PHILIPPI, W.Va. — A summer tradition that has been a part of Philippi since 1989 returns for its 29th rendition this weekend.
The Blue and Gray Reunion begins anew as the entire Barbour County town pays homage to the Civil War battle that took place in Philippi 156 years ago, the first land battle of the Civil War.
“We are careful to say we commemorate that battle, rather than celebrate,” said Reunion liaison Karen Larry. “We don’t ever want to celebrate war, but we certainly are commemorating this very important date in history for both the Civil War and West Virginia.”
Larry told WAJR-Clarksburg’s “The Gary Bowden Show” that the event can triple the size of the small town once each year.
“That historical event is the first land battle of the Civil War, that very fast battle, referred to by the history books as the ‘Philippi Races,’ occurred on Sunday June 3, 1861,” Larry said.
At the Battle of Philippi, 3,000 Union soldiers fought against 800 very inexperienced Confederate soldiers during the very early days of the Civil War. After a shot was fired by a Confederate sympathizer after an interaction with Union soldiers, the North’s troops eventually overran the inexperienced Southern squadron. It led to the death of 30 soldiers.
“Without that battle, who knows what would have happened to the supply lines that the covered bridge in Philippi and the railroad through Philippi helped supply during the Civil War?” Larry said. “So it was important to both sides of that battle to hold the line.”
Larry said history shows the battle could be considered a “sneak attack” leading to victory for the Union.
“The Union soldiers surprised them to say the least,” Larry said. “The weather apparently was atrocious, from what we’ve all read. There was no anticipation of someone approaching.”
Philippi is, in many ways, transformed during the first weekend in June every year, Larry said.
“Visitors to our little community will see re-enactors dressed in authentic replicas of the uniforms of both Federal troops and the Confederate troops,” she said. “They’re welcome to visit camps that are set up in two locations in town where re-enactors are living for the weekend.”
Another prominent event that took place during the Battle of Philippi was the first official amputations of the Civil War. The operation was performed on two Confederate soldiers. One of the amputees was James E. Hanger, leading him to found the Hanger Company. It remains one of the leading prosthetic producers in the nation in 2018.
“That’s another point in history that Philippi can claim,” said Larry. “There are, during the weekend, three or four different times where there’s a re-enactment of that amputation.”
“That’s certainly an interesting aspect of the weekend,” she added.
Besides the re-enactments, the Blue and Grey reunion will have plenty of other attractions throughout the weekend — including a tribute to famed abolitionist and Underground Railroad worker Harriet Tubman, a 5K run Saturday morning, historical tours, and concerts.
“We have scads of activities,” said Larry. “Saturday’s big highlight is the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. walking history day to which we invite the general public. We have about 700 school children who will be there for that.”
The festivities began Thursday with the Blue and Gray Choir, who will perform a full concert Saturday.