Philippi: First Organized ‘Battle’ of the Civil War

A historic covered bridge, used as a barracks for Union troops, still stands at the scene of an early Civil War skirmish.

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The Battle of Philippi was fought on June 3, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris and Confederate forces commanded by Col. George A. Porterfield in Philippi, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The skirmish, which was the first in Virginia, was a Union victory that encouraged Western Virginians to secede and form their own pro-Union state. It resulted in 30 total casualties.

By the time Virginia voters ratified the decision of its secession convention on May 23, 1861, Richmond had already been proclaimed the Confederate capital and militia units were mobilizing. As commander of the Department of the Ohio, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan invaded western Virginia under the pretext of protecting unionists there. Western counties would later vote to secede from Virginia and form the state of West Virginia.

McClellan sent 3,000 volunteer troops into western Virginia under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris. Opposing them were approximately 800 poorly trained and equipped militia commanded by Col. George A. Porterfield gathered at the town of Grafton. Porterfield retreated to Philippi as the Union army advanced. Morris divided his force into two columns, which converged on Philippi and the Confederates camped there.

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Discover West Virginia’s Lost World Caverns

Natural history and a taste of the fantastic awaits you at this subterranean roadside attraction.

Adults and children alike will enjoy this 1/2-mile loop through towering stalagmites and stalactites 235 feet underground. Walk through a continuous room over 1,000 feet long and 120 feet high, slowly hollowed out over millions of years, draining into the nearby Greenbrier River. Stairs, ramps, and railings make the basic tour a breeze for anyone not in a wheel chair.

Lost World Caverns was discovered in 1942, though local farmers had been using its entrance to dump dead livestock and trash for decades. They had no idea what lay just under the surface until scientists from  Virginia Tech began to explore what was then known as “Grapevine Cave”. It was surveyed in the 1960s, and in 1967 the remains of a prehistoric cave bear were discovered.

In the 1970s, the cavern was developed for commercial tourism and in 1973 the National Park Service designated it a National Natural Landmark. Since then, Lost World Caverns has attracted the sensational. In 1971, a man named Bob Addis set the World Record for “Stalagmite Sitting” atop a 28-foot formation called the War Club, and in 1992 the infamous tabloid Weekly World News reported that “Bat Boy” had been caught living in the cave.

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A Trip to Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

As part of our trip to West Virginia last month, my wife and I stopped by the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, a destination that’s been on my bucket list for a while. Yes, it’s appeared on just about every paranormal-themed TV show, but it has an interesting history dating back to the Civil War as well.

Welcome Home

Designed by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews in Gothic and Tudor Revival styles, construction on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum began in 1858. In 1861, the Civil War’s outbreak interrupted construction on Virginia’s new asylum as Union troops seized its construction funds from a local bank (totaling nearly $30,000.00 in gold) and used them to help fund a pro-Union Virginia government in Wheeling. It opened in 1864, though construction wasn’t fully completed until nearly 20 years later.

The Institution

During the mid-twentieth century, it was notoriously overcrowded and closed in 1994. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. After sitting abandoned for several years, it opened for tours as a museum and it slowly being restored.

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Opening Day at the West Virginia Renaissance Festival

Steady rain failed to dampen participants’ spirits at this lively Allegheny event.

The West Virginia Renaissance Festival is back for a second season! Taso Stavrakis and Dawn Kieninger first opened the festival in 2018, and were undeterred even after a fire destroyed a large Elizabethan-style barn earlier this year. The festival kicked off this past Saturday, June 8th, and will run every weekend in June.

My weather app assured me the rain would stop before I arrived, but when the gates opened at 11am, a steady drizzle still threatened to ruin the fun. Rain already turned the dirt roads at Hollow Hills Farm to mud. Thankfully, this wasn’t enough to deter the festival’s dedicated actors and actresses from performing.

Washing Well Wenches

The popular Washing Well Wenches put on a wet and sloppy vaudeville act with plenty of audience participation. These hilarious ladies are just two of many troop members who perform at Ren fairs all over the country.

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