June 3, 1861: 'Philippi Races' Takes Place as One of Civil War's Opening Acts


On June 3, 1861, one of the opening acts of the Civil War unfolded in the town of Philippi. At daybreak, the roar of Union cannons shook some 800 slumbering Confederate soldiers from their tents. The routed Confederates made a hasty retreat, derisively remembered as the “Philippi Races.” The brief engagement was the first land battle of the Civil War involving organized troops. And it probably was the first time in history that railroads had been used to bring together troops for battle.

Philippi was a small skirmish compared to later battles in the war. However, the Union victory was important because it helped deny Confederates access to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in the region. And it bolstered the spirits of West Virginia statehood leaders, who were about to establish a pro-Union government of Virginia in Wheeling.

The battle also provided an interesting footnote to history. A wounded Confederate soldier, James Hanger, had his leg amputated after the battle and later crafted an artificial leg for himself. He went on to found Hanger Prosthetics, which is now the nation’s leading producer of artificial limbs.