The Battle of Philippi — also called The Philippi Races — was fought on June 3, 1861, in and around Philippi, Virginia (now West Virginia) as part of the Western Virginia Campaign of the American Civil War. It was the first organized land action in the war, but is often treated dismissively as a skirmish rather than a significant battle.
After the commencement of hostilities at Fort Sumter in April 1861, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan returned to the Army and, on May 13, assumed command of the Department of the Ohio, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. McClellan planned an offensive into what is now the State of West Virginia (at that time the northwestern part of the Commonwealth of Virginia) that he optimistically hoped would eventuate in a campaign against the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. His immediate objectives, however, were to occupy the territory to protect the predominantly pro-Union populace of the area, and to keep open the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line, which was a critical supply line for the Union.
On May 26, McClellan, in response to the burning of bridges on the Baltimore & Ohio near the town of Farmington, ordered Colonel Benjamin Franklin Kelley of the (Union) 1st Virginia Infantry, with his regiment and Company A of the 2nd Virginia Infantry, to advance from Wheeling to the area of the sabotage and secure the important bridge over the Monongahela River at Fairmont, a distance of about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Wheeling. In this Kelley's men were supported by the 16th Ohio Infantry under Col. James Irvine. After securing Fairmont, the 1st Virginia advanced again and seized the important railroad junction of Grafton, about 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Fairmont, on May 30.
Meanwhile, the 14th Ohio Infantry Regiment, under Col. James B. Steedman, was ordered to occupy Parkersburg and then also proceed to Grafton, about 90 miles (140 km) to the east. By May 28, McClellan had ordered a total of about 3,000...