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State boundaries and slavery issues threatened to obstruct the new state movement in December of 1861.
The Committee on Boundary reported to the First Constitutional Convention of West Virginia on December 5 with a proposal to greatly expand the new state’s borders. Discussions of the state’s boundary would occupy the convention for the next week.
“With far more probability of an alliance might we go to the Emperor Napoleon and ask him to annex his empire to our little State,” Cabell County Delegate Granville Parker said of the resolution.
The committee’s plan pushed the state line east to the Blue Ridge Mountains and allowed 32 more counties to join the original 39. It divided these potential new counties into four districts. District one would be admitted unconditionally. The other districts would be added only after a popular vote in each.
District one would include Buchanan, Greenbrier, Monroe, Mercer, McDowell, Pocahontas, and Wise counties. Delegates raised objections concerning geographical and cultural affinity, and secessionist sentiment in Buchanan, McDowell, and Wise counties. The convention ultimately voted to adopt the first district without Buchanan and Wise, which were transferred to the second district.
The legality of changing the borders was also contested. As the debate moved forward, it became increasingly contentious. Supporters of the boundary committee’s report argued the exclusion of counties would be unfair to Unionists there, and that inclusion of the contested counties would create a strategic boundary. Those opposed said the additional counties were secessionist and unaffiliated with the northwest, and would increase state debt.
The new counties lay far beyond Union control, had a population greater than that of the original counties, and were strongly opposed to separation from Virginia. In addition, the slave population in the new state would increase sevenfold with inclusion.
James W. Paxton of Ohio said adopting the committee’s resolution would most likely ruin the new state project. “I want to know why,” asked Wood County’s William E. Stevenson, “it is that we propose to embarrass this whole new State movement.” Gordon Battelle of Ohio County ardently referred to the proposition as “a delusion and a snare.”
After much debate, the second district, consisting of counties in southwest Virginia; and the fourth district, composed of those counties that make up the Shenandoah Valley, were rejected.
From the third district Berkeley, Hampshire, Hardy, Frederick, Jefferson, Morgan, and Pendleton counties were added. Hardy and Pendleton were considered Unionist, and the others were strategically valuable due their position along Maryland’s border and the Potomac River. More importantly, the crucial Baltimore & Ohio Railroad ran through them.
The importance of ‘the great artery’ was paramount, according to Monongalia County Delegate Waitman T. Willey, who argued fervidly for its inclusion. “We cannot do without it,” he said.
On December 13 the convention adopted the current boundary of West Virginia, with the exception of Frederick County.
The topic of slavery had carefully been avoided by the convention. Boone County Delegate Robert Hagar had proposed a resolution on November 30 for the submission of the new state as a free state, but had been ignored. Though there was strong anti-slavery sentiment in West Virginia, delegates feared the consequences of alienating prominent slaveholders. Furthermore, they hoped to win over the slaveholding counties that today form the eastern panhandle.
However, on December 14 Battelle, a Methodist minister as well as convention delegate, resolved that the constitution allow for gradual emancipation. “I discovered on that occasion,” Parker later reported,” as I never had before, the mysterious and over-powering influence ‘the peculiar institution’ had on men otherwise sane and reliable. Why, when Mr. Battelle submitted his resolutions, a kind of tremor—a holy horror, was visible throughout the house!”
Though the issue was quickly tabled, the Battelle Resolutions would become the basis for the Willey Amendment, which was essential for the Congressional admission of West Virginia as a state.
A Confederate victory late in 1861 halted any Federal incursion into the Shenandoah Valley, but doomed both sides to weather the long winter high in the Appalachian Mountains.
On December 13, Confederates under Col. Edward Johnson successfully defended Camp Allegheny against a larger Union force in one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War to that date.
Orders to withdraw his troops from the Pocahontas County camp had been sent to Col. Johnson on December 10. The camp’s fortifications had been built on the windswept farm of John Yeager, running along the eastern continental divide.
Central authorities were convinced the coming winter and poor condition of the roads would keep the Federals from moving east along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike and pushing into the valley.
Johnson disagreed. The colonel had sent a letter to the assistant adjutant general for the Army of the Northwest December 7, arguing that the Federals were still active in the region. “If this post is abandoned,” he wrote, “there will be nothing to prevent their march to Staunton…”
Over the following days, Union
and Confederate forces would continue to skirmish at the foot of
the mountain near the unoccupied Camp Bartow.
Rebel troops under Brig. Gen. Henry R. Jackson had abandoned Camp Bartow in November. Believing they were moving east to warmer climates, soldiers burned coats and blankets to lighten their loads. However, many were instead relocated to the windy mountain plains of Camp Allegheny. Rising to almost 4,400 ft., the fortification was the highest east of the Mississippi River.
Across the Greenbrier Valley at Cheat Summit Fort, Federal Brig. Gen. Robert H. Milroy received word from Rebel deserters that soldiers at Camp Allegheny were weak and demoralized. On December 12 the general set out from Cheat Mountain with 1,900 men. Union troops were so confident that they would meet little resistance that they left cannons behind.
Milroy’s advanced guard engaged Confederates near Camp Bartow. That night, the Federals divided their forces under Brig. Gen. Milroy and Col. Gideon Moody, planning to simultaneously converge the following morning on Camp Allegheny from separate directions.
At dawn on December 13, the column under Gen. Milroy engaged the 1,200 Rebel soldiers at Camp Allegheny. Both sides gained and lost ground under heavy fire and close combat. Three hours later, low on ammunition and still awaiting Col. Moody’s flanking movement, Milroy and his troops retreated.
Soon after, Moody’s column appeared, late and possibly intoxicated. They took cover among slashed timber, and a firefight commenced which continued for over four hours. By 2 p.m., Moody and his soldiers had also withdrawn. Regrouping at the bottom of the mountain, the Federals started their march back to Cheat Mountain.
Col. Johnson wrote to headquarters, “Our victory has been complete, but dearly bought.” Both sides had suffered casualties of around 150. Had the attack come but two days later, Union soldiers would have found Camp Allegheny empty.
Bodies were discovered in the surrounding woods for weeks. Soldiers often found their neighbors among the dead. “I have seen enough of war,” Confederate soldier James E. Hall wrote in his journal, “O my God, how forcibly it illustrates the folly and depravity of the human heart.”
Confederate officials and the Southern media, however, celebrated the victory. Col. “Allegheny” Johnson instantly became a hero for his stalwart defense and bravery in battle.
The future brigadier general was less celebratory when he addressed his soldiers. “While we have abundant cause to thank God for this victory,” Johnson wrote on December 16, “let us not forget the gallant dead who fell by our sides, and whom we buried on Allegheny.”
The constitutional convention in Wheeling voted 30 to 14 in favor of changing the name of the new state from “Kanawha” to “West Virginia” on December 3, 1861.
Of the name, West Virginia, Chapman J. Stuart of Doddridge County said, “Something attaches to the name that ennobles us in the eyes of the country. I intend so far as I am concerned, that we will have it.”
Monongalia County Delegate Waitman T. Willey supported the name as well. “Moreover, sir, we have fought this fight under the name of West Virginia. We are known and recognized as West Virginia…,” Willey said.
Delegates had gathered on November 26 to create a constitution for the new state. John Hall of Mason County was elected president. During the first days, delegates formed committees and passed resolutions.
Debate arose on December 3 concerning the name. Many delegates felt the name “Kanawha” did not accurately represent all the people. They said it was also confusing because the name already belonged to a county and two rivers in the state.
Others expressed their attachment to the name “Virginia.” Harman Sinsel of Taylor County declared, “Mr. President...I am a Virginian; I was born and raised in Virginia, and I have ever been proud of the name.”
Kanawha County Delegate James H. Brown and James W. Paxton of Ohio County argued that any attempt to change the name was illegitimate, as the people had already agreed upon it by public referendum.
Daniel Lamb, also of Ohio County, agreed the name had already been decided upon by the Second Wheeling Convention, and argued against the inclusion of “Virginia” in any form as it represented a legacy of abuse by the eastern half. Wood County Delegate Peter G. Van Winkle concurred. “Those gentlemen who are so tender for their old mother, should be a little more magnanimous, sir, and when they are going to rob the old lady of her territory should not steal her name too,” he said.
Many others countered that their constituencies were opposed to the name, Kanawha, and that any new name would have to be approved by a popular vote as well. Willey quipped that his constituency complained Kanawha was hard to spell, producing laughter among the convention. Richard W. Lauck of Wetzel County suggested the name “Loyal Virginia,” again to much laughter.
The names actually considered included Alleghany, Columbia, and New Virginia, but West Virginia won a majority of the votes at 30 with Kanawha receiving 9; Western Virginia, 2; Allegheny, 2; and Augusta, 1.
On December 3, the convention agreed to remove the name Kanawha from the constitution.
A Confederate raid on the Federal outpost at Guyandotte and the reprisal by Union troops reduced the community to ashes on November 11, 1861.
People poured into the streets
of Moundsville on November 12 when news of the raid reached the
town. Pro-Union cries against the “land pirates” filled the air.
“Nothing can be heard but ‘Guyandotte must and shall be revenged!’” the Wheeling Intelligencer reported.
A persistent flashpoint of sectional tensions, Guyandotte, Cabell County, was a busy transportation hub on the Ohio River and the James River & Kanawha Turnpike when the Civil War broke out. Southern sentiment ran strong in the village.
On November 10 a Confederate party of 700 men under Col. John Clarkson attacked and defeated the town’s small Federal outpost. Union soldiers attempted to escape by swimming across the river to Ohio under heavy fire.
The citizens of Guyandotte had received the Confederates warmly. Rebel soldiers seized contraband and took numerous prisoners, among them Maj. Kellian V. Whaley, a former Virginia congressman.
The Rebels withdrew with the prisoners November 11 as Ohio Home Guard and Union soldiers arrived. Hearing reports that the raid had been a trap by the local citizens and that they had fired on Federal troops, soldiers under Col. John Zeigler indiscriminately set fire to the town.
Almost all Guyandotte had been
put ablaze before U.S. Col. William Bolles arrived and was able
to restore order. Sixteen local citizens were arrested for
assisting the Confederates and were sent to Camp Chase Prison in
Whaley and his fellow Union prisoners had been placed on an arduous forced march following the raid. The major escaped captivity the night of November 13 near Chapmanville, Logan County. He would spend days on the run under heavy pursuit before finding fellow Union soldiers and ultimately reaching Ceredo. The remainder of the prisoners continued to Newbern, Virginia, where they were taken by train to prisons in Richmond.
In other action, Union soldiers under Brig. Gen. Henry W. Benham moved up the Kanawha River to Laurel Creek to engage troops commanded by Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd. Floyd had pushed back up into the Kanawha Valley around Gauley Bridge, Fayette County, from his position on Sewell Mountain.
Overstretched and alone, Floyd withdrew south along the New River, where he hoped to winter his party. The Federals chased him through Fayetteville, giving up the pursuit November 14 at Blake’s Farm. Floyd would cease his retreat later that month in Peterstown, Monroe County.
On November 4, C.S. Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had arrived in Winchester, Va., to assume command of the Valley District, part of the Department of Northern Virginia. In a November 20 letter to Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin, Jackson argued his plan to attack Romney, Hampshire County. He believed this would cause U.S. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to question his defenses of Washington, D.C., and move his forces towards Manassas, Va.
Jackson also advocated for the Confederacy to retake his home of northwestern Virginia. “After repulsing the enemy at Manassas,” Jackson wrote, “let the troops that marched on Romney return to the valley, and move rapidly westward to the waters of the Monongahela and Little Kanawha....I deem it of very great importance that Northwestern Virginia be occupied by Confederate troops this winter.”
A landslide vote brought western Virginia closer to separate statehood on October 24, 1861. The Second Wheeling Convention’s ordinance to divide the commonwealth was ratified with 18,408 in favor and only 781 opposed.
The new state of Kanawha would include all of present-day West Virginia, excluding the eastern panhandle, the Greenbrier Valley, and the southernmost counties of the coalfields.
An editorial supporting the new state ran in the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer the day of the referendum. “We ought to be all unified for division,” the paper stated, “for it is a matter that concerns us all vitally, and [ought] to band us together like brothers.”
The vote, however, did not accurately reflect unity. Voter turnout of only 34 percent was predominantly Unionist. Although secessionist sentiment was strong, particularly in the southwestern counties, voting was not anonymous. Votes were taken by voice, and those opposed to the ordinance risked harassment and even imprisonment in areas under Federal control.
Fearing reprisal, secessionists boycotted the referendum, during which delegates were also elected to the new state’s constitutional convention. The convention would organize the government for the state of Kanawha.
The Confederates held national elections early in November. Even at front line camps Rebel soldiers took the time to vote. Running unopposed, Jefferson Davis and Alexander H. Stephens were elected president and vice president respectively, having served in those positions provisionally until that time.
The war continued across western Virginia. On October 26, U.S. Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Kelley led a Federal expedition from the B&O Railroad in present-day Mineral County, then Hampshire County. Kelley had recently assumed command of the Department of Harpers Ferry and Cumberland from Brig. Gen. Frederick Lander.
Marching from New Creek towards Romney, Kelley’s men engaged Confederate militia at South Branch Bridge. The Union troops expelled Confederates from Romney, allowing for strategic access to railroads and possible routes to Rebel-controlled Winchester and Monterey, Virginia.
The 13th Indiana Infantry left Huttonsville, Randolph County, on October 28 to start a nine day tour through Lewis, Upshur, and Webster counties to confront Confederate supporters and relieve militia at Fort Pickens. Near Gauley Bridge in Fayette County, several days of fighting exploded on November 1 when Rebels at Cotton Hill engaged Federals opposite the river at Tompkins farm.
Gen. Robert E. Lee left the mountains of western Virginia on October 30 and headed towards Richmond. He had failed to make a move in a standoff at Sewell Mountain, allowing Union forces to withdraw. Lee’s disgraceful performance in the region left him to be ridiculed by the Confederacy.
