The Strategy of War
The Semi-Centennial Commission of West Virginia 1913
p. 152 - 155
James Morton Calahan
1. West Virginia's Part in the Civil War
In the war of secession, to which West Virginia owes her existence as a state, the
West Virginians in proportion to their number and wealth did as much as the people of
any other state. That they were not friendly to secession was shown by their vote of ten
to one against the Virginia ordinance of secession. That the determined character of
this opposition to the action of Virginia was underestimated by the authorities at Richmond
was shown by the persistent efforts of Virginia to secure control of her western
counties and to collect forces therein for the Confederacy. Not until the failure of the
Imboden raid was the true sentiment of West Virginia understood by the Confederates. To
the union army she furnished over 30,000 regular troops, exclusive of the 2,300 Home
Guards consisting of 32 companies organized to defend 32 home counties from invasion. For
the Confederate service she furnished between 7,000 and 10,000 men,nearly all of whom enlisted
before the close of 1861. The importance of West Virginia's contribution to the war can not
be estimated alone by the number of men which she furnished. The failure of the Confederates to
hold the territory and to secure the Baltimore and Ohio railway gave the Union forces a great
advantage in the transportation of troops between Ohio and the East.
2. Contest in Northwestern Virginia.
At the opening of the war the strategic Monongahela region of West Virginia became the
theatre of contending armies in a series of introductory episodes which were
larger in significance than in size of forces engaged or extent of territory covered. The
geographic position of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, crossing the region of the
Monongahela drainage system and the eastern panhandle, and connecting Washington
with the Ohio, made it of inestimable value as an aid in the military operations of the
United States government throughout the war and at the same time determined to a large
extent the theatre of Confederate operations, especially at the inception of the war.
The results of the campaign, in which the battle of Philippi occupied a prominent place,
determined the control of northwestern Virginia including the western division of the
Baltimore and Ohio railway, contributed largely to the control of the remainder of the
Baltimore and Ohio route from the mountains eastward to Baltimore, encouraged the movement
for the formation of a new state west of the mountains, and influenced the result of later
important military events of the war.
The secessionists very early in the war saw the importance of establishing their lines along
the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania which they hoped to make the battle ground. At the same
time they underestimated the strength of the opposition which the people of northwestern Virginia
would offer to the attempt to join them to the fortunes of the Southern Confederacy. They
especially desired to control the Baltimore and Ohio railway which had a geographic position
of great strategic importance, and by which they particularly hoped to prevent the concentration
of federal troops on Maryland and Virginia.
Therefore, on April 30, 1861, General Lee ordered Major Boykin, of Weston, to call out volunteers
and assume command at Grafton, and took steps to control the Ohio terminals of the main road at
Wheeling and the branch road at Parkersburg. On May 4, he directed Colonel Porterfield, of
Harper's Ferry, to call out additional volunteers to rendevous at Grafton, to assume general
command over Boykin and others in the vicinity, to distribute 200 muskets which at the request of
Boykin had been sent to Colonel Jackson at Harper's Ferry, and to issue requisitions for additional
arms. On May 11, he ordered 400 rifles and ammunition from Staunton to Major Goff at Beverly to be
placed at the disposal of Colonel Porterfield for use in the vicinity of Grafton.
In the meantime Boykin had encountered great difficulty in assembling a force in the vicinity and
had made a request for companies from other parts of the state - a request to which General Lee
did not think it wise to comply.
On May 16, Colonel Porterfield reported from Grafton, stating that he discovered great diversity of
opinion and much bitterness of feeling and that he was seriously disappointed to find that Major Goff
at Beverly had received no rifles and had no information that any had been sent. Both at Pruntytown
and at Philippi he found a company organized and awaiting arms; and he was assured of another company
which was forming at Clarksburg, but which was without either arms or uniforms. He reported that two
companies were marching toward Grafton to aid him: that of Captain Boggess, of Weston, which had
only flint-lock muskets, in bad order and without ammunition; and that of Captain Thompson, of
Fairmont, which had better guns but little ammunition. Although urging the need of the best rifles,
he doubted whether there would be much use of the bayonet in the hills, and thought that the rifles
which had been in the fire at Harper's Ferry would do if fitted up.
Ordered to advance to Wheeling, Porterfield, before he had time to act and while disappointed with
the failure of his appeals to secure adequate arms and ammunition, found it necessary to fold his
tents and fall back toward Philippi before a superior force of troops from Wheeling - the vanguard
of the army of McClellan - under Colonel Kelly who proceeded to occupy Grafton without firing a shot.
He had burned two bridges four miles east of Mannington; but failing in his plans to execute Governor
Letcher's order to destroy the railroad at Cheat river, and blew up the tunnel through Laurel Hill,
he was unable to prevent the Baltimore and Ohio from falling into the control of the Federal forces,
which thus obtained a great advantage in the operation of the war.
In the closing days of May, General McClellan's 20,000 troops had crossed the Ohio at Parkersburg and
Wheeling; and on June I, about 4,000 of these under General Thomas A. Morris, of Indiana, reached Grafton.
Early in the evening of the following day, 3,000 of these marched by two routes on Philippi
(twenty miles southward) where Porterfield had halted with his poorly equipped forces to resist the
further advance of the Federals. Just before the dawn of June 3, the two columns converged upon the town,
after a march over muddy roads, and fired the opening guns of the first inland battle of the war. The heavy
storms which had impeded their march and tested the physical endurance of the young army, had caused the
Confederate pickets to retreat from their posts without order to find shelter at Philippi.
The rapid race of the Federals to Philippi, succeeded by the brief battle in which not a single person
was killed, was promptly followed by the precipitate retreat of the stampeded Confederates who abandoned
their baggage in their narrow escape from capture on the Beverly road and left the Baltimore and Ohio free
to transport armies for the preservation of the union. On June 22, McClellan crossed from Ohio with his
official staff; and on June 23, he established his headquarters at Grafton.
General Robert S. Garnett, who superseded Porterfield, and reinforced his army to over 6,000 by troops from
eastern Virginia, completely failed with inadequate force to recover an important strategic position by plans
to establish a base at Evansville in Preston county. Later (July 11), routed at Rich mountain
(five miles west of Beverly) and at Laurel Hill (Belington) where he had constructed fortified positions to
prevent the union troops under McClellan from moving south toward Staunton, he returned to Tucker county
endeavoring to escape by felling trees across the road behind him; but at Corrick's Ford he was overtaken and
killed while retreating from a battle which closed the campaign by putting to flight the remnant of his army.
On July 14, McClellan moved southward and occupied Huttonsville, followed by the line of military telegraph
by which throughout his brief campaign he had been able to keep in touch with Grafton and to announce to the
excited country the news of his victories - which, although small in comparison with many later victories of
the war, were important as a preparation for some of those later victories, and were significant in their
larger results which contributed to the integrity of the Union.
In the following October, the Federal force under General Reynolds advanced across the Cheat river into
Pocahontas county and attacked a Confederate force which soon fell back from the Greenbrier to the Allegheny
mountain, from which they later moved eastward.
Garnett in his report from Laurel Hill informed General Lee that the lack of enlistments and lack of
aid to the Confederate cause indicated that he was in a foreign country. After his retreat there were few
Confederates in West Virginia west of the Alleghenies and north of the Kanawha valley.