Credit is usually given to Morgan Morgan as the first permanent white settler within what is now West Virginia. A monument on Mill Creek near Bunker Hill [Berkeley County] records the date as 1726, but historians now believe it was closer to 1731. At about the same time [perhaps even somewhat before] some settlement began at Mecklenburg [now Shepherdstown] by German immigrants. Dutch, Irish, Scotch and English settlers followed, but it was not until 1754 that the population justified formation of a new county, Hampshire, valid claimant now to the title of the state's eldest. A factor in early settlement efforts were crown grants such as the Fairfax estate, a huge, ill-defined tract with only vaguely known boundaries. A surveying party was sent by Lord Fairfax along the north branch of the Potomac in 1736, the earliest known tracing of the eastern panhandle northern boundary.
Events in West Virginia played an important part in the preservation of the Union, but there was little drama on the scale which characterized better known campaigns. The State's contribution to the war effort , and to its outcome, have usually been underestimated, however. Much of the fighting in the State was of a brutal guerilla type (bushwhacking under the guise of squirrel hunting was popular) and some of the more important engagements were miniature by comparison with other campaigns. About 35,000 West Virginians marched in the Union cause and about 12,000 for the Confederates.West Virginia gave to the Confederacy one of its most brillant leaders, Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson, born at Clarksburg and killed by shots from his own pickets at Chancellorville. To the Union's highest ranks went Jesse Lee Reno of Wheeling, a major general when killed at South Mountain , Maryland. The divisive impact of the struggle is no better illustrated than by Laura Jackson Arnold, sister of Stonewall Jackson. The wife of an ardent Southerner and secessionist and a resident during the war in Randolph County, she remained steadfast to the Union. Her loyalty under the greatest of stresses is honored to this day by Blue and Gray partisans alike. Jackson himself is today the State's hero "in memoriam" despite history and traditions which would seem to bind West Virginian firmly to the Union. The abundance of Jackson and Confederate memorials to the "War Between The States" might seem to be misleading to tourists about what actually happened here.
agitation in western Virginia may have been similarly misleading to John
Brown in 1859. Seeking a "gateway to freedom" for slaves and believing
he had found ripe ground for the start of an uprising, he and a small band
of followers seized the Harpers Ferry arsenal on October 16. Both the Federal
and Virginia goverments moved against him. It is one of history's ironies
that a detachment of marines led by Lt.Col. Robert E. Lee crushed the "revolt."
Failed by the slaves he did not understand and condemned even by sympathizers
who could not condone his violence, Brown was tried at Charles Town and
hanged on December 2, 1859.Tradition has it that a body of soldiers slept
on the eve of his hanging in the courtroom where Brown was tried. One of
the troopers was John Wilkes Booth.
Delegates from the Shenandoah Valley and regions westward attended conventions held in Staunton in 1816 and 1825. In general, these failed to produce any long-term answers to the problems. In response to the earlier convention, the Virginia General Assembly passed a number of acts for the benefit of western Virginia. The reapportionment of the Senate based upon white population gave western regions greater representation. Due to the large slave population of eastern Virginia and the general absence of slaves in western Virginia, representation in the General Assembly favored the East. The creation of a Board of Public Works to legislate internal improvements provided hope of developing more roads and canals in the West. The General Assembly also established the first state banks in western Virginia at Wheeling and Winchester.
In response to a referendum, a convention gathered in Richmond on October 5, 1829, attended by such prominent Virginians as James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, and John Tyler, to develop a new constitution. Eastern Virginian conservatives defeated virtually every major reform, including the most significant issue of granting the vote to all white men regardless of whether they owned land, and the election of the governor and judges by the people.
Statewide, the new constitution was approved by a margin of 26,055 to 15,566, although voters in present-day West Virginia rejected it 8,365 to 1,383. Calls for secession began immediately, led by newspapers such as the Kanawha Republican. Over the next twenty years, the General Assembly eased some of this sectional tension. Nineteen new western counties were organized, granting greater representation. A number of internal improvements were made in the West, including the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike and the Northwestern Turnpike.