The media bestowed him with the nickname “Granny Lee.” South Carolina’s Charleston Mercury wrote, “The people are getting mighty sick of this dilly-dally, dirt digging, scientific warfare; so much so that they will demand that the Great Entrencher be brought back and permitted to pay court to the ladies.”
Confederate President Jefferson Davis was more forgiving. He blamed Lee’s setbacks on his subordinates. “He came back, carrying the heavy weight of defeat,” Davis later acknowledged, “and unappreciated by the people whom he served, for they could not know, as I knew, that, if his plans and orders had been carried out, the result would have been victory rather than defeat.”
North on the Potomac, U.S. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan fared better. Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott retired as general-in-chief on November 1. His age, continued Union losses near the capital, and infighting with McClellan influenced Scott’s decision to step down. For months McClellan had ignored the chain of command and undermined Scott in the presidential cabinet.
With Scott’s resignation, McClellan immediately assumed the role of general-in-chief. When President Abraham Lincoln warned him that being the commanding general of the U.S. Army and the Army of the Potomac would “entail a vast labor” upon him, McClellan characteristically responded, “I can do it all.”
Military action cooled in the fall of 1861, but separate statehood remained a hot issue in western Virginia.
Citizens attending an October 10 Union meeting in Wood Hill, Marshall County, argued for the immediate formation of the new state of Kanawha. They also elected delegates to the state constitutional convention, to be held in November, and discussed the possibility of forcing local secessionists to either support the families of volunteers or enlist in the U.S. Army.
A similar meeting was held two
days later in nearby Triadelphia, Ohio County.
In Charleston, a proclamation issued October 17 by Col. J. V. Guthrie, commander of Federal troops stationed there, urged citizens to form a municipal government in the city.
Guthrie wrote that the soldiers under his command would “execute its mandates and uphold its authority… provided that the officers who compose it are elected under the provisions of the loyal Government of the State as reorganized at the city of Wheeling, the only Government of the State acknowledged by the Congress of the United States.”
Meanwhile, in the military camps, soldiers had little to do between battles except drill and drink. Drunken and disorderly conduct at Camp Carlile had become an issue for the city of Wheeling. An ordinance outlawing the sale of alcoholic beverages to soldiers, regardless of rank, was passed by the city council October 15.
On October 16, the U.S. Treasury
Department advised the surveyor of customs in Wheeling to
require shipping permits for goods destined for Border States
and to refuse to process contraband for those states that “still
abound with disloyal men.”
Although no major battles took place, minor military engagements continued in western Virginia.
Near Harper’s Ferry, Federal and
Rebel forces skirmished on October 16, the two-year anniversary
of John Brown’s raid of the United States Arsenal. C.S. Col.
Turner Ashby was successful in driving Federal troops from their
encampments. Harper’s Ferry would change hands four times from
September 1861 to February 1862.
Clashes also occurred in Fayette, Putnam, and Wirt counties and along the Big Sandy River.
On October 21, Federal cavalry were sent from Camp Weston to Kincheloe Creek in Lewis County to stop secessionist intimidation of local Union supporters. Eight men were brought back under guard, one boasting “...that his last drop of blood would be shed before he would be taken by an abolition band...”
A large Union expedition marched to Green Bank, Pocahontas County, October 23 by way of Confederate Camp Bartow, where soldiers captured livestock, prisoners, and mail. Meanwhile, troops under C.S. Brig. Gen. William W. Loring moved through Lewisburg to reinforce Brig. Gen. H. R. Jackson’s forces in Pocahontas County.
U.S. Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Kelley of Wheeling was assigned the Federal military department of Harper’s Ferry and Cumberland on October 22. He received word in Grafton, “Proceed with your command to Romney and assume command of the Department of Harper’s Ferry and Cumberland until the arrival of Brigadier-General Lander.”
After failed attacks on Cheat Summit Fort and Camp Elkwater, Confederates under Gen. Robert E. Lee assumed a defensive strategy.
Hopes of controlling the Tygart Valley and pushing into northwestern Virginia were derailed by these losses. It was now crucial that Rebels hold their positions along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. Control of this and other transportation routes, including railroads and rivers, was paramount during the First Campaign.
Stretching from the Ohio River to the Shenandoah Valley, the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike was key to maneuvering troops across the Allegheny Mountains. In Pocahontas County, it intersected the road to Huntersville, then county seat and Confederate headquarters.
In August, Rebel soldiers under Brig. Gen. Henry R. Jackson had marched into present-day Bartow, Pocahontas County, and confiscated the inn, Travellers Repose. They established Camp Bartow, named after a Georgian killed at First Manassas, and erected fortifications on the hillsides around the inn. The camp sat at a crossroads halfway along the pike between Confederate defenses at Camp Allegheny and Federal Cheat Summit Fort.
As temperatures began to drop in the fall, Union soldiers at Cheat Summit Fort hoped to move on to the Shenandoah Valley rather than risk wintering in the mountains.
On the night of October 2, U.S. Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds and 5,000 troops came down the mountain into the Greenbrier River Valley.
At 7 a.m. on October 3, Federals engaged the advance guard under C.S. Col. Edward Johnson near Camp Bartow. An hour later, thirteen Federal cannons opened fire on the camp and the 1,800 Confederate soldiers stationed there. Six guns returned fire, commencing an artillery duel that continued for four and one half hours.
Soldiers grew accustomed to the constant barrage and even fell asleep on the field, only to be awakened by a shot landing nearby, setting tents aflame and killing comrades. Yet, twice the Confederates were successful in repulsing Union flanking maneuvers.
Low on ammunition and mistakenly believing he was outnumbered, Reynolds withdrew from Camp Bartow at 1 p.m. and started the long march back up to Cheat Mountain. Jackson did not pursue him.
Despite the length of the battle, losses had been relatively minor. However, the more than 1,100 artillery rounds shot into the camp had scarred the inn and grounds. Casualties numbered near 50 for Confederates and Federals alike, but both armies inflated the number of dead, injured and captured to 300.
The Battle of the Greenbrier River was an embarrassment for Reynolds. He attempted to portray the mission as a reconnaissance in force, which was ridiculed by his men and the Northern media. This was further refuted by the multiple days of rations recovered from Union soldiers’ bodies.
In an October 5 general order, Jackson commended his men for their gallantry and determination. However, the general was less celebratory in private. He wrote of the hardships endured in western Virginia, including “country and climate…sickness and suffering…disappointed hopes and untoward events…” in an October 26 letter. “What would have been the results of our defeat who can fully estimate?” he wrote. “And yet, because it was comparatively bloodless, for the achievement of the victory who will ever give us full credit?”
The death of his aide and relative by marriage added to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s disappointment after the failed September 12 attack at Cheat Summit Fort and Camp Elkwater.
The general’s aide-de-camp Lt. Col. John A. Washington, great-grandnephew of U.S. President George Washington, accompanied his son, Maj. W. H. F. “Rooney” Lee, on a reconnaissance mission September 13. The men were discovered by Union scouts outside Camp Elkwater. Washington was shot and killed while Lee escaped on Washington’s horse after his own was shot out from under him.
On September 14, Lt. Col. Washington’s body was returned to Gen. Lee. “We met with one heavy loss, which grieves me deeply...,” Lee later wrote to his wife. “He was always anxious to go on these expeditions. This was the first day I assented...May God have mercy on us all!”
The general’s wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, was a descendant of Martha Washington’s by the first lady’s prior marriage.
The last relative of the first president’s to live at Mount Vernon, Washington had been forced to sell the estate due to financial problems in 1859. This had made him an unpopular man, which was only furthered by his decision to fight for the Confederacy.
The property was sold to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, which still owns it today. The purchase is believed to be the beginning of the historic preservation movement in the U.S.
Another important national figure was present at Camp Elkwater. The future 19th President of the United States was stationed with Federals there.
Maj. Rutherford B. Hayes of the 23rd Ohio Infantry Regiment commented on his surroundings. “We are in [a] lovely little valley on a fine clear trout stream, with high mountains on all sides and large trees over us. A perfect camp, perfectly protected by entrenchments for miles up the valley, pickets and scouts in all directions, etc., etc.,” Hayes wrote on August 26. “Several regiments are in sight, and the enemy under Lee so near that our outposts have fights with his daily.”
Located 8 miles south of Huttonsville in Randolph County, Camp Elkwater was constructed by troops under the direction of U.S. Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds. The camp’s entrenchments guarded the turnpike from Huttonsville to the Confederate Headquarters at Huntersville, then the county seat of Pocahontas County.
Watching the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike from high above on Cheat Mountain, nearby Cheat Summit Fort was the highest Union fortification east of the Mississippi River. With these strongholds, Federals hoped to retain the strategic gains of the summer months and push further into Confederate territory.
Lee had devised an elaborate plan of attack to isolate Cheat Summit Fort. He and Brig. Gen. William W. Loring would move from Valley Head against Camp Elkwater while Brig. Gen. Henry R. Jackson, Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Anderson, and Col. Albert Rust engaged Cheat Summit Fort. The sounds of Col. Rust’s attack would be the signal for the full assault.
The morning of Sept 12 came and went with no signal from Rust, who believed his troops were greatly outnumbered by Federals within. Confederate soldiers skirmished and exchanged artillery fire with Federals outside Camp Elkwater. Lee narrowly escaped capture while attempting to rescue lost soldiers.
His men cold, wet, and short of food, Robert E. Lee ordered a retreat. The operation had failed due to the mistakes of Col. Albert Rust at Cheat Mountain, but Lee would never blame him. While respected by his men, the general’s humiliation at the Battle of Cheat Mountain foreshadowed his ultimate failure in western Virginia and the mocking of his abilities during the beginning of the war.
Numerous losses in the First Campaign of the Civil War had pushed Confederates east and south across the Allegheny Mountains during the summer of 1861.
In September, Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of the Northwest sought to regain control of the Tygart Valley and the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike as the first step in retaking command of western Virginia. The general knew that failure to stop the Union progression would leave both the Shenandoah Valley and Virginia & Tennessee Railroad vulnerable. A direct route to Richmond, the Virginia Central Railroad would also be threatened.
Federal fortifications at Camp Elkwater, located south of Huttonsville, Randolph County, and Cheat Summit Fort guarded the valley and the turnpike.
On Sept. 8, Gen. Lee ordered an attack on Cheat Summit Fort as part of a coordinated assault. Forces under Brig. Gen. Henry Rootes Jackson, Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Anderson, Gen. Daniel Donelson and Col. Albert Rust would isolate the fort while Lee and Brig. Gen. William W. Loring simultaneously engaged Camp Elkwater.
“The eyes of the country are upon you,” Lee wrote to his troops. “The safety of your homes and the lives of all you hold dear depend upon your courage and exertions. Let each man resolve to be victorious, and that the right of self-government, liberty, and peace shall in him find a defender. The progress of this army must be forward.”
Cheat Summit Fort sat high upon Cheat Mountain. Surrounded by high parapets, it was considered by many to be impregnable. At 4,000 ft., it was the highest Union fortification east of the Mississippi. The mountain itself remained a primeval jungle of towering spruce and gnarled rhododendron. The difficulties of traversing the challenging terrain and transporting supplies would be echoed throughout the entire campaign high in the Alleghenies.
Having marched for days through rain, thick brush, and mountainous terrain, the Confederates reached their appointed positions outside the fort on Sept. 11, enduring a terrible storm during the night. Col. Rust had been given lead of the operation. He was to attack first, signaling the full assault.
On Sept. 12, Rust and 1,600 troops encountered Federal scouts and wagons west of the fort. Coming upon the breastworks, Rust hesitated, overestimating his opponent’s numbers and losing the element of surprise.
U.S. Col. Kimball led two companies out to engage what he thought was an enemy scouting party. The small Federal detachment shattered Rust’s Confederate line, sending them retreating in disorder into the forest, discarding arms, supplies, and clothes. The other brigades also clashed with Federal troops and were forced to retreat.
On the eastern side of the fort, Gen. Jackson waited for a cue to attack that never came. Rust’s failure to signal would affect not only the assault on Cheat Mountain, but would also influence heavily the success of the operation at nearby Camp Elkwater in the coming days.
In a report to Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds, commanding officer at nearby Elkwater, Kimball wrote, “General, I think my men have done wonders, and ask God to bless them.”
Casualties were minor at the September 10, 1861 Battle of Carnifex Ferry, but the battle’s impact on western Virginia was significant.
Victory at Carnifex Ferry enabled Union forces to regain control of the Kanawha Valley and allowed the popular vote on the division of Virginia to take place on October 24.
The valley had been controlled by Confederates under Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd since the Battle of Keslers Cross Lanes several weeks earlier. Floyd’s 2,000 men had been entrenched along the Gauley River at Carnifex Ferry.
U.S. Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans gathered 7,000 Union soldiers and moved south from Clarksburg to launch a counter-attack.
Floyd ignored advice from Gen. Robert E. Lee to withdraw in light of Rosecrans’ advance towards Camp Gauley. Instead he requested reinforcements from Brig. Gen. Henry A. Wise, who was stationed at Hawks Nest. However, due to a contentious personal relationship with Floyd, Wise refused.
Marching from Summersville, Rosecrans reached Floyd’s forces on September 10 when the reconnaissance party under U.S. Brig. Gen. Henry Bentham directly confronted the Confederates’ fortifications. Despite greatly outnumbering his opponent, Rosecrans sent each brigade to attack the Confederate defenses separately, allowing them to be easily repulsed. That night Floyd withdrew undetected across the river.
The Civil War in Western Virginia continued to be characterized primarily by small-scale engagements scattered across the region. Prior to the September 10 battle, skirmishes had occurred in Calhoun, Hampshire, Jefferson, Kanawha and Marion counties; and near Hawk’s Nest in Fayette County.
