After a period of equivocation, Virginia belatedly voted for secession. However, the northwest of the state remained heavily pro-Union. Accordingly, the local Confederate commander, Colonel Porterfield, found it difficult to recruit, struggling to muster an ill-trained, ill-armed force of 800. Realizing defence was his only option, he burnt bridges to impede any invasion and retreated to the village of Philippi. Scenting an opportunity, George B. McLellan, Union commander in Ohio, sent two forces to encircle Porterfield. Despite coming upon Porterfield’s camp at dawn, unguarded and in heavy rain, the manoeuvre was botched, allowing the Confederates to flee the town, many in their nightclothes: their hurried departure was derisively nicknamed ‘Philippi Races’. One of the few casualties was an 18-year-old J. E. Hanger, whose leg had to be amputated. Dissatisfied with his prosthesis, he invented his own. Hanger Prosthetics and Orthodontics is now the world’s largest manufacturer of artificial limbs.
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