In 1831, the issue of African Americans came to the forefront following Nat Turner's raid, which killed sixty-one whites in Southhampton County, Virginia. That same year, William Lloyd Garrison first printed his newspaper, The Liberator, marking the beginning of an organized national movement to end slavery, called abolitionism. Some abolitionists disapproved of slavery on a moral basis. Others, including prominent western Virginia political leaders, supported abolitionism because they felt slaves were performing jobs which white laborers should be paid to do. Washington College President Henry Ruffner, the son of Kanawha Valley salt industry pioneer David Ruffner and a slaveholder himself, wanted to end slavery in trans-Allegheny Virginia in order to provide more paying jobs for white workers. He outlined this theory in an address delivered to the Franklin Society in Lexington, Virginia, in 1847. His speech, later printed in pamphlets and distributed nationally, stated that slavery kept white laborers from moving into the Kanawha Valley. To prove this theory, Massachusetts abolitionist Eli Thayer established an industrial town at Ceredo in Wayne County, beginning in 1857. The laborers, white New England emigrants, were all paid for their work. The experiment failed when some of the investors were unable to contribute and a national economic depression restricted the availability of additional money.
In 1850, the year in which Congress adopted extensive compromises to ease the growing tensions between North and South in the country, Virginia delegates once again met in Richmond to settle problems between East and West in its own state. Eastern Virginian conservatives reached agreement with the West on the major issues remaining from the 1829 convention. All white males over the age of twenty-one were given the right to vote regardless of whether they owned property. The convention also approved the election of the governor and judges by the people. Delegates, including many from western Virginia, agreed to a provision allowing for property to be taxed at its total value, except for slaves, who would be valued at rates well below their actual worth. Many eastern Virginia slaveholders now paid less in property taxes than before, placing a greater burden on the western counties. At this Reform Convention, the West was represented by entirely new delegates, who had not participated in the 1829 convention. Several of these delegates to the Reform Convention rose to political prominence, including Joseph Johnson (the first Virginia governor from trans-Allegheny Virginia), Charles J. Faulkner, Gideon D. Camden, John Janney, John S. Carlile, Waitman T. Willey, Benjamin Smith, and George W. Summers.
Over the next few years, the state government tried to gain support from western Virginia by completing various internal improvements. However, the 1857 national depression defeated these efforts to improve the western Virginia economy. The salt industry in the Kanawha Valley gradually collapsed. Mills and factories throughout all of present-day West Virginia were forced to close. Yet, due to the new 1850 Constitution, eastern and western Virginians seemed closer politically than they had been at any time in history.
Everything changed with the approach of the Civil War. In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president, with virtually no support from the South. His election resulted in the country's southernmost states leaving the Union. On April 17, 1861, days after Lincoln's order to seize Fort Sumter in South Carolina, a convention of Virginians voted to submit a secession bill to the people. Led by Clarksburg's John S. Carlile, western delegates marched out of the Secession Convention, vowing to form a state government loyal to the Union. Many of these delegates gathered in Clarksburg on April 22, calling for a pro-Union convention, which met in Wheeling from May 13 to 15. On May 23, a majority of Virginia voters approved the Ordinance of Secession. It is not possible to determine accurately the vote total from present-day West Virginia due to vote tampering and the destruction of records. Some argue that secessionists were in the majority in western Virginia, while others feel Unionists had greater support.
Following a Union victory at the Battle of Philippi and the subsequent occupation of northwestern Virginia by General George B. McClellan, the Second Wheeling Convention met between June 11 and June 25, 1861. Delegates formed the Restored, or Reorganized, Government of Virginia, and chose Francis H. Pierpont as governor. President Lincoln recognized the Restored Government as the legitimate government of Virginia. John Carlile and Waitman T. Willey became United States Senators and Jacob B. Blair, William G. Brown, and Kellian V. Whaley became Congressmen representing pro-Union Virginia.