On September 1, 1861 a small battle took place at Boone Court House in present-day Madison. Union troops defeated Confederate soldiers there before setting fire to the town, burning the courthouse and jail.
Life had become more difficult for secessionists in Union-controlled areas. Six Southern sympathizers were arrested in Wheeling in late August under suspicion that they would attempt to enlist in the Confederate Army. In Clarksburg, the Federal Court indicted 114 secessionists.
On September 7, U.S. Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Kelley issued a general order prohibiting the transportation of any “black or mulatto person, the same being a slave” on the Baltimore & Ohio and Northwestern railroads by an officer or soldier unless the slaves belonged to him.
Kelley had been the Union commander at the Battle of Philippi where he was badly wounded. His chief responsibility was to protect the B&O Railroad in Maryland and western Virginia.
Secessionists in Hardy County petitioned Confederate President Jefferson Davis for assistance on September 10. Southern loyalists in the eastern half of the county asked Davis for relief and protection from the invading “Northern thieves” appropriating their property and imprisoning their men.
A late August 1861 defeat of Union troops in Nicholas County cut communications between headquarters in Clarksburg and forces in the Kanawha Valley.
On August 26 Confederates under Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd routed Union troops at the Battle of Keslers Cross Lanes.
Floyd, commander of Confederate forces in the Kanawha Valley, crossed the Gauley River at Carnifex Ferry and made camp with 2,100 men. Commanded by U.S. Col. Erastus B. Tyler, the 7th Ohio Infantry, numbering 850, had moved east from Gauley Bridge to Keslers Cross Lanes. The following morning, Floyd’s troops crossed the river to make a surprise attack on the regiment as Tyler and his men were having breakfast.
Retreating in some disorder, several companies of the 7th took a defensive position on a nearby hill. The engagement lasted only 30 to 45 minutes, and ended with the complete defeat of the Ohio 7th Regiment. Federals sustained more than 30 causalities with more than 100 missing while Confederate losses were few.
Because the attack came during breakfast, the battle was also known as the Battle of the Knives and Forks.
Confederates also gained a
strategic position at Harpers Ferry in late summer.
Union troops had only commanded the juncture of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers for a month when the town was seized by Confederate cavalry under Capt. Turner Ashby on August 22. Over the next six months Harpers Ferry would change hands four more times.
A Preston County man was taken prisoner and accused of being a Union spy that same day. The Rockbridge Cavalry captured John W. Overman in Hardy County. Overman denied being a “Union man” and would later write an appeal for assistance to Confederate President Jefferson Davis stating that he was wrongly accused.
In Fayette County, Confederate cavalry led by Col. Albert Gallatin Jenkins were routed in a small engagement near Piggot’s Mill August 25. Born in Cabell County, Jenkins had attended Marshall Academy, Jefferson College, and Harvard Law School before serving as a Congressman. His leadership had been largely responsible for the Confederate victory at the Battle of Scary Creek in July. He would later be elected to the First Confederate Congress and achieve the rank of brigadier general.
A number of Confederates were taken prisoner in Wayne County as Federals occupying the court house defended the town of Ceredo against attack in late August. Skirmishes had occurred over several days in the Confederates’ attempt to take the town.
In Wheeling, Gov. Francis H. Pierpont on August 27 removed all those who refused to take the oath of office for the Reorganized Government of Virginia from state positions. The election to fill these state offices would take place Sept. 27.
The 1st Federal Virginia Regiment was mustered out in Wheeling on August 28.
The Second Wheeling Convention adjourned on Aug. 21 after passing an ordinance to form the new “State of Kanawha” out of northwestern Virginia. The ordinance passed by a vote of 48 to 27 on Aug. 20, 1861.
Delegate Chapman J. Stewart of Harrison County moved to change the name from Kanawha to West Virginia, but the motion was rejected. Perhaps seeing the conflict that was to come, Ohio County Delegate Daniel Lamb warned of the possibility that creating the new state with its low slave population would be perceived as an abolitionist move to create a free state.
In his closing remarks, convention president and future first governor of West Virginia Arthur I. Boreman of Wood County said, “You have taken the initiative in the creation of a new State. This is a step of vital importance. I hope, and I pray God it may be successful; that it may not engender strife in our midst, nor bring upon us difficulties from abroad, but that its most ardent advocates may realize their fondest hopes of its complete success.”
A popular referendum would be held within the new state’s proposed boundaries to determine its borders and elect delegates to a constitutional convention. The proposed boundaries included present-day West Virginia with the exception of counties bordering Virginia and the eastern panhandle. Those counties, however, could choose to join the new state.
As western Virginians worked to form a new state in Wheeling, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan on Aug. 20 formed the Army of the Potomac, with himself as its commander, in Washington. Composed of all military forces in the former departments of Northeastern Virginia, Washington, Baltimore, and the Shenandoah, the famous and formidable army of more than 150,000 troops would be the largest assembled on the continent to date.
In western Virginia, small military engagements persisted.
Federals scouting near Beverly in Randolph County retreated after encountering a superior Confederate force. In Fayette County, skirmishes occurred at Hawk’s Nest and Laurel Fork Creek. On Aug. 21 Confederates captured Cap. John W. Sprague, a future brigadier general, of the 7th Ohio Infantry outside Sutton in Braxton County.
In Roane County, secessionists in Spencer pushed Unionists into the courthouse, killing one man before looting and retreating into the woods. Col. Turner Ashby, future cavalry general under Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, encountered Federals stationed at Harpers Ferry. Successfully repulsing the Union men, Ashby camped two miles south of Charles Town. Federal soldiers crossed the Potomac at Shepherdstown and burned the mill belonging to Alexander R. Boteler, a member of the General Assembly.
An ordinance presented to delegates of the Second Wheeling Convention August 13 proposed forming a new state west of the Allegheny Mountains.
The Committee on a Division of the State presented the ordinance supporting formation of the new state out of the part of Virginia north and west of the mountains. The people’s “social, commercial and political condition…would be greatly [benefited] and their happiness promoted by such a division,” the ordinance stated.
Since convening on August 6, the convention had debated the issue, with discussions concerning the time of division, whether the convention was authorized to separate the state or develop a new constitution, and the people’s position.
On August 8, Harrison County Delegate John Carlile spoke at length of possible state boundaries, the abuse of an eastern government despite the region’s natural wealth, and the immediate need for division in case the Union was defeated. Carlile said western Virginians had “endured the disastrous results that ever must flow from an unnatural connection. Cut the knot now! …Apply the knife!” he said.
Delegate Chapman J. Stewart, also of Harrison, said the convention should not be looking only at western Virginia’s interests. “Our object should be to support the General Government in putting down this rebellion, and never for one moment hold out a doubt that the Government is to succeed,” he said.
The following days were spent offering substitutes to the ordinance. Upshur County Delegate Daniel D. T. Farnsworth proposed state boundaries excluding much of what is today southeastern West Virginia but allowed for adjacent counties to join the new state.
William I. Boreman of Tyler said the sentiments of the Convention demanded a division but the stance of the people in the proposed boundary was unknown. He also argued that the current convention was not authorized to set boundaries.
A popular vote on division would later be held in western Virginia. With the consent of the reorganized Virginia state legislature and the U.S. Congress, those areas within the boundary which approved division would form the state of New Virginia. The popular vote on division would also include ratification of the state constitution.
As political action concerning formation of the new state accelerated, military action had meanwhile slowed in the region. On August 10 Unionist soldiers disarmed secessionists at St. Mary’s, Pleasants County. Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd took command of the Confederate forces in the Kanawha Valley August 11.
The former Minister to France under James Buchanan, Charles J. Faulkner of Martinsburg was arrested August 12 in Washington for procuring arms for the Confederacy while in France. He would be confined until December, when he was exchanged for a captured U.S. congressman.
Joseph A. J. Lightburn was appointed to colonel of the 4th Virginia Federal Infantry on August 14. Born in western Pennsylvania, Lightburn and his family had moved to Lewis County in 1840. Thomas J. Jackson’s friend and neighbor, he later lost his bid for admission to West Point to Jackson. Lightburn would go on to serve in the Kanawha Valley, the Western Campaign, and in the Shenandoah Valley, ultimately reaching the rank of brigadier general.
After reconvening on August 6th, the Second Wheeling Convention formed a committee to determine public opinion regarding division of the state.
Composed of one member from each county represented, the Committee on a Division of the State was appointed to consider and report to the convention on the matter. The committee would gauge the people’s opinion in all the counties lying west of a line from the northeast corner of Tennessee and running to the top of the Allegheny Mountains in the state of Maryland.
In a resolution submitted to Convention President Arthur I. Boreman of Wood County, Wetzel County Delegate James G. West said, “The members of this Convention are satisfied that a large majority of the good and loyal citizens of Western Virginia are in favor of a division of the State, yet there seems to exist a difference of opinion as to the proper time, as well as the proper means to be used to effect the object.”
As convention delegates considered statehood, President Abraham Lincoln signed the First Confiscation Acts, which in part freed slaves being used by the Confederacy in the war against the United States. Escaped slaves belonging to Confederates had been treated as enemy contraband as early as May, though their legal status had remained uncertain. The act of August 6th left the precise status of slaves undefined but nevertheless alienated Unionist Democrats.
In military action, Confederate brigadier generals Henry A. Wise and John B. Floyd met at White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County, where Wise had been pushed across the Gauley River by Union forces moving east from Ohio. Soldiers from Floyd’s brigade moved through Lewisburg and camped four miles outside of the town.
Although Federals commanded the northwest of the state, Confederates still controlled the southern region of western Virginia, from below the Kanawha Valley stretching east to the headwaters of the Tygart Valley River and up along the Allegheny ridge.
Changes in early August had placed Gen. Robert E. Lee in command of Confederate forces in western Virginia. Arriving on Aug. 1, Lee replaced Brig. Gen. William W. Loring. Although he would remain in the region until the end of October, Lee would fail to make gains against Union forces. This failure, attributed to his over cautiousness, earned him the nickname, “Granny Lee.”
A pioneering experiment took place at Hampton Roads, Va., on Aug. 3. Balloonist John La Mountain rose from the Federal steam tug Fanny and observed the Confederate battery at nearby Sewell’s Point from the air. Balloons were used as tools for reconnaissance throughout the war.
Union defeat at the bloody Battle of Bull Run prompted changes in leadership for the Army of Northeastern Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln summoned his most successful general to Washington to take command.
The July 26 arrival of Maj. Gen.
George B. McClellan, triumphant after his victory at the Battle
of Rich Mountain, dramatically changed the makeup of that army.
McClellan was assigned command of the Division of the Potomac, which included the Department of Northeast Virginia and the Department of Washington. The Department of the Shenandoah was also included in his new command.
McClellan’s popularity was evident in newspaper articles throughout the north. The New York Herald on July 28 reported, “A man has arisen equal to the times. Like the legions of France under Napoleon, the troops of the American republic under McClellan will be invincible, and the shameful rout of Bull Run will be forgotten in the glory of his victories.”
McClellan later built the Army of the Potomac, which was composed of all military forces in the former Departments of Northeastern Virginia, Washington, Baltimore, and the Shenandoah. At more than 150,000 strong, it would be the largest army assembled on the continent to date.
After McClellan’s departure, U.S. Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans assumed command of the Department of the Ohio, which included western Virginia and much of the Midwest. Rosecrans had led victorious Federal troops against Rebels under Lt. Col. John Pegram at Rich Mountain.
In Confederate restructuring, Gen. Robert E. Lee had placed Brig. Gen. William W. Loring in command of the Confederate Army of the Northwest on July 20 after the death of Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett at Corricks Ford. Lee ordered Loring to restrain the Union advance to “the other side of the Alleghany Ridge.”
As soldiers lost their lives in battle, the General Assembly of the Reorganized Government of Virginia had continued discussions of separate statehood in western Virginia. The Extra Session which had begun in Wheeling on July 1 adjourned July 26 with legislators from northwestern Virginia strongly in favor of the division, while those representing Unionist factions in eastern Virginia were equally opposed.
In closing, Speaker of the House Daniel Frost of Jackson County said, “You have worked as men intent upon doing something for the public good, and with an eye always to the extraordinary exigencies which assembled you together....” Frost reminded delegates that their work did not end with the session. “There is important work for us to perform when we again mingle with the people...,” he said. “Let each one of us do something for the maintenance of the supremacy of the General Government and of our own re-organized State Government…The government’s cause is our cause.”
Public opinion was also divided on the issue. At a public meeting in Morgantown, the gathering unanimously rebuked the General Assembly for not directing “the formation of a new State out of Northwestern Virginia.” Citizens of Marion County warned against separation during the current national crisis. The statehood bill would come to a vote in October.
A battle near Manassas in Prince William County, Virginia would help propel Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to prominence as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
The July 21, 1861 First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the First Battle of Manassas, was a disaster for the Union Army.
Under political pressure to take the Confederate capitol at Richmond and bring a quick end to the war, U.S. Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell advanced across Bull Run against the Confederate Army under Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard near Manassas Junction.
A poorly executed flank attack and resistance from a brigade of Virginians under the relatively unknown Col. Thomas J. Jackson contributed to the Union defeat. Under strong counterattack from Jackson’s troops, many of McDowell’s men panicked and fled toward nearby Washington. Jackson was thereafter known as “Stonewall.”
The first major battle of the Civil War was an eye-opener for both sides as they began to realize the war could be longer and bloodier than anticipated. The battle also made it clear that stronger leadership of the Union Army was needed.
Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan had achieved notoriety and fame for his success at the July 11 Battle of Rich Mountain near Beverly. This was primarily due to his skill in communication and public relations.
As McClellan marched his troops from Grafton to confront Rebel forces at Rich Mountain, the general laid a telegraph line behind him. The line stretched from Grafton to his army’s camp at Roaring Creek Flats near Beverly.
