HURRICANE — When Civil War enthusiasts and lovers of local history converge on City Hall Thursday evening for an author talk and book signing by Dr. Philip Hatfield, they’ll meet a kindred spirit.
Hatfield’s passion for his new book, “The Battle of Hurricane Bridge,” is evident the moment he begins talking. And he eagerly anticipates the opportunity to share with the public some of the riveting material he discovered while researching his latest book.
“I hope that people who read my book and come to the book talk will be encouraged to study further what happened here during the Civil War,” he said. “To take ownership, if you will, of our local history and to find the very personal stories that surface when you take the time to look.”
Hatfield, himself, has been researching these stories for years. A native of Hurricane, he grew up hearing and reading about the folklore surrounding the March 28, 1863 Battle of Hurricane Bridge. He was born during the 1963 Civil War Centennial and recalls the influence of that event during his youth. Hatfield also remembers playing in the fields on and around the battlefield as a child — the same field about which he would one day write a book.
Although he read as many accounts of the battle as he could find, he was always eager to learn more. He wanted to know concrete details about the men who fought that fateful day and what their motivations were.
This longing to know more about the Battle of Hurricane Bridge followed Hatfield for years. Meanwhile, he graduated from Hurricane High, served in the United States Air Force, and obtained several advanced degrees. From the University of Charleston, he received a bachelor’s in history and psychology. From there he went on to Marshall University, where he earned a master’s in psychology. He would go on to receive a doctorate in psychology from Fielding University.
Through the years, Hatfield fueled his love of Civil War history by constant reading and research.
“I’ve always been fascinated with ‘off-grid’ historical events that have had subtle, but often dramatic effects on the outcome of the Civil War in West Virginia,” he said.
His research led to the publication of four books, all of which have explored Civil War history in West Virginia or North Carolina. Hatfield’s fifth book is scheduled for publication in December.
His most recent book, “The Battle of Hurricane Bridge,” has been years in the making. And Hatfield couldn’t be more excited for his readers to dive into the history of this often overlooked, but significant, battle.
“The battle that took place at Hurricane Bridge was a significant event that contributed to West Virginia statehood by helping the Union maintain control of the Kanawha Valley. West Virginia was admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863, barely three months after the battle at Hurricane Bridge. It’s a mistake to dismiss it,” he said.
The strategic significance of the encounter, Hatfield maintains, lies in the fact that the Union army was also thereafter able to maintain control of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike, a main supply route running from the Ohio River to Richmond, Virginia, during the war.
“Besides demonstrating the strategic significance of the Battle of Hurricane Bridge, the book also explores another overlooked aspect of the conflict — the personal and malevolent nature of the battle and its immediate aftermath. Many of the combatants knew one another prior to the war, making the conflict especially intense,” he said.
The City of Hurricane had an archeological study completed in 2017 in the area where the new Hurricane Bridge park is being built. This project revealed not only important evidence of early Native American hunting and tool-making in the area, but also evidence adding to our understanding of the Civil War at Hurricane Bridge.
“That study uncovered the remains of some mid-19th century homes that were burned out; there are well-documented accounts of soldiers burning several homes and buildings at the end of the battle,” Hatfield explains, “which shows just how very violent and personal the conflict really was here.”
Accordingly, Hatfield’s book provides a personal, human-interest account of the Battle of Hurricane Bridge. Soldiers’ diaries and letters, first-person accounts of the battle, and civilian accounts provided much of the information Hatfield used in his book. The book also contains several previously unpublished photographs of soldiers who fought in The Battle of Hurricane Bridge.
Hatfield is also collaborating with the Civil War Trails Group, a nonprofit group responsible for placing numerous historical markers across the country identifying events in the Civil War. Because of his book and working with this group, visitors and locals will soon be able to see an interpretive marker at the new park. The marker will have a map and photographs detailing where the battle occurred as well as the troops involved.
“The Battle of Hurricane Bridge” will be available for sale at the author talk and book signing on Thursday, Oct. 3. This event will be held at the Hurricane Municipal Building beginning at 7 p.m. and the public is welcome to attend. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds from book sales will be donated to the Youth Sports Program at Hurricane Bridge City Park.
The Battle of Hurricane Bridge can also be purchased on Amazon or through 35th Star Publishing’s website. Other titles by Dr. Philip Hatfield include “The Other Feud: William ‘Devil Anse’ Hatfield in the Civil War”; “The Rowan Rifle Guards: A History of Company K, 4th North Carolina State Troops 1857-1865”; and “How the North Carolina Militia Helped Start the Civil War.” His fifth book is titled “All for the Union: The Civil War Experiences of Captain Jonathan Valley Young, Company G, 13th and 11th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry 1861-1865” and will be available in December.