The Battle of Philippi, also known as the "Philippi Races", was fought in Barbour County on June 3, 1861. Although a minor action, it is generally considered the first land engagement of the American Civil War.
As of 2000, the population of Barbour County was 15,557.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 343 square miles (888 km²), of which, 341 square miles (883 km²) of it is land and 2 square miles (5 km²) of it is water. The total area is 0.57% water.
There are 6,123 households out of which 30.10% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 57.20% are married couples living together, 10.30% have a female householder with no husband present, and 28.70% are non-families. 25.10% of all households are made up of individuals and 12.60% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.47 and the average family size is 2.94.
In the county, the population is spread out with 23.00% under the age of 18, 9.40% from 18 to 24, 26.80% from 25 to 44, 25.20% from 45 to 64, and 15.60% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 39 years. For every 100 females there are 96.70 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 92.00 males.
The median income for a household in the county is $24,729, and the median income for a family is $29,722. Males have a median income of $24,861 versus $17,433 for females. The per capita income for the county is $12,440. 22.60% of the population and 18.40% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 32.00% of those under the age of 18 and 16.70% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.
Barbour County was formed in 1843 and named for the late Virginia politician and jurist Philip Pendleton Barbour (1783-1841). Barbour had served as a U.S. Congressman from Virginia, Speaker of the House, and Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
At daylight on June 3, two columns of Union forces under the command of Col. Benjamin Franklin Kelley and Col. Ebenezer Dumont, with perhaps 3,000 men, arrived from Grafton and attacked about 800 poorly-armed Confederate recruits under the command of Col. George A. Porterfield. The Union troops had marched all night through a heavy rain storm to arrive just before daylight. The surprise attack awakened the sleeping Confederates. After firing a few shots at the advancing Union troops, the Southerners broke lines and began running frantically to the south, some still in their bed clothes.
The Union victory in a relatively bloodless battle propelled the young Major General George B. McClellan into the national spotlight, and he would soon be given command of all Union armies. The battle also inspired more vocal protests in the Western part of Virginia against secession. A few days later in Wheeling, the Wheeling Convention nullified the Virginia ordinance of secession and named Francis H. Pierpont governor. These events would eventually result in the separate statehood of West Virginia.