, ash reported the following facts in the case:

A force of Virginia troops, consisting of some six hundred effective infantry (or thereabouts), and one hundred and seventy-five cavalry (or thereabouts), sufficient well armed, but badly and insufficiently supplied with the necessary accouterments and ammunition, was stationed at Philippi, Barbour County, Virginia, on the morning of June 3, 1861 (where they had been for six or seven days), under the command of Colonel George A. Porterfield, of the Virginia Volunteers.

On the morning of the day just indicated, at between daybreak and sunrise, this command was attacked and taken by surprise; no alarms or intimation of the enemy's approach having been given by the guard or infantry pickets, until the enemy was within some four hundred yards of the place, and had commenced the fire from his artillery. By the examination it is shown that amain and picket guard, as strong as was consistent with the effective infantry force present, was regularly force present, was regularly detailed and posted at distances sufficiently far out to accomplish the object in view, provided they knew and did their duty, which latter is failed to give any intimation of the enemy's approach a conclusion which is strengthened by the officers out with the scouting parties on the night of June 2, that they had neither seen an infantry picket nor been challenged by its sentinels, going from or returning to the town that night. It appears that, immediately upon the arrival of the command of Philippi the officer in command, Colonel Parterfield, took measures to place his force, which was raw and new in services under a course of instruction, and to select those, in his opinion best fitted to instruct the sentinels and guards in their duties. The testimony shows that, while there was a certain degree of confusion in some quarters, a portion of the command moved from the down in good order, and that the whole force, nearly after passing some distance from the town, was reformed, and proceeded in order.

It is shown in the evidence that an expectation of attack or movement upon Philippi, shortly to be made, was entertained generally among the officers and that intelligence (how well founded is not known) was brought from time to time of the strength and supposed intent of the enemy.

The testimony sets forth that this had so far produced its effect as to induce the officer in command to call a meeting of his officers; that the result of their consultations and deliberations was an almost, if not unanimous decision in favor of immediate retreat; that when Colonel Porterfield returned to the room (from which he had been absent a short time) their opinion was conveyed to him, to which he seemed loth to accede; yet, determined to make a further examination of the ammunition on hand, and to prepare the baggage and train for removal at a moment's notice.

No orders to march at any particular time were given, so far as can be gathered from the testimony, although it appears that an understanding or impression was had or entertained by some that the movement would not take place until morning, which some believed it contingent upon weather.

The record will disclose the fact of a difference of construction (as to the hour of return) of the orders given to the officer in command of the cavalry company, from which the scouting party or parties was taken for duty on the night of 2nd instant.

The testimony of several witnesses bears evidence of the cool, deliberate and self-possessed conduct of Colonel Porterfield on the morning of June 3.

The court having been directed to express irs opinion, as well as report the facts, presents the following:

1st. That the commanding officer, having received information deemed by him sufficient to prepare for an early retreat, erred, in permitting himself to be influenced by the weather, so far as to delay the execution of his plan.

2nd. That the commanding officer did order dispositions to be made to prevent surprise; but a misunderstanding as to the time at which the scouts were to be called in, and a total want of proper vigilance on the part of the infantry pickets, caused a surprise, which distinct and definite instructions properly executed, would have avoided.

3rd. That the commanding officer erred in not advancing and strengthening his picket beyond the usual limits under the circumstances.

4th. That the commanding officer exhibited upon the occasion decided coolness, self-possession, and personal courage, and exerted himself, as far as possible, to effect a retreat in good order.

II.- The commanding general having attentively considered the proceedings of the court of inquiry in the foregoing case, concurs in the opinion expressed by the court and in the statement of facts deduced from the testimony. these facts show that the position at Philippi was seriously threatened by a superior force of the enemy, distant only four hours' march; that Colonel Porterfield was aware of the danger of his position, and prudently prepared to evacuate it. His desire to prevent the occupation of the town by the enemy was worthy of all praise, and had he promptly sent back his baggage and ineffective men, arranged his plan of defense, and taken proper measures to secure information of the advance of the enemy, he might sagely have retained his position, and either given battle of retired, as circumstances might dictate. It does not appear from of the court that any plan of defense was formed; but it does appear that the troops retired without his orders, and that the instructions to his advance guard were either misconceived or not executed. To these circumstances must be attributed the disaster that followed, and they call for they call for heavy censure upon all concerned. The commanding general remarks with pleasure upon the coolness, self-possession, courage, and energy displayed by Colonel Porterfield at the moment of attack; but he cannot exonerate him from blame in not taking proper precautionary measures beforehand. Yet, in consideration of all the circumstances of the case, he does not think it necessary to do more than to express the opinion of the court, in the hope that the sad effects produced by the want of forethought and vigilance, as exhibited in this case, will be a lesson to be remembered by the army throughout the war.

III.-The court of inquiry, of which Colonel William B. Taliaferro, Virginia Volunteers, is president, is dissolved.

By command of General Lee:

Assistant Adjutant-General.

Civil War

West Virginia Archives and History