After the battle, McClellan set up his telegraph at the captured Confederate fortification at Camp Garnett. Word of his victory was wired to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott at the War Department in Washington. The news would grab the attention of the nation as headlines from Louisville to New York told of McClellan’s triumph. Helped by his flamboyant and embellished style, he became a war hero in the North overnight.
Leaving Camp Garnett, McClellan continued his advance to Beverly, entering the town with the regimental band playing and banners flying. He established his headquarters and the telegraph at the Bushrod Crawford house and store. This secured Federal control of the turnpike crossroads and access from the north and the west.
Learning of Confederate Gen. Robert S. Garnett’s death at Corricks Ford, McClellan relayed the following message by telegraph: “We have annihilated the enemy in Western Virginia....Our success is complete & secession is killed in this country.”
The first electronic form of communication, the telegraph used a code to spell out words. The fundamentally simple device had enormous impact on transportation and military communications. McClellan was the first to make tactical use of the device.
Perhaps even more significant was its use in delivering the news to newspapers. Without it, McClellan may not have achieved the recognition that led to his appointment as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
The first general to die in the Civil War was killed at a river crossing on the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River near present-day Parsons in Tucker County.
Confederate Gen. Robert S. Garnett was shot from his horse at Corricks Ford on July 13, 1861. He was killed while attempting to delay the Federal pursuit of his forces after the Battle of Rich Mountain.
Before his death, the general had expressed misgivings about his assignment. “They have not given me an adequate force. I can do nothing,” he said. “They have sent me to my death.”
Garnett took command of the Army of the Northwest after the Battle of Philippi in early June. By mid-June, he had established fortifications at two key passes hoping to stop a Union invasion led by Gen. George B. McClellan.
Garnett dug in with 4,000 men at Laurel Hill near Belington while Lt. Col. John Pegram positioned 1,300 troops at Camp Garnett, some 16 miles away on Rich Mountain near Beverly. Pegram’s men had been holding the area around Beverly at the junction of two important turnpikes—the Beverly and Fairmont, and the Staunton and Parkersburg.
Charged with securing vital transportation routes for the Union, McClellan had travelled from Ohio into western Virginia and brought more than 6,000 men to Roaring Creek Flats near Camp Garnett. In one of the first important Union victories of the Civil War, a portion of McClellan’s forces defeated Pegram’s men at Rich Mountain on July 11.
Garnett’s position had meanwhile received constant artillery bombardment from the west by troops under U.S. Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris. Learning of Pegram’s defeat, Garnett and his men abandoned their camp and marched south toward Beverly during the night, leaving tents in place and campfires burning to deceive the enemy.
At dawn on July 12, Garnett’s scouts mistook Confederate troops near Beverly for Federals, who would, in fact, take the town later that day. Fearing a trap, the general headed northeast, attempting to circle back to safety. Morris discovered the Rebels’ retreat from Laurel Hill at mid-day and set out in pursuit with a force of more than 1,800 under Capt. Henry W. Benham.
The Rebels struggled over muddy mountain passes in the pouring rain on Pheasant Mountain with Federals at their heels. They felled trees and threw away tents, camp furniture, and supplies to lighten their load and block the path. The retreat continued through the night and into the next day.
Benham’s forces caught up with the Rebels’ rear guard by noon July 13 at Kalar’s Ford of Shavers Fork. A running skirmish began, as the two-mile-long Confederate column moved down the river followed by Federals.
Southern sharp shooters gave cover as Garnett’s men made the final river crossing at Corricks Ford while the general, urged to fall back, continued directing skirmishers. “The post of danger is now my post of duty,” he said. Garnett was killed moments later.
The Confederates scattered after this bloody engagement, leaving their dead, a cannon, and most of their wagons stalled in the river.
Federals troops, exhausted after traveling 30 miles in 24 hours, stopped. They had captured 50 wagons, 150 horses, and a 6-pounder cannon. Garnett’s men would continue to flee through the wilderness, disorganized and starving, eventually straggling into Monterey, Virginia on July 16, 1861
In the early days of the American Civil War, control of transportation routes through western Virginia was a strategic goal of both Union and Confederate planners.
Following their hasty retreat from Philippi in June of 1861, Confederate troops under the command of Gen. Robert S. Garnett fortified two key passes. The more southerly of these, Camp Garnett, consisted of earth and log entrenchments overlooking the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike at Rich Mountain, just west of Beverly.
Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan was charged with securing the loyal counties of western Virginia and protecting the area’s vital B&O railroad for the Union. McClellan brought more than 6,000 troops and 8 cannons to Roaring Creek Flats, arriving about 2 miles west of the Camp Garnett entrenchments on July 9.
Confederate Lt. Col. John Pegram was in command of Camp Garnett with about 1,300 men and 4 cannons. Hearing of McClellan’s movements, Pegram sent a small party to the Joseph Hart homestead to protect his rear at the pass where the Pike crossed the summit of Rich Mountain. On the morning of July 11, the force at the pass consisted of 310 men and one cannon.
Concerned that his troops lacked the experience to face the enemy head on, McClellan was hesitant to make a frontal attack on Camp Garnett. The general had also overestimated the numbers of the opposing forces.
Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans proposed leading an attack from the left flank while McClellan attacked Camp Garnett from the front. He introduced McClellan to Hart’s 22-year-old son, David, who volunteered to guide troops to the summit. McClellan reluctantly agreed to the plan.
Early on July 11, Rosecrans and nearly 2,000 men set out with young Hart, struggling through the dense woods in the rain. At about 2:30 p.m., the Federal column encountered enemy skirmishers on top of Rich Mountain. Taking cover behind rocks and trees, the surprised Confederate outpost held off the Federal attack for more than two hours. Badly outnumbered, they eventually gave way, and Rosecrans’ troops took possession of the field.
McClellan heard the sounds of the battle, but did not attack Camp Garnett as planned. Trapped with enemy troops at his front and rear, Pegram ordered the withdrawal of his remaining forces during the night.
Rosecrans entered the abandoned camp on the morning of July 12 and discovered that the enemy had been routed. A messenger carrying the news reached McClellan just as his artillery was ready to start battering the fort.
McClellan promptly sent a telegram to Washington claiming a great victory for his army. This communication secured McClellan’s reputation as a winning general and led to his appointment as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
In jubilation the Federals packed up and headed up the mountain, but they were greeted by a horrible and sobering sight. The ground had been scarred by cannon fire, the tops of trees knocked off. The Hart farm was covered with the bodies of horses, livestock, and soldiers.
“I never heard such screaming in my life,” David Hart later wrote of the battle. “The whole earth seemed to shake.”
Confederate troops reorganized under Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett following their hasty retreat at Philippi in early June.
Garnett imposed discipline on
the ragged Confederate recruits, and established fortifications
at two key turnpike passes over the mountains.
Entrenchments of stones and felled trees were erected on both sides of the Beverly-Fairmont Pike east of Belington at Laurel Hill. Three artillery positions were placed along the turnpike.
Camp Garnett, named in honor of the general, was at the western base of Rich Mountain commanding the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. Earthworks overlooked the turnpike, and by early July the camp held 1,300 Confederate troops and 4 cannons commanded by Lt. Col. John Pegram.
Garnett called these forts the “gates to the northwestern country,” as they controlled the routes to the vital B&O Railroad. Control of this railroad and other key transportation routes through western Virginia was a strategic goal of both Union and Confederate planners.
By July 1, Garnett’s force at Laurel Hill numbered about 4,000 men.
On July 7, 1861, Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris moved south from Philippi with about 4,000 Federal soldiers. His troops engaged the Rebels in a series of skirmishes and cannon bombardments in the hills around Belington that would continue for days. Morris planned to occupy the bulk of the Confederate troops to give the impression that this was the main attack.
Union Gen. George B. McClellan, meanwhile, consolidated his hold over the railroad and the far western part of Virginia. Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans moved his Federals to occupy Buckhannon in Upshur County. McClellan would meet him two days later with additional troops.
By July 4, McClellan had over 6,000 troops at Buckhannon on the Staunton-Parkersburg Pike. On July 6 and 7, elements of his force advanced up the pike and encountered Confederate skirmishers at Middle Fork Bridge. The Federals then moved on to make camp at Roaring Creek Flats, a short distance west of Rich Mountain, setting the stage for the July 11 Battle of Rich Mountain.
As military men positioned troops for battle, maneuvers also took place in the political arena.
The Virginia Convention in Richmond on June 28 withdrew a loan to West Liberty Academy in Ohio County and canceled work on the Northwestern Lunatic Asylum in Weston, Lewis County.
Fearing Confederate Virginia would confiscate the funds intended to construct the asylum, Reorganized Virginia Gov. Francis H. Pierpont sent Capt. John List of Wheeling to retrieve the $27,000 in gold. On June 30, List led Col. Erastus B. Tyler and the 7th Ohio Infantry to the Exchange Bank of Weston to claim it. The gold was seized without resistance and taken back north in a hearse under heavy guard.
On July 1 the General Assembly of the Reorganized Government of Virginia convened in Wheeling. Nominated by George McC. Porter of Hancock County, Jackson County Delegate Daniel Frost was elected Speaker of the House of Delegates. Recently elected Lt.-Gov. Daniel Polsley assumed his presiding role in the Senate.
In a letter to the General Assembly, Pierpont said southern secessionists had forced Virginia to bear the burden of their transgressions. “Why, if war was to come, was our land made the battle field? Why was this Commonwealth interposed as a barrier to protect the States of the South, who undertook to overthrow the Union in utter disregard of our remonstrances?”
Delegates of the Second Wheeling Convention on June 20 unanimously elected Marion County’s Francis H. Pierpont governor of the Reorganized Government of Virginia.
In his nomination of Pierpont, Delegate Daniel Lamb of Ohio
County said, “Mr. Pierpoint needs no eulogium at my hands...He
is known throughout this country as having been one of the
ablest, the most decided and indefatigable advocates of our
cause from the very start. We all know that heart and soul he is
Addressing the assembly, Governor-elect Pierpont said the
convention had been driven to assume its position in order to
protect people and property in western Virginia. “The loyal
people are entitled to the government and governmental authority
of the State,” Pierpont said. “And, fellow-citizens, it is the
assumption of that authority upon which we are now about to
Other official positions of the new government were also filled.
Daniel Polsley of Mason County was elected lieutenant-governor
and five delegates were appointed as the Council of the Governor
The convention on June 21 passed the “Ordinance relating to the
Receipts and Disbursements of the Public Revenue, and Providing
for the appointment of an Auditor, Treasurer, and Secretary of
the Commonwealth,” and dealt with other organizational issues.
With vacancies filled and a reorganized government in place,
delegates believed Virginia could once again be part of the
Union. This would be the first step toward becoming the new
state of West Virginia.
As delegates in Wheeling worked to reorganize state government,
military action continued in other areas of western Virginia
Infrastructure in Martinsburg was the target of Confederate Col.
Thomas J. Jackson. Under orders from Gen. Joseph Johnston,
Jackson on June 20 destroyed the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad yards
and the Colonnade Bridge. In addition to the tracks, Jackson’s
troops destroyed the round house and various railroad buildings
as well as 56 locomotives and more than 300 cars. Thirteen
locomotives were seized for use by the Confederacy.
The federal government had invested heavily in the railroad at
Martinsburg, the only locale in the Shenandoah Valley to oppose
secession. Unionists there were outraged that Confederates had
dismantled this important transportation system.
West of the Ohio River, Gen. George B. McClellan, commander of
the Department of the Ohio, embarked by train from Cincinnati
June 20 with nearly twenty-thousand men, reaching Grafton June
23. A proclamation by McClellan issued to the citizens of
western Virginia said those who conducted irregular warfare,
damaged property, and took retribution against Unionists would
be dealt with severely. At McClellan’s recommendation, Col.
Benjamin F. Kelley was promoted to brigadier general in
recognition of his actions at the Battle of Philippi.
On June 25 the Second Wheeling Convention adjourned until
August. In closing, newly appointed Gov. Pierpont spoke at
length to the body.
“We have representatives here from Hancock to Wayne, from the Ohio to the mountains. Randolph, Tucker, Gilmer on the one hand, while Kanawha in its strength is with us on the other… The time for action has now arrived; and he who now falters, at a time when his country most needs his services, falters at a time when that faltering is not only a sin but a crime of the deepest dye.”
The Second Wheeling Convention
on June 19 passed an ordinance reorganizing the government of
Delegate Francis H. Pierpont of Fairmont supported instituting a
government for the whole state of Virginia rather than forming a
new state. Pierpont and others believed President Abraham
Lincoln had the constitutional authority to dictate theirs as
the lawful state government.
“We are the loyal people of Virginia, entitled by law to the
control of its military and civic power,” Pierpont said. “As to
dividing the State—which, I have no doubt, will ultimately be
done, and which I will favor at the proper time—I would remark
that the putting down of rebellion, the lending of a helping
hand to aid the Government, the maintenance of constitutional
liberty in this land of ours, from the St. Lawrence to the Rio
Grande, is of vastly more importance to us, and to the world,
than the formation of a new State out of Western Virginia, at
Convention delegates had debated the issue for several days,
beginning with Harrison County Delegate John S. Carlile’s June
13 submission of a document proposing the reorganized
government. “A Declaration of the People of Virginia” said that
all state offices were vacant due to Virginia’s secession, and
demanded “the reorganization of the government of the
Some delegates were in favor of splitting from the east, while others still hoped to remain united with eastern Virginians who were loyal to the Union. Denouncing the idea of neutrality, Delegate James W. Paxton of Ohio County spoke to the gravity of the situation.
“We must not forget…that we are now engaged in a struggle for
the nation’s very existence; that our differences are not now
being settled as heretofore at the ballot box, peacefully and
quietly, but by the bayonet and at the cannon’s mouth,” Paxton
As these debates took place, military engagements continued
across the divide. On Jun. 13 in Hampshire County, Col. Lew
Wallace and Federal soldiers pushed Confederate troops from
Romney. The following day the Confederates at Harpers Ferry
under the new command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnson destroyed a B&O
Railroad bridge and burned sections of the town before heading
south towards Winchester. In New Creek, present-day Mineral
County, Rebels skirmished with and defeated Federal troops,
burning a railroad bridge and capturing the flag.