On October 24, 1861, residents of thirty-nine counties in western Virginia approved the formation of a new Unionist state. The accuracy of these election results have been questioned, since Union troops were stationed at many of the polls to prevent Confederate sympathizers from voting. At the Constitutional Convention, which met in Wheeling from November 1861 to February 1862, delegates selected the counties for inclusion in the new state of West Virginia. From the initial list, most of the counties in the Shenandoah Valley were excluded due to their control by Confederate troops and a large number of local Confederate sympathizers. In the end, fifty counties were selected (all of present-day West Virginia's counties except Mineral, Grant, Lincoln, Summers, and Mingo, which were formed after statehood). Most of the eastern and southern counties did not support statehood, but were included for political, economic, and military purposes. The mountain range west of the Blue Ridge became the eastern border of West Virginia to provide a defense against Confederate invasion. One of the most controversial decisions involved the Eastern Panhandle counties, which supported the Confederacy. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which ran through the Eastern Panhandle, was extremely important for the economy and troop movements. Inclusion of these counties removed all of the railroad from the Confederacy.
In terms of the constitution itself, the subject of slavery produced the most controversy. Delegate Gordon Battelle proposed the gradual emancipation of slaves already in the state and freedom to all children born to slaves after July 4, 1865. Although some delegates opposed Battelle's position, they knew they could not create a pro-slavery document and gain approval from Congress. Following much debate and compromise, the provision written into the constitution banned the introduction of slaves or free African Americans into the state of West Virginia, but did not address the issue of immediate or gradual emancipation.
The United States Constitution says a new state must gain approval from the original state, which never occurred in the case of West Virginia. Since the Restored Government was considered the legal government of Virginia, it granted permission to itself on May 13, 1862, to form the state of West Virginia.
When Congress addressed the West Virginia statehood bill, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner demanded an emancipation clause to prevent the creation of another slave state. Restored Government Senator Carlile wanted a statewide election to decide the issue. Finally, a compromise between Senator Willey and Committee on Territories Chairman Benjamin Wade of Ohio, determined that, after July 4, 1863, all slaves in West Virginia over twenty-one years of age would be freed. Likewise, younger slaves would receive their freedom upon reaching the age of twenty-one. The Willey Amendment prohibited some slavery but it permitted the ownership of slaves under the age of twenty-one.
The United States Senate rejected a statehood bill proposed by Carlile which did not contain the Willey Amendment and then, on July 14, 1862, approved a statehood proposal which included the Willey Amendment. Carlile's vote against the latter bill made him a traitor in the eyes of many West Virginians and he was never again elected to political office. On December 10, 1862, the House of Representatives passed the act. On December 31, President Lincoln signed the bill into law, approving the creation of West Virginia as a state loyal to the Union without abolishing slavery. The next step was to put the statehood issue to a vote by West Virginia's citizens. Lincoln may have had his own reasons for creating the new state, knowing he could count on West Virginia's support in the 1864 presidential election. On March 26, 1863, the citizens of the fifty counties approved the statehood bill, including the Willey Amendment, and on June 20, the state of West Virginia was officially created.
In May 1863, the Constitutional Union party nominated Arthur I. Boreman to run for governor. Boreman ran unopposed, winning the election to become the first governor of West Virginia. The Restored Government of Virginia, with Pierpont continuing as governor, moved to Alexandria, Virginia and eventually to Richmond following the war. Pierpont ordered an election to allow the residents of Jefferson and Berkeley counties to determine whether their counties should be located in West Virginia or Virginia. Union troops were stationed outside polling places to intimidate those who might vote for Virginia. Despite local support for Virginia, residents who actually filled out ballots voted overwhelmingly to place both counties in West Virginia. In 1865, Pierpont's government challenged the legality of West Virginia statehood. In 1871, the United States Supreme Court awarded the counties of Jefferson and Berkeley to West Virginia.
The new state of West Virginia had sectional divisions of its own. While there was widespread support for statehood, public demands for the separation from Virginia came primarily from cities, namely Wheeling and Parkersburg. As a growing industrial region with improved transportation, northwestern Virginia businesses desired a more independent role in government. With the extension of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Wheeling in 1853 and Parkersburg in 1857, the northwest depended much less on Richmond and eastern Virginia markets.
