West Virginia: Civil War and the Creation of West Virginia

Civil War and the Creation of West Virginia

At the outset of the Civil War the northwestern counties of Virginia overwhelmingly opposed the state's ordinance of secession (Apr. 17, 1861). Unable to halt Virginia's secession from the Union, westerners in the state were quick to take advantage of a long-awaited opportunity for their own separation from Virginia. Protected by federal troops, delegates representing most of Virginia's western counties met at Wheeling on June 11, 1861, and nullified the Virginia ordinance of secession, declared the offices of the state government at Richmond to be vacated, and formed the “restored government” of Virginia, with Francis H. Pierpont as governor.

Creation of a new state was overwhelmingly approved in the referendum of Oct. 24, and in November another convention at Wheeling began to draft the state constitution that was approved in Apr., 1862. President Lincoln proclaimed (Apr. 20, 1863) admission of a new state, West Virginia, to be effective 60 days thence, and on June 20, 1863, Arthur I. Boreman was inaugurated as its first governor. Pierpont and his “restored government” of Virginia had, of course, consented to the formation of the new state, thereby technically fulfilling the requirement in the U.S. Constitution that a state consent to its own division. Pierpont continued to act as governor of occupied Virginia throughout the war.

Meanwhile, the Confederates had failed to hold on to the region militarily; Union forces, under the command of Gen. George B. McClellan and then under Gen. William S. Rosecrans, were victorious in battles at Philippi (June 3, 1861), Rich Mt. (July 11), Corrick's Ford (July 13), and Carnifax Ferry (Sept. 10). Gen. Robert E. Lee's attempt to rally the Confederate forces ended in defeat at Cheat Mt. (Sept. 12–13), and a year later Rosecrans's victory at Gauley Bridge extended Union control to the lower Kanawha valley.

The Confederates made no serious endeavor to recover the territory W of the Allegheny Front, although guerrilla attacks persisted throughout the war. The strategically important Eastern Panhandle, on the other hand, was the scene of continual fighting; not originally a part of West Virginia, it had been quickly annexed (1863) because it contained the Baltimore and Ohio RR. (West Virginia's possession of this area was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1871.) Of the many West Virginians who remained loyal to the old state, Virginia, the most notable was Gen. Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson; his only sister, however, was a staunch Union supporter. Such a division in allegiance was common in many families, and these divisions affected West Virginia's politics for several decades after the war.

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