Gray skies strike during Reunion opening

PHILIPPI – Residents and visitors at the site of the first land battle of the Civil War battled the rain Thursday to attend Blue and Gray Reunion programs.

Attendees also got to hear about the historic land battle through the struggles and triumphs of James Hanger, the first man to have his leg amputated during the Civil War. These details are outlined in the historic fiction “The Amazing Legacy of James E. Hanger,” a new book by author Bob O’Connor that came out in January.

“He (Hanger) is what I consider the most significant person from the Civil War because of how much significance he still has today,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor visited the Philippi Public Library Thursday to share information about Hanger and the book he wrote from Hanger’s perspective. O’Connor said Hanger, who was an engineer, was wounded during the battle in Philippi when a 6-pound cannon ball struck his leg. O’Connor said the ball would have been very hot and traveling at about 500 mph.

Hanger was not in the battle, O’Connor said, but Hanger was inside a barn when the accident happened. He bled for four hours before the 16th Ohio Infantry entered the barn with the intent to loot, found Hanger and called for help.

The amputation was performed by a Dr. Robinson who had never performed an amputation and was relying on his medical book studies. O’Connor said that Hanger’s recuperation took place at many different locations, and eventually he was fitted with a peg leg that was too short.

“He called it more of a peg than a leg,” O’Connor said.

Hanger invented and patented his own synthetic leg, which had joints at the knee and ankle because he wanted something more functional, O’Connor said, adding that Hanger used willow to produce the limbs.

The company Hanger created is still producing synthetic limbs today and is the largest provider of the product. The town of Philippi remembers its role in the production of the famous Hanger synthetic legs through reenactments of the amputation conducted annually through the Blue and Gray Reunion.

Those reenactments are scheduled to take place at 2:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday at Sutler Row, located in the parking lot of BC Bank, and again in that location after Sunday’s 2 p.m. reenactment of the first land battle, which takes place along Main Street.

O’Connor said he has a booth available during the festival and is set up across from the location of the Hanger amputation reenactment.

“I always say that the reenactment is actually longer than the battle,” O’Connor said, “but that’s OK because we’re educating people.

“The battle is called the ‘Philippi Races,’ which is kind of a joke (because of) how fast the Confederates left town.” O’Connor said.

He noted that, in gathering information for his book, he met and spoke with five great grandchildren of Hanger who did not know each other prior to then. Through his research and information gathering, O’Connor was able to connect those relatives.

Thursday also featured a performance by the Blue and Gray Reunion Choir at the Barbour County Courthouse pavilion during opening ceremonies.

The choir will perform again at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Crim United Methodist Church.