If you’re a Civil War buff, Philippi will ring a bell. In the early morning of June 3, 1861, Philippi was the site of the first land battle of the Civil War, when Union soldiers, skulking on the leafy hillside overlooking the town’s prized covered bridge, discharged their smooth-bore Napoleon cannons on the unsuspecting Confederate troops encamped below. The cannonballs spooked the roughly one thousand mostly unarmed Confederate recruits encamped in Philippi, sending them scurrying in retreat to the next county. Twenty-six Confederate graycoats and four blue-coated Union men were bloodied in the brief altercation, including two soldiers who had their badly fractured legs amputated.
“Oh yes, it was a tiny but well-publicized incident at the time,” answered Mike Gamble, a bearded park ranger at Antietam National Battlefield, when quizzed about the Battle of Philippi Bridge. “Both sides needed some good news because nothing was happening [politically] around Washington DC.”
Proud of its unique place in American history, Philippi hosts the “Blue & Gray Reunion” each June, a booming reenactment of the fateful battle. Like most town festivals, the reunion has become an annual three-day excuse for Philippians to decorate the town square and throw a party.
One can easily imagine the same outpouring of support each winter for the A-B basketball team, the town’s most visible athletic team in the state and country. One can picture shops closing early on game days; traffic snarled bumper to bumper on the covered bridge; fans of all ages filing into Rex Pyles Arena in a riot of Battler blue, gray, and gold; the pep band playing the college fight song; and cheerleaders urging the crowd to support team, school, and town.
One can easily imagine the spectacle—but don’t bet on seeing it. A-B hasn’t had cheerleaders in years, the college jazz band is too busy traveling to other gigs to play at games, and few townspeople make the trek to the gym anymore. “I haven’t watched A-B play in years,” answered a retired coalminer and longtime resident, staring at the pavement for a few pregnant