Confederate Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett established Camp Laurel
Hill near Belington in Barbour County on June 16 to maintain
control of the pass over the mountain. Despite voting against
secession, Kanawha County on June 17 appropriated $15,000 for
the defense of Virginia.
On June 14, Virginia Governor John Letcher released a
proclamation, “To the People of North-Western Virginia,”
reprimanding continued pro-Union movements and asking for
political and military support. “Men of the Northwest, I appeal
to you, by all the considerations which have drawn us together
as one people heretofore, to rally to the standard of the Old
Dominion,” Letcher wrote.
In defiance of Richmond, the Second Wheeling Convention continued, passing its reorganization ordinance the same day that the Virginia Convention adopted the Constitution of the Confederate States of America.
Elected delegates from all over western Virginia gathered on June 11 at Wheeling’s Washington Hall for the Second Wheeling Convention.
The convention on June 12 chose Arthur I. Boreman of Wood County as its president. Addressing the assembly, Boreman said no other region removed from the Union by secession had developed a formal political body to pursue reunification.
“We have no ordinary task before us,” Boreman said. “We come here to carry out and execute, and it may be, to institute a government for ourselves.” Boreman, later chosen the first governor of the new state of West Virginia, said western Virginians were determined to “live under the Constitution of the United States.”
Boreman said the task at hand would require stout hearts, courage and unfaltering determination. “The definite line of action to be pursued, it is not for me to indicate,” he said. “Here are learned gentlemen, men of experience, who, no doubt, after deliberation will devise the course proper for us to pursue.”
Delegate D. B. Dorsey of Monongalia County submitted resolutions to gauge delegates’ opinions about creating a new state versus reorganizing the government of Virginia. He withdrew them, however, at Harrison County Delegate John S. Carlile’s request that they be brought up later.
Carlile then resolved to thank Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, Col. Benjamin F. Kelley, and the soldiers of Ohio, Indiana, and Federal Virginia for saving the people of western Virginia “…from the destruction and spoliation inaugurated by the rebel forces in our midst.”
On June 3, the Confederates in western Virginia had suffered a demoralizing defeat by Col. Kelley at Philippi, but quickly tried to reorganize. A company of mountain rangers pushed north from Lewisburg to assist them on June 6.
The “fire-eater” and newly appointed Brig. Gen. Henry A. Wise was ordered to western Virginia to take control of Rebel forces there. The former Virginia governor lacked any military experience and would contribute negatively to the area’s campaign. On June 8, Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett assumed command of the Confederate forces which had participated in the Battle of Philippi.
Outside the region the Confederates were fairing better. The voters of Tennessee ratified the state’s secession on June 8 in a regionally divisive decision. Western Tennessee had approved secession 2-1 while the same margin rejected it in the eastern part of the state. On June 10, Rebels at Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay defeated Federal forces in the Battle of Big Bethel.
Before adjourning on June 12, delegates agreed that the Wheeling Convention would be moved to the United States Court Room at the Custom House, known today as West Virginia Independence Hall.
A western Virginia town was the site of the first organized land battle of the Civil War on June 3, 1861.
Approximately 750 Confederate soldiers were stationed in Philippi, an enclave of Southern sympathy. The town was of regional importance due to its location on the Fairmont-Beverly Turnpike and its famous covered bridge crossing the Tygart Valley River.
Philippi’s proximity to Grafton, however, was most important to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, commander of the Department of the Ohio.
Located along the Northwestern Virginia Turnpike and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Grafton was a critical transportation hub. McClellan ordered Federal troops to Grafton when Confederate forces threatened the strategic location. His objective was to protect the railroad and secure western Virginia for the Union.
Confederate Col. George A. Porterfield had been recruiting in the Grafton area, but when news of the coming invasion reached him in late May, he fell back to Philippi. McClellan summoned Col. Benjamin F. Kelley and Union troops of Virginia from Wheeling to pursue Porterfield.
A two-part “pincer” attack was planned to trap the Confederate forces. Kelley’s troops departed Grafton by train on June 1, deceptively heading east toward Harper’s Ferry. The 1,500 troops instead de-trained a short distance away at Thornton, and on June 2 marched toward Philippi, intending to take up a position on the southern route out of town.
An additional 1,500 Indiana troops commanded by Col. Ebenezer Dumont had been sent to nearby Webster and approached on the turnpike. After an overnight march in rainy weather, both columns arrived at Philippi before dawn on June 3.
Positioned atop Talbott Hill, artillery under the command of Col. Frederick W. Lander opened fire on the Confederate camp below at daybreak. Caught off guard, the Confederate troops were thrown into utter confusion. In a panic they retreated to the south, leaving guns and equipment behind. Some were reportedly still in their bedclothes.
Their path, however, was unobstructed by Kelley and his column, which had mistakenly taken the wrong road and entered Philippi from the north. Instead of trapping the Rebels, the two Federal forces met and stormed into town. Exhausted from the all-night march, they did not pursue the Confederate forces, whose hasty retreat earned the Battle of Philippi its nickname, the “Philippi Races.”
Although no deaths were
reported, both sides suffered casualties, including Col. Kelley,
who was shot from his horse and seriously injured while chasing
Confederates through Philippi. New York newspapers reported that
Kelley had been mortally wounded, but he recovered and was
promoted to the rank of general.
While brief, the engagement at Philippi was historically significant. It is likely the first time the railroad was used to bring together separated forces on an opponent. It is also known to have brought milestones in wartime medicine.
Confederate James Hanger’s leg had been struck by a six-pound solid shot and mangled. Dr. James Robison of the 16th Ohio Infantry removed the leg six inches below the hip without anesthesia in what was the first amputation of the war. Hanger would go on to found “Hanger Prosthetics,” still a major manufacturer in the prosthetics industry today.
The second surgical operation of the war occurred the following day. Confederate soldier Leroy P. Daingerfield was shot in the leg. His friend, Dr. John Huff, took him by wagon 30 miles south to the Logan House in Beverly. Lacking instruments, Dr. Huff removed the leg with a butcher knife and carpenter’s saw.
Virginia voters ratified the
state’s secession by a large margin, but western Virginians were
furious that most of their votes had not reached Richmond.
Virginia Gov. John Letcher announced the results of the May 23 election. The official tally was 129,950 in favor of leaving the Union and 20,373 opposed. The votes for 32 western counties, however, were not delivered.
There is disagreement among historians about how western Virginians voted, but it is commonly estimated that 40,000 of the 44,000 voters in the counties which today make West Virginia were against secession.
This injustice pushed those already angry with state government into action as pro-Union citizens throughout the west moved against Southern sympathizers.
In Parkersburg, Unionists on May 24 destroyed the building and printing press of the Parkersburg News, run by secessionist Charles Rhodes. A resolution passed at a Moundsville meeting called for replacing Baltimore & Ohio Railroad employees having secessionist tendencies “with men cherishing the Union.” Those who voted for secession in Glen Easton, Marshall County, were the targets of a committee formed to confiscate their arms and force them to swear loyalty to the U.S. Constitution.
Meetings continued throughout western Virginia denouncing secession and favoring separation from the state as military units on both sides continued to organize. In Wheeling, Col. Benjamin F. Kelley was commissioned as commander of the newly completed 1st Virginia Federal Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Capt. Robert B. Moorman’s Cavalry departed from Lewisburg for Staunton to join the Confederate cause.
At Fort Monroe in eastern Virginia, Federal Gen. Benjamin Butler denied the return of a Confederate colonel’s three escaped slaves, declaring them “contraband.” In Alexandria, Union Col. Elmer Ellsworth was killed on May 24 while trying to remove a secessionist flag from a hotel. Ellsworth, the friend and former law clerk of Abraham Lincoln, was the first conspicuous casualty of the war. T. Bailey Brown of Grafton, however, was the first Union soldier killed by enemy fire on May 22.
On May 25 Confederate forces burned two B&O bridges near Farmington. The following day Gen. George McClellan announced by proclamation to western Virginians that he had ordered Federal troops across the Ohio River. He assured the protection of property, including slaves, of those loyal to the Union. McClellan wrote, “I call upon you to fly to arms and support the general government, sever the connection that binds you to traitors, proclaim to the world that the faith and loyalty so long boasted by the Old Dominion are still preserved in Western Virginia, and that you remain true to the stars and stripes.”
Due to the lack of facilities, infrastructure and appropriate climate, the Confederate capitol was moved from Montgomery, Ala., to Richmond. The move had been opposed by many in the Deep South, including President Jefferson Davis, who arrived at the new capitol May 29. Its close proximity to Washington D.C. would resign Virginia to near-constant warfare.
A clash between members of the
Grafton Guards and Company A of the 25th Virginia Infantry took
the life of a soldier near Grafton.
Pvt. T. Bailey Brown of Grafton was the first Union soldier to be killed by enemy fire in the Civil War. He is buried at Grafton National Cemetery, where his grave is marked by a special monument.
On the night of May 22, Brown and 2nd Lt. Daniel Wilson of the Grafton Guards attended a rally in Pruntytown to recruit forces for the Union Army. Upon their return, they encountered Daniel W. S. Knight and George Glenn of Company A standing guard at the Fetterman Bridge. The bridge was just west of Grafton where the Northwestern Turnpike crossed the tracks of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
The Confederates of Company A, also known as Letcher’s Guard, were camped two miles south of Fetterman along the Tygart Valley River near this important transportation hub.
Knight ordered the federal soldiers to halt, but they ignored the order and continued advancing. Brown shot Knight in the ear with his revolver and Knight returned fire, killing Brown almost instantly. Glenn shot Wilson in the heel of his boot as he retreated.
Located at the main juncture of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Grafton was a critical link to the coal fields and steel mills of Wheeling and Pittsburgh. Both sides sought to secure control of Grafton and the railroad for the duration of the long and bloody Civil War.
Formation of the Grafton Guards had begun soon after the attack on Fort Sumter. With the support of George R. Latham, Taylor County’s delegate to the Wheeling Convention, and Brown, the company had reached full enrollment on May 20. The Grafton Guards would later become Company B of the Second West Virginia Infantry Volunteers and ultimately mounted and designated as the Fifth West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry.
As with much of western Virginia, loyalty in Taylor County was divided. While most supported the Grafton Guards some backed the Letcher’s Guard.
In Harrison County, two companies of Confederate Virginia soldiers entered Clarksburg on May 20. After a short standoff with Union militia, however, they agreed to surrender their arms on the condition that they would not be attacked. That same day, North Carolina seceded from the United States, making it the eleventh Southern state to do so.
Support for the Confederacy continued to grow, even in Wheeling, the Union heart of western Virginia. Daniel M. Shriver of Wheeling had recruited a company known as the Shriver Grays. The company moved east to Harpers Ferry to join the larger Confederate Army, eventually becoming Company G of the 27th Virginia Infantry in the Stonewall Brigade.
On May 22 the Wheeling Convention’s Central Committee issued a release asking northwestern Virginians to oppose the state’s Ordinance of Secession and appoint delegates to the second convention in June, in order “…that such action may be secured as will best subserve the interests of our State, and secure the perpetuity of its Union with the United States.”
A resolution passed at the first Wheeling Convention on May 15 declared the Virginia State Convention's Ordinance of Secession "unconstitutional, null and void."
Union supporters and representatives from 27 northwestern Virginia counties attended the convention at Washington Hall in Wheeling. The purpose of the meeting, which convened May 13, was to decide what position northwestern Virginia should take in response to the state's secession.
Harrison County Delegate John S. Carlile called for immediate action and proposed the formation of the separate state of "New Virginia." He argued against critics who called the proposal treason and perjury of their allegiance to the Commonwealth.
"It is a peaceful, legal, constitutional remedy secured to us by the same instrument which secures freedom of speech and the right of trial by jury," Carlile said. An attorney, he said the move would be legal if made prior to Virginia's official separation from the Union.
Others, including Gen. John J. Jackson of Wood County, advocated waiting for the results of the May 23 public referendum on secession. Carlile's idea was considered "revolutionary" by the majority of conservative delegates. It was rejected in favor of a proposal by the Committee of State and Federal Resolutions.
The adopted proposal stated if secession were accepted by a popular vote, a second Wheeling Convention would convene on June 11 to determine the course of action. In the interim, elections would be held to "officially" appoint delegates to represent constituents.
The first convention adjourned
on May 15, but subsequent sessions would ultimately set in
motion the creation of the Restored Government of Virginia.
Other Unionist meetings and demonstrations were held in Hampshire, Jackson, Ohio, Taylor, and Tyler counties. The Rough and Ready Rifles, Virginia's First Federal Infantry, was formed in Ohio County.
Confederate Home Guards were organized at pro-Southern gatherings in Lewis and Logan counties, and volunteer forces drilled along the Kanawha River. The Greenbrier Rifles left for Staunton May 13 and would eventually join the Jackson Brigade, led by Confederate Gen. Thomas J."Stonewall" Jackson.
As western Virginians staked out territory and took sides for battles yet to come, the military situation around the country continued to escalate.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis authorized the enlistment of an additional 40,000 troops. Confederate and Union ships exchanged fire in the Chesapeake Bay, and Virginia forces at Harpers Ferry seized cattle and horses traveling by train. Union soldiers fired upon armed rioters in St. Louis, killing 28. Martial law was declared in Baltimore to quell persistent unrest. Great Britain's Queen Victoria pledged neutrality in the American conflict but recognized the separate status of the Confederacy.
The idea of separate statehood began to gain ground in western Virginia in the wake of the state's secession.
Meetings held at various western locations gave voice to long-held frustration with eastern policy and outrage at secession. In spite of the pouring rain, a crowd packed the Harrison County Courthouse at one such meeting in Clarksburg on May 3.
