Upon coming back to WV, I had a few trips in mind. One was to Philippi and Rich Mountain (the first and third land battles of the Civil War)… (the second was The Battle of Big Bethel, in southeast Virginia).
Anyway, Philippi is about 2 hours of ridiculously twisty US250 South away. It’s beautiful, of course, but wow, it’s really freakily twisty. The towns along US250 are pretty run down, but would be great for a bit of urban exploration if you’re crazy enough to enter the rickety buildings of West Virginians with guns. Just a thought.
The towns of Littleton and Hundred were great and there seemed to be a bit of appreciation for their history. There was a rails-to-trails section along the old B & O Railroad bed (B & O stands for Baltimore & Ohio Railroad – they owned most of the rail traffic through here).
I stumbled across an old tunnel, but it had been bricked up. Hopefully it can be unbricked for future rails-to-trails stuff. But seeing has how the locals use the old railroad bed as a road for everything from ATVs to regular cars, it’s rather unlikely.
A bit farther down the line, the town of Mannington was pretty cool. There was a Civil War Trails plaque that basically gave an overview of stuff in the area. Union troops camped here in 1861, before any fighting took place.
While driving through Mannington, I saw a sign for “Round Barn.” Sarah, for some reason, was on a round barn kick a few weeks ago and yeah, I think they’re pretty cool too. So I hung a right and after a few miles, there it was. West Virginia’s only restored round barn.
An old fellow came out of his house, which I assumed originally was the farm house for the barn, though it’s a separate property now. He walked up to my car and asked “Is that one of them there hybrid cars?” I said that it wasn’t, “nope, just a normal car.” He asked how much it got per gallon. I said around 40. “Yeah boy, I tell you, that’s what you need nowadays. Gas is ridiculous. N’it’s just gonna git worse, I fear.”
He was a nice fellow and I got a smile out of him. Not a bad thing.
Back on US250, eventually it connects to it’s parent route, US 50. It follows along US 50 to Grafton, passing a really cool old motel. Grafton has a very large national cemetery where they’ve buried soldiers from WW 2 onward. I visited it looking for Civil War graves, but those are in another, apparently impossible to find, cemetery. I drove around the town looking for it and failed. I did, however find a sad, run down town that was desperately trying to find itself.
It was in Grafton that the Union troops coordinated the attack on Philippi. It was here that the Civil War’s first battle was planned. They really want to focus on that. It was also a pretty big B & O Railroad yard. And not only that, it was (supposedly) the place where the first Mother’s Day was celebrated.
While it’s true that Anna Jarvis founded Mother’s Day in Grafton, WV, the first attempt at an American Mother’s Day was by Julia Ward Howe after the Civil War as a call for peace and disarmament. It didn’t really take since there was a political bent to it. However, Jarvis’s “just celebrate mom” (a good idea, to be sure) worked. And in 1907, we got Mother’s Day. Though, nine years after the first Mother’s Day, Jarvis protested against what it had become: commercialized by American consumerism. Big shock.
They should have went with the original idea.
While leaving Grafton, I stopped at a Civil Monument. I usually just pass them by (seriously, I know it doesn’t seem like I do, but I really do!) and found this one to be very interesting.
This was the spot, the exact spot, where the first Union soldier was killed by enemy fire. Actually, it’s where the first soldier of either side was killed. Here is where, on May 22, 1861, Thornsbury Bailey Brown, Company B “The Grafton Guards,” 2nd Virginia (US) was shot by a Confederate sniper.
When the Confederates fired upon the Union-held Fort Sumter, in Charleton harbor, on April 12, 1861, it was considered the start of the Civil War. However, while the fort was surrendered, nobody was killed by enemy fire. So, well over a month later, we get our first casualty.
Coincidently, the first Confederate casualty was at the Battle of Big Bethel, hundreds of miles away, on June 10. The Confederates soundly defeated the Union, incurring only one death, though killed several (eight, I think) Union soldiers.
And from Grafton, on to Philippi! Philippi has a covered bridge. A big one. Oh I couldn’t wait! I had been there over a decade before and wanted to see it again.
It’s also the place where the first land battle of the Civil War took place on June 3, 1861. It was a fairly bloodless battle where the Union troops caught the Confederates by surprise. They fired a few shots and fled. Nobody died.
The real carnage of the war wasn’t a reality. Not yet. After Philippi was the battle of Big Bethel, hundreds of miles away and basically unrelated. Few deaths there too.
But The Battle of Rich Mountain had to have changed some folks’ idea of what the war would be.
Rich Mountain Battlefield, south of Philippi was my next destination. I had never been there and I really dig these small battlefields. The Confederate camping ground was still open land (treeless) and you could get a feel for how it was. The battlefield, just up the hill, still had fairly well preserved earthworks. I was pretty stoked about that. You don’t get to see such things very often.
Up the hill even farther, is where the real tumult took place. On July 11, 1861, the sneaky Union troops surprised the Confederates yet again and split them in two. After a two-hour (some sources say four-hour) battle, the Union had killed, wounded or captured over 400 Confederates.
After the war, many Confederate soldiers came back and carved the names of the fallen comrades upon the many rocks, memorializing the first who fell on their baptism of fire.
I had further plans for the day, but had taken too long along the way (especially in Grafton) to complete them. On top of all that, I had one of the worst headaches I’ve had in a long, long time. I decided to call it a day and head back.
Click to view pics of my day.
[a few, at the bottom, are out of order - I don't know why]