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Tour of Historic Wheeling, West Virginia
Item 3 of 20
This historic marker commemorates the start of the Civil War in the future state of West Virginia and is part of the West Virginia Civil War Trails series of historic markers. The marker includes a brief history of the war and the creation of the state of West Virginia. In August of 1861, Confederate General Robert E. Lee tried but failed to occupy the western part of Virginia. Union and Confederate armies both campaigned throughout western Virginia in the next few years, guarding rail lines and mountain passes while also launching offensives aimed at controlling key areas and rallying the populace to their side. By June, 1863 the western counties under the control of the Union became the 35th state West Virginia.

The Battle of Philippi was little more than a skirmish between Union and Confederate partisans, but its occurrence on June 3, 1861 has led to its historic distinction as the "first land battle" of the American Civil War. At the time, Philippi held some measure of strategic importance to both Union and Confederate supporters due to its location on the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad. Just before dawn on the day of June 3, 1861, Union and Confederate forces clashed in Philippi. Outnumbered, Confederate forces began a quick and steadfast retreat from the area; so quickly was their retreat that it became known as the "Philippi Races."

Following the Battle of Philippi on June 3rd 1861, General Garnett retreated south to Laurel Mountain. The retreat was due to a suprised artillery stike from the union, the retreat later became known as the "Philippi Races." General Garnett was able to make camp with his roughly 3500-4500 men, with the goal of stopping the advancement of Union troops. Under orders from General McClellan, General Thomas A. Morris began to march his 5000 troops from Philippi to Belington. The battle started on July 7th 1861, and ended with a Confederate retreat.1

General Robert S. Garnett survived the Battle of Laurel Hill, but died of a gunshot wound at Corrick’s Ford on July 13th 1861.  While retreating the Confederate troops were attempting to cross the Cheat river. General Garnett was shot while commanding the rear guard.  General Garnett was the first general to die in the American Civil War. The remaining Confederate soldiers fled and abandoned large quantities of equipment.2  Generals McClellan and Morris both survived the war. Garnett's death led to McClellan's rise to power, and ultimately the Union winning the war. 

The Battle of Rich Mountain was set when McClellan moved his forces from Clarksburg to meet John Pegram's Confederate troops, reaching Rich Mountain on July 9th. Meanwhile, Thomas Morris's union brigade marched from the town of Philipi to confront Garnett's Confederate brigade on Laurel Hill leaving two key roads blocked, which hampered McClellan's attempts to travel east. while Rosecrans led his newly reinforced Brigade down a rather dangerous mountain path in order to seize the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike on July 10th.

This battle finally began on July 11th, with McClellan's forces fighting against both Pegrams and Garnett's while he made the risky move of sending Rosecran's soldiers on the mountain path in hopes of attacking the rebel soldiers at their flank, marching in the pouring rain, Rosecran was finally successful in attacking the Confederate's wing. This caused the southern forces to begin falling back, and McClellan began shelling their forces, though the expected assault by McClellan's forces never came to fruition. 

Rather short, the battle only lasted two hours, but it was still a large victory for the Union. The fighting split Confederate forces in two, with half succeeding in retreating to the town of Beverly. But some were not so lucky.  With his own retreating path blocked off, Pegram and his remaining force of over 500 soldiers had no other choice than to surrender to northern troops on July 13th, while Garnett perished while fighting at Corrick's Ford on the same day. Casualties of the battle differ from source to source. With some saying both sides lost around 70 soldiers, others say that Confederate losses were up to 300, while the Union only lost 46 troops. 

On July 11, 1861,  General George B. McClellan's successful surprise attack on Rich Mountain and his army's ability to control the turnpike led to the withdrawal of Confederate troops from the area. Union troops dug trenches around Butcher Hill (Mt. Isner) and built numerous fortifications around the town. Troops also utilized homes and public buildings throughout the town, especially during the winter months of occupation. The Lemuel Chenoweth House was one of many used to house officers and care for the sick and wounded. This home is located next to the Beverly covered bridge and is open for tours. Despite the Southern sympathies of many residents throughout the area, Beverly and the surrounding area would be controlled by the Union for most of the war. However, Confederate raiders were able to persist throughout the area, making the Civil War in this section of West Virginia a local affair that divided residents during and after West Virginia secured statehood on June 20, 1863.

The battle at Corricks Ford took place on July 13th, 1861 along the Cheat River as part of the western Virginia campaign. By later standards, the battle was a minor skirmish, and was thought to be the final part of the Battle of Rich Mountain. This was the end of a seriers of battles between the forces of Union General George B. McClellan and Confederate General Robert S. Garnett. McClellan had defeated part of Garnett's on July 11, 1861 during the Battle of Rich Mountain. On the hearing of the defeat, Garnett fell back toward Virginia with approximately 4,500 men around midnight that night. Garnett began to march towards Beverly, but had recieved false information implying that McClellan's men occupied the town. The Confederates then backtracked, and abandoned their efforts to secure the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, and trekked over Cheat Mountain towards the Cheat River Valley. General Thomas A. Morris then pursued the Confederates with the 14th Indiana Infantry on July 13th, 1861, and took over Garnett's forces that were located along the Cheat River. Garnett took it upon himself to guard the rear of the forces with means to delay the Union attacks as the Confederates were retreating. Garnett was shot off of his horse and became the first General to die in battle. Due to the Confederate's retreat and Garnett's death, the Union had sole control over the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike and ultimately western Virginia.

1. “The Battle of Laurel Hill - History.” Accessed August 31, 2016. 2.American Civil War: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection, Spencer C Tucker, Page 746 3. Hickman, Kennedy. “American Civil War: Battle of Philippi.” May 5, 2015. Accessed August 31, 2016. 4. HistoryNet. “Account of the Battle of Philippi.” June 12, 2006. Accessed August 31, 2016. 5. Swain, Craig. "Battle of Rich Mountain Historical Marker." Battle of Rich Mountain Historical Marker. October 22, 2009. Accessed August 01, 2016. 6. Wills, Jack "Battle of Rich Mountain." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 28 March 2013. Web. 01 August 2016. 7. TGossett. “Battle Summary: Rich Mountain, WV.” Accessed August 30, 2016. 8. “Share Battle of Corricks Ford.” 2016. Accessed August 31, 2016.