The Civil War began when Confederate artillery shelled the Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina on April 12, 1861. Five days later, leaders of Confederate Virginia decided to capture the United States Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry for the southern cause. As southern militia marched toward Harpers Ferry, Union troops set fire to the armory and arsenal, preventing the weapons from falling into Confederate hands. With a loud explosion on the night of April 18, the Civil War arrived in western Virginia. During the war, Harpers Ferry changed hands numerous times. The intersection of two major railroads, the Baltimore and Ohio and the Winchester and Potomac, and its military importance in the Shenandoah Valley made Harpers Ferry a key strategic stronghold.
During the first weeks of the war, the Confederate government of Virginia recruited troops in western Virginia, assigning Colonel George A. Porterfield to Grafton, which was connected to most of northwest Virginia by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. As Union troops under General George B. McClellan advanced, Porterfield drew his forces back to Philippi. As McClellan neared the region, he sent Colonel Benjamin F. Kelley and the First Virginia Provisional Regiment (later the First West Virginia Infantry) as an advance guard. On the morning of June 3, 1861, Kelley's troops attacked Porterfield's forces at Philippi, resulting in a Confederate retreat. This is considered by many to be the first land battle of the Civil War.
To prevent Union troops from advancing further up the Tygart Valley, reinforcements led by General Robert S. Garnett joined the retreating Confederates and established strongholds at Laurel Hill in Tucker County and Rich Mountain in Randolph County. On July 11, Union General William S. Rosecrans won a decisive battle at Rich Mountain and days later, the Confederates were pushed from Laurel Hill. On July 14, the retreating Confederates were routed at their position at Corrick's Ford and Garnett was killed. This series of engagements resulted in Union control of northwest Virginia for virtually the remainder of the war. Control of the transportation routes made it difficult to supply Confederate units throughout the war. This also ensured the safety of West Virginia statehood leaders meeting in Wheeling.
While the Confederates were easily defeated in the northern part of present-day West Virginia, they mustered a better effort in the Kanahwa Valley. Former Virginia governor Henry S. Wise, now a general, had established his forces at the mouth of Scary Creek in Putnam County. On July 16, Wise pushed back an attack by forces under General Jacob D. Cox. After the arrival of reinforcements, Cox's men drove Wise up the valley to Gauley Bridge and eventually into Greenbrier County. The North suffered a setback in August as General Rosecrans' advance forces were defeated at Kessler's Cross Lanes in Nicholas County while marching toward Gauley Bridge. Another former Virginia governor, General John Floyd, established his troops on a bluff at nearby Carnifex Ferry. Union troops attacked Floyd on September 10. Although the Union casualties totaled 158 compared to 20 Confederate, the larger number of northern forces drove both Floyd and Wise back into Greenbrier County. A significant factor leading to the southern defeat was a long-standing political rivalry between Wise and Floyd. The Battle of Carnifex Ferry placed the important Kanawha Valley in Union hands for the early part of the war. In only a few short months, the North had gained control of northwestern Virginia and the Kanawha Valley.
In August, Robert E. Lee, in his first assignment of the war, set up camp on Valley Mountain in Pocahontas County. He first hoped to put more pressure on northwestern Virginia, but overestimated Union strength at the Cheat Mountain Summit Fort and elected not to attack. Many feel that Lee's 15,000 men in the area could have re-taken all of northwestern Virginia had he pushed forward. In October, Lee again failed to attack Rosecrans' outnumbered force following Carnifex Ferry. These early disappointments landed Lee an administrative post in Richmond until later in the war.
In 1862, the Civil War in Virginia revolved around Clarksburg native General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. His first step was to obstruct Union access to the valley by cutting off portions of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In January, Jackson captured the town of Romney, an important link on the B&O. During the war, Romney is said to have been captured by Union and Confederate troops at least 56 times.
During the spring of 1862, Jackson moved his men swiftly down the valley, outracing Union troops. At McDowell, Virginia, Jackson's forces crushed Union troops and pursued General John C. Fremont's retreat into Pendleton County. Jackson occupied the county seat of Franklin briefly before continuing his march down the valley. Following his victory at the Battle of Winchester, many suspected Jackson would continue on to the nation's capital. Rather than continue chasing the southern troops, the North decided to cut off Jackson's retreat with a superior force. Confederates advanced as far as Bolivar Heights, west of Harpers Ferry, before retreating. Somehow, Jackson's men managed again to outrace Union forces.