Future Gov. Francis H. Pierpont, later known as the "father of West Virginia," addressed the crowd for two and one half hours. Following the speech, a committee presented resolutions supporting the government of the United States and denouncing Virginia's secession.
The eleventh and final resolution made western sentiments clear. The resolution stated, "That Western Virginia has patiently submitted to and borne up under the oppression of Eastern Virginia for half a century; that now the measure of Eastern oppression is full, and if secession is the only remedy offered by her for all our wrongs, the day is near at hand when Western Virginia will rise in the majesty of her strength and patriotism, and repudiating her oppressors, remain firmly under the Stars and Stripes - the glorious emblem of our nationality and greatness."
Union meetings throughout western Virginia echoed these sentiments, with gatherings in Kingwood and Wheeling as well as Monongalia, Wayne, Marion, Preston, Mason and Marshall counties. In Fairmont, Pierpont and Virginia State Convention delegates Ephraim B. Hall of Marion and John S. Burdette of Taylor spoke to the crowd. The Marion Guards were brought out to maintain order after a fight ensued between supporters and secessionist hecklers. No serious injuries were reported.
Meanwhile, pro-Southern citizens met in upper Kanawha County and formed the "Clifton Rangers" to defend Virginia and protect the valley from slave insurrections. Resolutions passed at a subsequent meeting called for other volunteer defense companies to be formed as recommended by the Virginia State Convention.
In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln on May 3 expanded the regular army to over 22,000 and called for 42,000 three-year army volunteers and 18,000 sailors. The president appointed Gen. George B. McClellan to command the Department of the Ohio which covered Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. McClellan would go on to lead the Union's effective push into western Virginia.
Lincoln had met since April 1 on a near-daily basis with his General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, who presented a plan to the president for crushing the rebellion. Scott's plan called for envelopment and isolation of the South to cut off the Confederate nation and "bring it to terms." Scott believed the Southern "fire-eaters" would back down quickly under pressure and a diplomatic resolution of the conflict could be achieved.
It was said that McClellan referred to the proposed strategy as Scott's "boa-constrictor" plan. The plan's passivity was ridiculed by many, particularly in the press, which renamed it after a different snake, the anaconda. The "Anaconda Plan" was never officially adopted, but its isolation strategy appeared repeatedly in the long and bloody war.
On May 6 the Confederacy grew by two more states as Arkansas and Tennessee passed Ordinances of Secession.
A week after voting to secede from the Union, the Virginia State Convention remained in session in Richmond and on April 25 adopted the Constitution of the Confederate States of America.
Western Virginians, however, were far from united in their reaction to the state's secession. Northwestern Unionists met to discuss separating from the state and forming a provisional government in Wheeling, while southern supporters opposed them at a meeting in Harrison County, claiming these plans lacked authority and were the result of influence from Ohio and Pennsylvania.
With Harrison County resident and former Virginia Gov. Joseph Johnson presiding, supporters addressed northwestern plans in a resolution imploring fellow Virginians "to inform themselves, and think and reflect for themselves on this and other subjects of vital public importance, and not to allow themselves to be seduced by wicked and reckless men, to their own infamy, the degradation of their families, and the destruction of their country."
On April 27 the state convention passed an ordinance creating a provisional army. Under instructions from Virginia Gov. John Letcher, Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered western Virginia native Thomas J. Jackson to take command of troops at Harpers Ferry. U.S. forces had failed to destroy the federal armory located there before retreating, leaving large numbers of arms and machinery for Confederates.
Gatherings for both sides continued. On April 29 and 30 pro-Virginia and Southern rights meetings were held in Braxton County and at the mouth of Big Sandy respectively. The citizens of Wetzel County conducted a pro-Union meeting May 1.
In Kanawha County, Thomas B. Swann agreed to run for the Virginia House of Delegates representing southern states' rights on April 30. In a letter to the Kanawha Valley Star, Swann wrote, "The flag of Virginia calls every son of Virginia to duty, and we will respond from the hills and low-lands, and keep its proud crest upon that eminence where our fathers placed it. Division amongst us now, will induce our foe to bring this war to our very doors, which we may yet avoid, by being united."
That same day Virginia State Convention Delegate Alfred M. Barbour of Jefferson County, the former superintendent of the armory at Harpers Ferry, asked to have his vote recorded as in favor of secession. On May 1 the convention adjourned until June 15.
Richmond exploded in celebration on April 18 at news of the Virginia State Convention's decision to secede from the Union, but the scene at the convention had been somber, according to Delegate George McC. Porter of Hancock County.
"I cannot describe to you the terrible solemnity of the closing scenes of the convention," Porter wrote in a letter to his wife. "It was the darkest hour I ever saw." Porter said many of the delegates wept like children. "God seems to have deserted us," he wrote.
When news of the vote reached Harpers Ferry April 19, both sides sought to control the federal armory. Superintendent Alfred Barbour, a Confederate sympathizer, notified employees and soldiers that the arsenal would be turned over to Virginia. Lt. Roger Jones and the federal garrison instead set fire to the armory, partially destroying it, before retreating north as Maj. Gen. Kenton Harper led the now Confederate Virginia militia in an attempt to occupy the town.
Pro-secession meetings sprang up across Western Virginia. The Kanawha Riflemen in Charleston extended their services to defend Virginia from hostile attack. On April 20 secessionists gathered along the Ohio in Guyandotte while members of the Southern States' Rights party met in Kanawha County. That same day Col. Robert E. Lee resigned from the United States Army; he would accept command of Virginia's military forces April 22.
Crowds also rallied to show their support for the Union. A Southern flag discovered on the roof of the courthouse in Weston was publicly burned on April 21. In Morgantown, a procession of close to 1,000 drew as many supporters for a speech by Francis H. Pierpont, who would become governor of the restored government of Virginia. Meanwhile, in Clarksburg nearly 1,200 assembled to discuss their opposition to the Ordinance of Secession. Harrison County Delegate John Carlile submitted resolutions calling for northwestern Virginia delegates to meet at a convention in Wheeling on May 13.
In Richmond, under the threat of violence towards pro-Union delegates, Ohio County Delegate Sherrard Clemens and 10 others met in his hotel room to discuss opposition to the vote. On April 23 delegates Alpheus F. Haymond of Marion County and George Berlin of Upshur asked that their votes on secession be reversed from "nays" to "yays." Haymond argued that popular opinion in Marion was for secession while Berlin said, "All hopes of re-constructing the Union are now at an end."
Less than 10 days after voting against
secession by a 2-1 margin, the Virginia State Convention reversed its
decision. The Civil War had begun at Fort Sumter.
Word that Confederate troops had fired on the federal fort located in the Charleston Harbor on April 12 reached Virginia Gov. John Letcher on April 13 in a dispatch from South Carolina Gov. Francis Pickens.
"The war is commenced, and we will triumph or perish," Pickens wrote. "Please let me know what will Virginia do." Letcher read the telegram to the delegates at the convention which was in session at the state capitol. Further news of the attack and subsequent surrender of the fort would soon reach Richmond.
According to historic accounts, the commander of South Carolina forces Brig. Gen. P.G.T Beauregard had on April 11 and 12 sent envoys to his former instructor U.S. Maj. Robert Anderson demanding immediate evacuation of Fort Sumter. In his last reply sent in the early hours of April 12, Anderson, knowing his rations would be depleted, agreed to surrender the fort by April 15 if he was not re-supplied or directed otherwise.
A loyal officer who took his orders directly from President Abraham Lincoln, Anderson knew he could neither back down nor fire the first shot in what had become an inevitable war. "I will not in the meantime open my fire upon your forces unless compelled to do so by some hostile act against this fort or the flag of my Government," Anderson said in his message to Beauregard.
After delivering one last warning, Confederate troops at 4:30 a.m. opened fire on Fort Sumter. Southern forces continued to bombard the fort for 34 hours in a hail of close to 4,000 shells. With his troops nearly suffocating from the smoke and virtually no powder cartridges left, Maj. Anderson surrendered April 13 at 2:30 p.m.
Visible in the harbor during the battle but unable to approach through the heavy artillery fire, the federal ships sent to resupply the fort waited off the coast. The following afternoon Anderson handed the fort over to Confederate forces, which raised the stars and bars flag above it. A local steamboat carried Anderson and his men to the federal fleet.
Not a single life was lost in this first confrontation, but the Civil War had begun.
At the first news of Sumter Richmond had erupted as people took to the streets. After the surrender, artillery was moved to the square outside the State House and guns fired in celebration. Against a backdrop of torches, cheering, fireworks, bonfires and music, the flag of the Confederacy was hoisted above the capitol.
The attack had pushed moderates over to the secessionists' side. Mobs prowled the city harassing Unionist delegates, threatening them with nooses, and burning them in effigy. When Lincoln called for 75,000 militiamen to match the Confederacy's 60,000 troops on April 15, the situation in Richmond escalated. In the North the attack on Sumter galvanized support for the Union and the war.
To avoid the press and the mobs, convention delegates met in closed-door sessions that would last for two days beginning April 16. In these sessions, some western Virginians remained strongly committed to the United States.
"I stand here today having taken the oath to support the Constitution of the United States twenty-seven times," Gen. John J. Jackson of Wood County said. "Was that an unmeaning ceremony? Was it of no consequence that I called the eternal God to witness that I would be true to the Constitution of Virginia as well as the Constitution of the United States?"
But others defended their loyalty to Virginia first. "War is upon us, and we are compelled to make the best of it," said Allen T. Caperton of Monroe County. "Let our Western friends, by all means, assist us in so doing."
Secessionist delegates and all inclined to their cause held a secret meeting on April 17 in order to solidify the votes needed for secession. Those in attendance included former governor Henry A. Wise and Samuel Woods of Barbour County.
The convention on April 17 passed the state's Ordinance of Secession 88 to 55, overturning the April 8 vote. The decision would not be announced in Richmond or the outside world until April 18.
Of the delegates from what is today West Virginia, 32 opposed the ordinance while 11 voted in favor and four abstained. Two would later change their "no" votes to "yes."
A statewide referendum on May 23 would pass overwhelmingly, making Virginia's secession official.
Despite the strength of their rhetoric in
Richmond, secessionists were soundly defeated when delegates finally cast
their votes at the Virginia State Convention.
By early April secessionist delegates rightly perceived that Union support had waned among their colleagues since convening in February. Outside the convention hall the city of Richmond had been dominated by pro-secession speeches and demonstrations.
But in a decisive win for Unionists, the convention on April 4 rejected secession 90 to 45. The convention, however, did not adjourn but continued its divisive debates. On April 6, the Middlesex delegate's criticism of western Virginians' fidelity and character brought a heated response from Waitman T. Willey of Monongalia County.
"I say here, that if the worst comes to the worst, it will be again as it has been heretofore: Western men will have to fight your battles. It is on our own mountain men that you must rely at last for the vindication of Virginia's rights, Virginia's honor, and Virginia's integrity," Willey said. "I ask whether it may not be worth the consideration of Eastern gentlemen to pause and reflect before, by any action of theirs, they alienate their best friends'the friends of whom they may soon stand in the greatest need."
That same day, President Abraham Lincoln, acting against the advice of his cabinet, sent a representative of the State Department to South Carolina. He was to convey a message to Gov. Francis Pickens that Fort Sumter would be re-supplied, but no federal troops would be sent as long as re-provisioning operations were not obstructed.
This news was not well received. On April 10 Confederate Secretary of War LeRoy Walker authorized Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, who had been appointed by President Jefferson Davis to command forces in Charleston, to use force against federals attempting to re-supply the fort.
Meanwhile, a meeting in Jackson County
showed that not all western Virginians were Unionists. The pro-Confederate
Southern States Rights Men on April 8 passed a resolution asking their
convention delegate to "vote for any Ordinance which dissolves the ties
heretofore existing between Virginia and the late United States."
The resolution also called a pro-Union meeting occurring on the same day a "political swindle" and claimed that "the few individuals composing that meeting had no right to dictate to the people of Jackson County."
In the weeks leading up to the outbreak of America's Civil War, both the North and the South anxiously watched to see what Virginia would do.
Both sides knew the state held the power to turn the tide in their favor. Without mighty Virginia, the infant Confederacy stood little chance of success. If she seceded, other states would undoubtedly follow her lead, gravely weakening the Union.
President Abraham Lincoln was well aware that the future of the Union hung in the balance as he awaited the convention's outcome. In a meeting with delegates just before his inauguration, Lincoln considered that the United States might yield Fort Sumter in exchange for Virginia's pledge to stay in the Union. As president, he held out as long as he could, but on March 29, with the support of his cabinet, he gave orders to resupply the fort located in Charleston, South Carolina
The convention, meanwhile, continued to skirt the issue of secession while debates broadened the divisions separating eastern and western Virginians. Economic differences were at the heart of many.
The economic backbone of western Virginia
differed greatly from that of its eastern half. Centers of population had
developed far from Richmond along the navigable Ohio and Kanawha rivers.
Both Wheeling and Parkersburg developed industry which attracted investment
from the North and brought immigrant laborers to work the factories. These
cities were culturally and economically tied to the North.
Prior to the Civil War, western Virginia produced approximately one third of the state's manufactured goods, and one third of this was produced in Ohio County. Due to the geography, farming was largely subsistence in the west while larger scale agriculture dominated the east.
Disputes over taxation and representation were the primary factors contributing to divisions concerning slavery. The state of Virginia taxed slave owners at a lower rate than those who did not own slaves, while the federal government counted each slave as three-fifths of a person to determine congressional representation.
Slaves accounted for nearly 40 percent of the population of eastern Virginia before the war. The slave population in what is now West Virginia was less than seven percent of the region's total population. Slaves in western Virginia were concentrated along the Shenandoah, South Branch of the Potomac, Kanawha, and Greenbrier river valleys.
