By David Taylor
This past summer I had the opportunity to visit the historic Laurel Hill Battlefield in Barbour County, West Virginia and walk the trails. It was amazing and a bit eerie to be in the place where the American Civil War had some of its first origins.
The first land battles of America’s Civil War took place right here in the Tygart Valley region of present-day West Virginia, with one of those fierce battles occurring near today’s small town of Belington.
The history of the area is something I don’t think a lot of people know about. Most people think the deep south when they think of the origins of the Civil War.
On June 3, 1861, Confederate forces at Philippi were surprised by a dawn artillery bombardment and fled so swiftly that their retreat became known as the “Philippi Races.” Philippi made history as the “first land battle of the Civil War,” and further down the trail, the Battle of Laurel Hill became known as the most prolonged engagement of “The First Campaign,” of the 1861 series of clashes in Western Virginia, which determined Federal control of the area.
The battle was fought from July 7 to 11, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Generals George B. McClellan (USA) and Robert S. Garnett (CSA) engaged their troops in a battle that ultimately resulted in the first Civil War casualty involving a general. Garnett lost the battle (and his life) at Corrick’s Ford.
The battle itself is woven into a greater tapestry of battles that took place over the same time period.
Union forces ousted the Confederate army and protected important turnpikes, securing safe passage to Wheeling for the founding fathers to plan the statehood of WV.
Annual battle reenactment is staged during the third weekend in July. The Battlefield is open to the public year-round and walking trails are marked with interpretive signage.