West of the Alleghenies, two future United States presidents were fighting in what is now southern West Virginia. On May 1, as Union troops neared, Confederates set fire to the town of Princeton. Union troops under Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, including Lieutenant William McKinely, managed to save part of the town. Earlier in the year, Union forces had burned the courthouses of Boone and Logan counties.
Another significant skirmish occurred in southern Virginia in May, as Confederates under General Henry Heth attacked Union troops under Colonel George Crook occupying Lewisburg. After initial success on May 23, the Confederates were driven south into Monroe County. Crook later gained notoriety for capturing the Chiricahua chief Geronimo.
Although Confederates were unable to control signficant regions of western Virginia for considerable periods of time during the war, they were successful in conducting destructive raids. In August 1862, Cabell County's Albert Gallatin Jenkins led 550 men from Monroe County on the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike to the Ohio River in Jackson County, capturing the towns of Buckhannon, Weston, Glenville, Spencer, and Ripley on the way. Supposedly, Jenkins was the first military leader to carry the Confederate flag into the state of Ohio. Jenkins' raid revealed Union weaknesses in the Kanawha Valley caused by the transfer of 5,000 troops to eastern Virginia prior to the Second Battle of Bull Run.
On September 11, Confederates under General William Loring overran General Joseph A. J. Lightburn at Fayetteville, driving his Union forces back to Charleston. Two days later, Loring defeated Lightburn at Charleston, beginning a brief Confederate occupation. For six weeks, southern forces confiscated salt supplies and destroyed virtually all of the Kanawha Vally salt works.
Meanwhile, in the east, General Robert E. Lee, now in command of the Army of Northern Virginia, planned an invasion of Maryland. Lee divided his forces, sending one of four units to cut off General McClellan's lines of communication. Stonewall Jackson captured the town of Martinsburg and then prepared to move on General Dixon Miles' 12,000-man force at Harpers Ferry. Jackson devised a three-pronged attacked, dispatching General John G. Walker to occupy Loudoun Heights and General Lafayette McLaws to capture Maryland Heights, both overlooking Harpers Ferry. On September 15, with the support of McLaws' artillery bombardment, Jackson and General A. P. Hill captured Miles' entire army. Only at Bataan and Corregidor during World War II have larger United States armies been forced to surrender. Two days later the bloodiest one-day battle in the history of the North American continent was fought at Antietam Creek, Maryland. After the Battle of Antietam, numerous small skirmishes occurred in the present-day Eastern Panhandle.
With Union troops in control of western Virginia, Confederate leaders chose to harrass Union troops and confiscate supplies. In the spring, General John D. Imboden designed a raid to destroy portions of the B&O Railroad and break up the Restored Government of Virginia in session in Wheeling. With a force of 3,400 men, Imboden marched out from Staunton, Virginia, on April 20. General William E. Jones led a group of 1,300 from Lacey Springs, Virginia, the following day. Imoden's men marched through Beverly and captured the town of Buckhannon on April 29. Jones joined Imoden at Buckhannon after failing to destroy the B&O line at Rowlesburg in Preston County, capturing Morgantown, and destroying the railroad bridge at Fairmont. On May 6, Jones' troops marched from Weston through West Union and Cairo. Three days later, he destroyed 150,000 barrels of oil and the oil works at Burning Springs in Wirt County. On May 14, Jones joined Imboden at Summersville before retreating into Virginia. Although it succeeded in destroying property and industry, driving away livestock, and occupying the attention of Union troops which might have been used elsewhere, the Jones-Imboden Raid failed to destroy significant portions of the B&O or break up the Restored Government of Virginia.
On October 13, Confederate troops again tried to gain control of transportation routes by attacking a Union fort at Bulltown in Braxton County. Southern troops under Colonel William L. "Mudwall" Jackson charged the fort under the command of Captain William Mattingly. Outnumbered, Mattingly refused to surrender on the first day of the battle. On the second day, Union reinforcements arrived and the Confederates were forced to retreat.