Some runaway slaves passed through Western Virginia and walked across the frozen Ohio River to freedom during the winter months. In 1857, the town of Ceredo in Wayne County was founded by New England abolitionists who helped slaves on their way to Ohio and Canada. However, the abolition movement in the region was more moderate that that found further north.
Sectional differences and geographic divisions regularly stalled progress at the Virginia State Convention which had been in session since mid-February.
Delegate Ephraim B. Hall of Marion County on March 22 addressed the assembly concerning the state's unequal taxation of people living on opposite sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hall said the issue was evidence of divisions among delegates that rendered them ineffective in dealing with the other questions before them.
"I come from that section of the State whose people are denounced upon this floor and outside the hall, as Submissionists, Abolitionists, and all these things," Hall said. "But I tell you, sir, that we have been Submissionists because we must; and now we are disposed to be so no longer."
Hall referred to the higher tax rate imposed on Virginians who did not own slaves. A great majority (80 percent) of the state's slaves resided east of the mountains. This unfair tax practice primarily affected western Virginians and would be a major issue contributing to the push for separate statehood.
A speech made in Savannah, Georgia by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens on March 21 offered the South's outlook on slavery. Stephens said Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers of the United States believed that slavery was "in violation of the laws of nature" and would eventually vanish. In contrast, he proclaimed the Confederate view was to preserve "the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization."
The new government's foundations, Stephens said, "are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery - subordination to the superior race - is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth." The speech would later be known as his "Cornerstone Speech."
In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln had spent the weeks since his inauguration reflecting on how to proceed concerning the federal properties still under Union control in seceded states. He knew that any action short of surrendering Fort Sumter in the Charleston harbor could possibly spark an armed conflict between the United States and the Confederacy. Soldiers at the fort would soon be out of supplies, but abdication would legitimize the South's secession and weaken his Republican Party.
The situation was exacerbated when Secretary of State William H. Seward, the president's former rival, independently conveyed to Confederate commissioners and the press that Ft. Sumter was to be abandoned. These rumors brought Lincoln and his administration under heavy criticism from the North. On March 29, following weeks of deliberation and with the approval of his cabinet, Lincoln decided to re-supply both Ft. Sumter and Ft. Pickens off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. This decision would ultimately propel the nation into civil war.
Slavery was central to the conflict that became the American Civil War. Northern abolitionists decried its wrongs, but a complicated mix of social, economic and political pressures trumped morality in the south.
In the simplest of terms, slavery was profitable. On a typical plantation of more than 20 slaves, the capital value of the slaves was greater than the capital value of the land and implements. As legal property, slaves could be bought and sold, and trading was very lucrative. A healthy adult male slave could be sold for more than $1,000 in 1850 dollars.
Property taxes, however, were capped at the appraised value of $300 in Virginia. This caused a great deal of resentment among western Virginia farmers who did not own slaves but were taxed at market value for their domestic animals. Many western Virginians detested slavery due to these economic inequalities.
Despite their value, slaves had no rights. The Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision determined, among other things, that slaves had no constitutional protection, and that they could never be U.S. citizens. By law their masters' personal property, slaves were only human if they committed a crime, in which case they were subject to punishment under the law if convicted. In Virginia, slave owners were compensated for their loss if slaves were jailed or executed.
The very social fabric and political survival of the south depended on this unjust system. Antebellum southern culture valued the plantation lifestyle, where every man was king of his castle. Slave labor allowed southern gentlemen to rule their domains without getting their hands dirty. Chivalry and religious fervor ruled, but the moral issue of slavery was dismissed, or rationalized, in the south by the belief that slaves would not be able to take care of themselves if freed.
Free blacks were, in fact, a serious threat to slave owners who greatly feared they might be role models for slaves to follow. Anti-literacy laws were enacted to keep slaves in their place. Anyone caught teaching slaves to read and write was subject to a fine and possibly even jail time. However, some southerners, including a western Virginia Sunday School teacher named Thomas J. Jackson, defied the law. The future Confederate general later known as "Stonewall" taught slaves in his class to read the Bible and was able to justify it as religious instruction.
Slavery not only supported the lifestyle southerners valued but also propped up political representation in slave states. Adopted in 1787, the U.S. Constitution's Enumeration Clause counted each male slave age 12 and up as three fifths of a person. This significantly increased representation in the more sparsely populated slave states and contributed to the political power of the south.
Southern political and economic survival depended not only on preserving slavery in states where it already existed, but on expanding it to other territories. Fierce political battles had been fought over what new territories might be added as states, and the terms "slave or free" on which they might be admitted.
The differing economies of the North and South had long created sectional conflicts. The landed gentry of the south looked down on northern industrial entrepreneurs as dirty and uncouth, and despised vulgar commerce and trade as being beneath their dignity. Yet it was apparent long before the Civil War that the southern economy was lagging far behind the industrial north in many areas.
To support economic development, the federal government had implemented taxes to build infrastructure such as roads, bridges and canals in a program called "Internal Improvements." This was strongly opposed in the south. Southerners believed the government had no business interfering with development in individual states and resented taxing the south to pay for improvements in the north.
Tariffs - fees that had to be paid to the government to import goods from outside America - were also a major issue. Southerners wanted low or no tariffs to keep down the price of the goods they needed. Northerners wanted substantive tariffs, both to raise money for internal improvements and to encourage native industry within America.
In the 1850s, the government's internal improvements and the emerging market economy contributed to changes in the master-slave relationship. Slaves were hired out to work for others by their owners to increase income.
This practice encouraged the spread of slavery into new areas in Virginia, including the Shenandoah Valley and the Kanawha Valley, where slaves worked in the salt works. Even so, 80 percent of Virginia's slaves still resided east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. By 1860 the state's slave population was the largest in the south at nearly half a million.
The Virginia State Convention on March 13 entered its fourth week in Richmond, but members were no closer to reaching a compromise to alleviate the state's secession issues than when it first convened.
Although the majority of delegates were elected on a pro-Union platform, the atmosphere in Richmond was strongly pro-secession. Unionist delegates were repeatedly heckled, booed, and harassed by locals both within and outside of the hall where meetings were held. Debates were frequently impassioned and personal, often coming close to physical violence, but never coming close to consensus.
In a March 9 letter to the Morgantown Star, Marshall M. Dent, the paper's editor and a convention delegate, wrote of his frustration with the lack of progress. "I have been waiting and waiting for something tangible to be done by this Convention," Dent wrote. He said he had at first expected the large majority of 'Union men' would come to agreement quickly to relieve the people's anxiety in Virginia. "I have been doomed to disappointment," he wrote.
Dent also described treatment of Unionist convention members, who were subjected to tactics designed to intimidate them. "Meetings are held nightly. Bands are hired who parade the streets followed by a motley crew of free negroes, boys and mad caps who go around to the different Hotels, calling upon the well-known secessionists for speeches. Every allusion to the Union is hissed, and every Union man is denounced as an abolitionist!"
While most western Virginians were 'Union men,' Leonard S. Hall of Wetzel County was known to his colleagues as a secessionist. Hall was presented with a gold-headed cane by the young men of Richmond for defending the honor of Virginia.
In his letter, Dent criticized Hall for his failure to represent his constituents. "The members of the Convention from your Congressional district are as firm as the eternal hills, with the exception of Hall, of Wetzel, who is an out and out secessionist," he wrote.
"I doubt much the propriety of a representative accepting a token of this kind from any except his constituents, as they are the best judges of his fidelity in representing them."
As the convention wore on, Monongalia County's Waitman T. Willey and other western Virginians raised the old issue of the disparity of taxation and political representation between eastern and trans-Allegheny Virginia. Virginians who did not own slaves were taxed at a higher rate, and there were fewer slaves in the western counties. Next to secession, discussion of this issue would occupy the most time at the convention.
Inequalities between the two regions had long been a contentious subject, and had been the focus of the Constitutional Convention 10 years earlier. The issue would continue to fuel later discussions of separate statehood.
While the country hovered on the brink of civil war, the 16th president of the United States of America took the oath of office in Washington, D.C.
Federal troops were placed along the streets at windows and on rooftops as nearly 30,000 people turned out to hear Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address on March 4, 1861.
"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war," Lincoln said. "The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors."
The president said that while he had taken a solemn oath to "preserve, protect, and defend" the constitution, no oath had been registered in heaven to destroy this government. "We are not enemies, but friends," he said. "Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection."
Lincoln said he would not interfere with slavery where it already existed, but asserted that it was unlawful for any state to leave the Union by its own accord. With the support of then President-elect Lincoln, the House of Representatives had on February 28 passed a measure, prohibiting such interference of the federal government. Congress had also created the Colorado Territory, and would organize two other territories, Dakota and Nevada, March 1.
At the time of Lincoln's address, seven states had seceded from the Union: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Virginia would not join them for several weeks. The state's convention, which would later become the Virginia Secession Convention, was in its third week in Richmond.
Monroe County Delegate John Echols on March 1 submitted resolutions requesting that Congress recognize the independence of the Confederate States of America. Additionally, the resolution requested the formation of a treaty between the Union and the Confederacy outlawing the slave trade and allowing free navigation of the Mississippi River.
In the Confederacy, President Jefferson Davis appointed Pierre G.T. Beauregard commander of forces in Charleston. Lincoln knew that within a few weeks Fort Sumter, located in Charleston and still in federal hands, would have to be re-supplied or abdicated. The president would lose sleep over the dilemma of weakening federal sovereignty or possibly igniting war.
As the Virginia State Convention progressed in Richmond, delegates wrestled with questions of loyalty to state and country. Western Virginians who had previously expressed discontent with state government defended their allegiance.
Monongalia County's Waitman T. Willey argued against those who questioned the loyalty of western Virginia's citizens to the Commonwealth. 'Why, sir, your honor is her honor; your interest is her interest; your country is her country; your faith shall be her faith; your destiny shall be her destiny.'
On February 21 Barbour County Delegate Samuel Wood proposed resolutions affirming that Virginians' allegiance was first to the state and second to the federal government.
However, a rift between Leonard S. Hall of Wetzel County and Ohio County delegates Sherrard Clemens and Chester Hubbard seemed to be deepening. Hall accused his colleagues of advocating the policy of Wheeling Intelligencer editor Archibald Campbell. The paper itself was charged with being pro-Lincoln, abolitionist, and not representing western Virginia opinion. Like other western Virginia delegates, both Clemens and Hubbard defended their allegiance to Virginia.
While Virginians attempted to hash out their differences in Richmond, Abraham Lincoln's inaugural train made its way to Washington, D.C.
In an atmosphere of assassination plots, Lincoln arrived in the capitol under the cover of Pinkerton guards on February 23. The inaugural train had completed its final journey'from Harrisburg, Pa. to Washington, D.C. via York, Pa. and Baltimore, Md.'without him. The president-elect had secretly backtracked to Philadelphia on the 22nd and travelled through Wilmington, Del., to thwart a third planned attempt on his life.
Meanwhile, the Peace Conference which had convened February 4 in Washington was still in session and on February 27 proposed six constitutional amendments to Congress. Intended to release the stalemate over slavery, none of the amendments would pass.
The House of Representatives also rejected the Crittenden Compromise, which would have restored the right to slavery in states below the Missouri Compromise Line.
On February 25 a little-known former superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy booked passage from Louisiana north on the Mississippi River. Future Union Gen. William T. Sherman had resigned his post after Louisiana's Jan. 26 secession.
Graduating sixth in his class at West Point in 1840, Sherman had served in the U.S. Army until resigning in 1853. He was later commissioned as a colonel and served under Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War. Upon learning of South Carolina's December 1860 secession, he made his sentiments clear in a comment to friend and academy colleague David F. Boyd.
'You, you people of the South believe there can be such a thing as a peaceable secession,' Sherman said. 'You don't know what you're doing. This country will be drenched in blood. God only knows how it will end.'
Delegates to the Virginia State Convention in mid-February of 1861 met in committees and proposed resolutions for consideration, hoping they would succeed in reaching a compromise to prevent secession.
Western Virginians had been appointed to serve in various capacities during the convention which would later be known as the Virginia Secession Convention. Raleigh County's Benjamin R. Linkous was elected First Door Keeper. Gen. John J. Jackson of Wood County was appointed to the Committee on Federal Relations.
In a resolution submitted February 16, John Carlile of Harrison County said, 'We are at a loss to understand how the impression that the Federal Government possessed the power to coerce a state could have obtained credence.' An attorney, Carlile cited the 11th Amendment of the Constitution concerning sovereign immunity. Carlile would become a leader in the state's anti-secession movement.
On February 19 Leonard S. Hall of Wetzel County proposed resolutions endorsing the legitimacy of Virginia's right to secede, but denied the election of Abraham Lincoln was a reasonable basis to do so. The resolutions instead requested the state to press for legal measures, such as amendments, which would guarantee equity between competing powers.
Jackson County Delegate Franklin P. Turner on February 20 submitted resolutions suggesting Virginia should join the other seceded states and resist federal attempts to reunite in the event that no compromise could be reached between unionists and secessionists.
As the meetings progressed and these resolutions and others were considered, divisions deepened and frustration gave way to angry words among some western Virginia delegates.
In one confrontation, Gen. Jackson overheard Hall calling his colleagues 'submissionists.' The general retorted by claiming that Hall did not represent his constituents. Accused of sending public documents to free blacks through the congressional mail, Ohio County's Sherrard Clemens denounced the documents as forgeries. Hall came to his defense and concurred.
These outbursts spoke to the gravity of the matter before the convention and the extreme pressure under which the delegates were working.
While the future of the commonwealth was being debated, Jefferson Davis on February 18 was inaugurated as President of the Confederate States of America. Davis addressed the crowd at the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.
'Our present political position has been achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations. It illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established.'
A train departed at 8 a.m. from Springfield, Ill. on February 11, 1861 carrying President-elect Abraham Lincoln on a 12-day inaugural trip to Washington, D.C.
