our History & our Heritage

Bill Kiefer

The action at Philippi is significant for several reasons, but mostly it is remembered for being the first land battle of the Civil War. Some don’t give the action the dignity of classifying it as a battle, more of a skirmish maybe. But it truly was significant. Mostly for driving a small but active confederate force out of north western Virginia, and for bringing a measure of luster to the reputation of General George McClelland. The good General who had retired from the Army to get into railroads, was given command of the Department of the Ohio (the river not the state) upon his return to service. To some extent the Union had attached its forces to waterways, a not illogical move considering that rivers and railroads were the super highways of the era. However, burning a bridge here and there on a railroad could shut it down. Not so a river. Railroads went where man wanted them to go. Rivers, where navigable, went where nature meant for them to go.
In any event the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was a crucial link for McClelland and his head-quarters and troops in Cincinnati and points east. After all, there is no easy water route from the east coast to the Ohio River. Someone burned bridges on the B&O in the area of Farmington in Marion County. That someone was a Confederate Colonel, George A. Porterfield, who, unlike so many of the Civil War personages with whom we are familiar, was not a West Point graduate, but rather a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute located in Lexington, Va. He had organized one of the first Virginia units to participate in the Mexican War. After that war he became a teacher and farmer in Jefferson County until the war broke out. He did marry, and his wife (Emily Cornelia Terrill) interestingly enough had four brothers, two of whom became Civil War Generals: James Barbour Terrill CSA KIA May 30, 1864 and William Rufus Terrill USA KIA October 8 1862. Many have said that this war was brother against brother. The Terrills certainly seem to bear that out.
In response to the burnt bridges General McClelland sent the First West Virginia Infantry and other units numbering about 3,000 men into north western Virginia to find and neutralize Porterfield, who in reality only had about 800 poorly armed men. Company I was among the force sent. The attack was a great success and the confederates were routed. The only sour note was that the Regimental Commander Colonel Benjamin Franklin Kelley, of Wheeling was severely wounded. He recovered from his wounds and eventually was breveted to Brigadier General and saw much action. Company I mostly performed guard duty along the B&O for the rest of its existence. It was mustered out at the end of its 90 days on August 28, 1861. During that existence the unit suffered no battle related deaths; however, an enlisted man in Company G was reportedly killed in camp by the accidental discharge of a weapon. In addition to Kelley, other officers of note were Joseph Thoburn, then Regimental Surgeon who later died in combat as commanding Colonel of the reorganized First, and Isaac Duval later a General who I briefly discussed in an earlier column, related to the Brooke County mine riot where his descendent was killed while serving as Brooke County Sheriff.
The First Regiment had been reorganized by mid-November 1861. Its Company F contained 54 men from Hancock County, about half its number. Company G, was more geographically diverse but still contained 14 Hancock County men. These units were not short-term, but rather enlisted for three years. They saw much action during their service. Their first engagement was at Blue’s Gap, Virginia on January 7, 1862, followed quickly by participating in the evacuation of Romney, a few days later. Throughout this time it was under the command of General Ladner until he was killed in an action near the Paw-paw tunnel in February, 1862. Thereafter serving under General Shields, it fought at the first Battle of Winchester and performed well while taking heavy losses at the Battle of Port Republic in June, 1862. The unit principally served in the Shenandoah Valley throughout the war fighting at Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Thoroughfare Gap and New Market, it was lucky to have avoided “meat grinders” such as Antietam and Gettysburg. In late 1864 it was mustered out as a result of the expiration of the three year enlistments of many of its members. The remainder, who were later enlistments to replace those who died or became disabled, amounted to four Companies which were added to the Fourth West Virginia Infantry in late 1864.
Those who enlisted at New Cumberland, or who were from Hancock County, and serving in Companies F and G, but who did not survive the war, included: Nathan C. Austin, killed at Piedmont; Martin V. Brandon, died from disease at home in New Cumberland; John Johnston, died of disease at New Market; James McCarty, died of disease at Fairfax Hospital; Allen McDonald, died at Strasburg; Finley Myers, died from disease at home in New Cumberland; George W. White, died at Strasburg. Not a lot, but again about 15% of the total. Not surprisingly, more died from disease than were killed in battle. Further a number were discharged during their enlistment from disability. I found no record of their longevity.
Several other Union Regiments had significant representation in their ranks from Hancock County. I will endeavor to discuss those in coming weeks. As well we will see that certain family names appear in large numbers across the rosters of these units and some recognition is due there, such as with the Cullens who had eight family members serve.