In November, the North won a decisive victory at Droop Mountain in Pocahontas County. Confederate forces, previously under the command of William Loring and now led by General John Echols, had controlled the Greenbrier Valley for most of the war. Following the northern defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga in Tennessee, the North hoped to break up the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad in southeastern Virginia. In the first phase, the Union sent General William Averell from Beverly and General Alfred Duffie from Charleston to remove the Confederates from the Greenbrier Valley. On November 6, both columns converged on Echols on the summit of Droop Mountain. The Confederates retreated, allowing General Averell to conduct a raid on the Virginia and Tennessee depot at Salem, Virginia, in December.
During 1863, the North continued its hold on western Virginia, withstanding several raids. In addition to the Jones-Imboden Raid and the Battle of Droop Mountain, several other skirmishes occurred, including Hurricane Bridge in Putnam County, the first use of indirect artillery fire at Fayetteville, General John Morgan's raid through Jackson and Wood counties, White Sulphur Springs, and a variety of encounters in the Eastern Panhandle following the Battle of Gettysburg. Western Virginia soldiers played significant roles on other fronts as members of the 4th West Virginia Infantry took part in the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
year 1864 in West Virginia's Civil War history is best remembered by the
actions of Mason County's John McCausland. During the summer, General McCausland
battled Union leader David Hunter in southern Virginia. Hunter led a raid
on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. He was stopped at Lynchburg, but
not before destroying much of the town of Lexington. In retaliation, McCausland
later rode his cavalry into the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and
demanded a ransom. When the people refused to pay, McCausland burned the
Nationally, 1864 marked the year Confederate cavalry rode to the outskirts of Washington, D.C. After a series of victories in the Shenandoah Valley, Jubal Early's Confederate troops attacked Union positions on Bolivar Heights near Harpers Ferry on July 4. The northern troops were forced to abandon Harpers Ferry for the first time since September 1862. However, following the surrender of Dixon Miles' army, the Union had improved its fortifications overlooking this strategic area. After three days of fighting, the North was able to re-take and hold Harpers Ferry for the remainder of the war. Southern forces later won an important battle at Monocacy Creek in Maryland prior to being stopped at Washington. John McCausland was one of the few Confederate military leaders who could brag that he stood within the city limits of the nation's capital during the Civil War.
As northern control of western Virginia strengthened later in the war, southern military support was found more often in the form of irregulars, troops never mustered into the Confederate service. West Virginia's first governor, Arthur Boreman, considered these irregulars the most serious threat to the new state. West Virginia's most famous band of these guerrillas was McNeill's Rangers, organized in Hardy County. During 1863 and 1864, they wreaked havoc on the B&O Railroad in the Eastern Panhandle, seizing numerous Union supplies. However, on February 21, 1865, the rangers executed their most daring raid. A small group of men rode into Cumberland, Maryland, kidnapped generals Crook and Kelley, and delivered them to General Jubal Early. At the end of the war, McNeill's Rangers surrendered to Union troops under General Rutherford B. Hayes on May 8, one month after Appomattox.
The Civil War has often been referred to as a war of brother against brother and father against son. No other state serves as a better example of this than West Virginia, where there was relatively equal support for the northern and southern causes. Often families were split down the middle over their beliefs on the war. There are many instances of divided loyalties and even of individuals fighting for both sides. During the Battle of Scary Creek, a Confederate soldier supposedly saw his brothers fighting on the other battle lines, decided he was in the wrong place, and changed sides on the spot.
While many historians have traditionally placed the number of Union troops enlisted in West Virginia at a much higher figure than Confederates, more recent studies suggest there were almost as many southern troops as northern. Traditional sources have placed Union strength as high as 36,000 compared to only 7,000 to 10,000 Confederates. At least one recent study has raised the southern number to over 20,000 and lowered the Union figure to about the same. Part of the problem with early studies is they ignored numerous southern sympathizers who fought in militias or as irregulars.
The divisions caused by the Civil War lasted long afterward. These were usually fought out in political arenas but occasionally developed into violence. Military service in the Civil War became a badge of honor, as both Union and Confederate veterans attended reunions and participated in parades well into the twentieth century. West Virginia was the only state to send relatively the same number of Union and Confederate veterans to the Battle of Gettysburg reunion, another symbol of the divided state created by the Civil War.