The president-elect said in farewell to his adopted home, 'I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.'
The Inaugural Train travelled from Indianapolis, Ind., to Cincinnati, Ohio, on February 12, Lincoln's birthday. At 52, he was the youngest man yet to serve as president. A crowd of more than 100,000 people, possibly the largest of the trip, greeted Lincoln in Cincinnati.
As Lincoln travelled to Cincinnati, delegates for the Virginia State Convention, later known as the Virginia Secession Convention, began to arrive in Richmond. Guests at the Spotswood Hotel during the convention included western Virginia delegates Waitman T. Willey and Marshall M. Dent (Monongalia County), Chester D. Hubbard and Sherrard Clemens (Ohio County), Campbell Tarr (Brooke County), Alfred M. Barbour (Jefferson County), James Burley (Marshall County), and Gen. John J. Jackson (Wood County).
The convention opened February 13 at the Mechanics Institute at the foot of Capitol Square. To the dismay of secessionists, a strong majority of the 152 elected delegates were Unionists. These conservative Virginians hoped they could reach agreement on a set of conditions that could be endorsed by the convention. Unlike their radical neighbors of the Deep South, they loved the Union and accepted'albeit with reservations'Lincoln's election.
The first days of the convention addressed
organizational affairs, such as the formation of committees. As meetings
progressed, all sides delayed, each knowing that they did not have the
numbers for a commanding decision on divisive issues.
While Virginia prepared to confront the question of secession, the Confederate States of America set up a provisional federal government.
At the capitol in Montgomery, Ala., delegates on February 8 had adopted a provisional constitution. It differed little from the U.S. Constitution but contained specific clauses safeguarding slavery and banning protectionist industry tariffs. On February 9, Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens were elected to serve six-year terms as provisional president and vice president, respectively. Both men were considered moderates.
Also on February 9, Tennessee voters rejected the convening of a secession convention by nearly 10,000 votes while in Pensacola, Fla., a supply ship headed for Ft. Pickens did not land in order to uphold President Buchanan's agreement not to change military conditions. However, the U.S. Congress did on February 11 agree, at the urging of Cdr. John A. Dahlgren of the Washington Navy Yard, to construct additional gun-sloops and an ironclad warship.
A single day in early February of 1861 set
in motion events that would ultimately have far-reaching consequences for
the state and the nation.
Virginia voters went to the polls on February 4 to elect their delegates to the state's convention. These elected representatives would decide Virginia's position on secession.
Beverly resident John Hughes, the Union candidate, was chosen to represent Randolph and Tucker counties. An attorney, Hughes ran against Bushrod Crawford, owner of the Crawford House and Store in Beverly. The secession candidate, Crawford actually supported the Union with conditions.
As it turned out, both men were "conditional" Unionists. Hughes later voted in favor of the state's Secession Ordinance and served as a civilian scout for the Confederacy. He was mistakenly shot and killed by Confederate troops in July during the Battle of Rich Mountain and is the only civilian buried with the Confederate soldiers at Beverly's Mt. Isner Cemetery. Crawford left Beverly after the battle. His building was taken over as the Union Army Headquarters by Gen. George B. McClellan and is now part of the Beverly Heritage Center.
Throughout western Virginia, pro-Union meetings and debates by candidates preceded the election. A crowd of approximately 2,500 people attended one such meeting at the Athenaeum in Wheeling on February 2 to hear speeches by Sherrard Clemens and Thomas Sweeney. Both men were running as delegate to the convention. Clemens, however, had the popular support of the crowd while Sweeney was hissed after referring to his opponent as a 'Republican.'
According to a report in the Wheeling Intelligencer, Clemens replied that he was the nominee of no party and would represent all of the people if elected. A prominent attorney, Clemens said that he had never witnessed such enthusiasm in his sixteen years of political life.
Clemens and Chester D. Hubbard were chosen to represent Ohio County at the convention which would begin February 13 in Richmond. Other prominent western Virginia politicians were chosen, including John S. Carlile of Harrison County; Waitman T. Willey, Monongalia County; William G. Brown, Sr. and James C. McGrew, Preston County; and General John J. Jackson, Wood County.
While Virginia voters elected delegates to the state's convention, meetings that would have significant impact on the course of national events convened in other locations.
The Peace Conference which commenced in Washington, D.C., on February 4 was meant to prevent war. Chaired by former President John Tyler (1841-45), it would eventually consist of 131 members from 21 states. These members hoped to reach a compromise on the issue of slavery that would satisfy both sides. Tyler had been instrumental in the annexation of Texas in 1845. Later an advocate for secession, he was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives but would die before the first meeting.
At the same time as the Peace Conference, a convention of the seceded states was being held at the State House in Montgomery, Ala. Representatives there formed the Confederate States of America, elected officials, and declared Montgomery the capital of the Confederacy. At that time, the seven states of the Confederacy were South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, which had voted to secede February 1.
Texas was the only state which had submitted its Ordinance of Secession to the people for ratification. The measure passed with Texans voting 3 to 1 in favor. The Declaration of Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union stated, 'We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.'
In the midst of a nation torn apart by
issues that would eventually lead to war, a new state became part of the
Union. On Jan. 29, 1861 the territory of Kansas was admitted as a free
The conflict which preceded its admission as the 34th state is linked to the counties that would become the 35th state of West Virginia by a well-known historic figure.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 had given residents of the territories the power to decide if slavery was allowed by popular vote. Settlers had raced to Kansas in order to influence its fate. Pro-slavery advocates from Missouri and Arkansas swarmed across the border. Free-state settlers from New England and the Midwest also moved to the territory.
Among the latter were abolitionist John Brown and his five sons. Brown was a passionate opponent of slavery, even advocating violence to free slaves. In 1856, Brown was a leader in the partisan battles of 'Bleeding Kansas.' These battles forecast the turmoil that would soon envelop the whole nation.
In the years following his campaign in Kansas, Brown studied and carried out guerrilla warfare. He met with escaped slaves, and planned with them the creation of a nation of liberated blacks in the southern Appalachians. With the financial backing of white Northern abolitionists, Brown planned an attack aimed to spark a slave rebellion that would spread throughout the nation.
Brown's target was the federal armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. One of only two federal arsenals in the country, Harpers Ferry had been turning out muskets since 1801. It was also strategically located where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal all came together.
BBrown's force of sixteen whites and five African Americans captured the armory complex on the night of Oct. 16, 1859. By the next morning the town had been surrounded by Virginia and Maryland militia. That night marines, led by Col. Robert E. Lee and Lt. J.E.B. Stuart, stormed the fire-engine house where Brown, his men, and their hostages had barricaded themselves. Brown was captured alive, tried in Charles Town, and was hung on December 2, 1859.
Although his emphasis on violence was often seen as misguided, many Northerners saw Brown as a martyr. In the South, the raid initially caused shock and fear of a widespread slave rebellion which transformed into anger over what seemed like an endorsement of vigilantism in the North. In the war to come, John Brown and Harpers Ferry would be a rallying cry for both sides.
Brown and other abolitionists influenced the vote against slavery in Kansas, but its acceptance into the Union as a free state in 1861 was only possible because of the secession of Louisiana on Jan. 26 of that year. With six pro-slavery states now seceded, the absence of their representatives in Congress changed the balance of power.
Outrage among antislavery advocates from various parties brought them together for the first time under the name 'Republican.' Kansas was at that time the most Republican state in the nation, though its road to statehood had been deeply divisive in a manner that mimicked the greater conflict to come.
As more southern states seceded or
considered secession from the Union, a relatively unknown Virginian
celebrated his 37th birthday on January 21, 1861.
At 6 feet and 175 pounds, Thomas Jonathan Jackson was a commanding figure with brown hair, huge hands and feet, and pale blue eyes. It would not be until the summer of 1861 during the Battle of Bull Run that he would earn the nickname, 'Stonewall.'
In early 1861, Jackson was living in Lexington, Virginia, where he served as professor of natural and experimental philosophy and an instructor in artillery at Virginia Military Institute.
However, one of the future Confederacy's best known generals was born and raised in the mountains of western Virginia. Jackson's great-grandparents were early settlers to the area. The general was descended from their second son, Edward, and his son, Jonathan, who was an attorney in Harrison County.
Jonathan married Julia Beckwith Neale in 1817. The couple was living in Clarksburg and already had two young children when Thomas was born in 1824. Tragedy struck when the boy was only two years old: both his six-year-old sister Elizabeth and his father died of typhoid fever. A day after his father's death, his mother gave birth to a daughter, Laura Ann.
After Jonathan's death, Julia struggled to support her family, and remarried in 1830, but was not able to keep the children. Thomas and Laura were sent to live with their Uncle Cummins Jackson on the family estate near Weston now known as Jackson's Mill. Their mother died in 1831 from complications after the birth of a half-brother. She is buried in an unmarked grave near Ansted. Five years later Laura was sent to live with her mother's family in Parkersburg, but the siblings remained close.
Jackson had little formal education, spending much of his time working on the farm. A shy and independent adult, he was mostly self-taught, but nevertheless was accepted and entered West Point in 1842. His poor educational background placed him at the bottom of the class. However, he worked hard and in 1846 graduated 17th in a class of 59 cadets. He was assigned to the artillery, his favorite branch of the service, and served with distinction in the Mexican-American War. He received three promotions before resigning in 1851 to accept the teaching position at VMI.
Jackson often traveled the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike to visit his sister Laura, who lived in Beverly with her husband, Jonathan Arnold, and their three children. Her brother's letters to her are a rich source of information about his life, including his strong faith and commitment to Virginia. Unusual for a woman of her time, Laura was an independent spirit and disagreed with both her brother and her husband on the issues of the day. A Unionist, she provided nursing and support for the soldiers stationed in her town, which was occupied by Union troops for much of the war.
While Jackson marked the occasion of his birthday in Lexington, the fabric of his country continued to unravel. Five senators from the Southern states of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi resigned from Congress on January 21, including Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, who was later elected president of the Confederacy.
On January 19, 1861, Georgia had voted 208 to 89 in favor of secession, making it the fifth state to leave the Union. The state cited as grounds the hostility of Northern states towards Southern states over the issue of slavery. 'They have'endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.'
The congressional commission known at the
'Committee of Thirty-three' made its report to congress on January 14.
Consisting of one representative from each state, the committee's task was
to reach a compromise over the issues relating to slavery that were dividing
Chairman Thomas Corwin of Ohio presented the committee's recommendations to his fellow representatives. Aspects of the proposal included a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing slavery where it already existed, jury trials for escaped slaves, and the repealing of northern personal liberty laws which protected runaway slaves.
The committee had been unable to agree unanimously on anything, including the proposals submitted in the report. A subsequent article in the New York Times noted, 'the proposed measure was not enough to stem the tide of seceding states.'
Two more states had already followed South Carolina and Mississippi, seceding just days before the committee's report came out. On January 10, Florida voted 62 to 7 in favor of secession. In Pensacola U.S. Army Lieutenant Adam Slemmer moved his small group of federal troops from Fort Barrancas to nearby Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. His refusals to surrender to state forces would allow the fort to remain under Union control for the entire Civil War.
Alabama's convention voted 61-39 to secede Jan. 11. The state's Secession Ordinance listed as causes the election of Abraham Lincoln 'by a sectional party avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama.' It also noted infractions of the Constitution that were 'so insulting and menacing a character as to justify the people of the State of Alabama in the adoption of prompt and decided measures for their future peace and security.'
The convention invited other Southern states to meet in Montgomery to discuss their common defense.
In Richmond, the General Assembly passed a joint resolution calling for a state convention in February to consider the issue of secession. The resolution also required that the decision of the convention be ratified by a popular vote of the people.
The state of Virginia began
considering secession early in 1861. On January 7 Governor John Letcher
called a special session of the Virginia General Assembly to address the
issue. The assembly approved a secession convention to convene in February
and called for elections to choose representatives.
Western Virginians, under-represented in state government and not dependent on a slave-holding economy, had long-standing grievances against the Virginia power brokers in Richmond. Most wanted to preserve the United States as it was. However, the idea of forming a separate state west of the mountains began to gain credence among some western Virginians.
Wheeling's newspaper, The Intelligencer, on January 8 printed a quote from a Tyler County unionist voicing the opinion of many western Virginians. 'We are for secession at once, and let the Blue Ridge of mountains be the line.' The paper's editor added, "Let the South Carolina politicians in our midst put that in their pipes.' This was in reference to South Carolina's 'disunion agents' who had been sent to other southern states to pressure them into voting for secession.
Mississippi's convention voted 85 to 15 in favor of secession from the United States on January 9, 1861.
In its Secession Ordinance the state declared it was ''absolved from all the obligations, restraints, and duties incurred to the said Federal Union, and shall from henceforth be a free, sovereign, and independent State.' The ordinance also addressed the need to form a new government, stating, ''the people of the State of Mississippi hereby consent to form a federal union with such of the States as may have seceded or may secede from the Union of the United States of America.'
That same day in the Charleston Harbor, South Carolinian artillery fired upon the unarmed civilian ship, the Star of the West. The ship was hired by the U.S. government to transport military supplies and reinforcements to re-supply Fort Sumter, which was under the command of Major Robert Anderson. The vessel withdrew, and sailed for New York with its cargo.
On January 8 President Buchanan had sent a message to Congress endorsing the proposal by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky to use the Missouri Compromise Line as a way of placating a secessionist South. The east-west 'line,' previously used to determine the legality of slavery in the creation of new states, divided the country into northern and southern halves according to slave- and free-state status.
The 'Crittenden Compromise,' as it was known, included constitutional amendments and congressional resolutions that were seen as making heavy concessions to the South. These measures and the extension of slavery to any new state were immediately rejected by the Republicans.
The president then washed his hands of secession, leaving the responsibility of solving the problem to the legislative branch. Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, Secretary of the Interior and the last Southerner in the president's cabinet, resigned the same day.
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