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The Commonwealth of Virginia was a prominent part of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. It sponsored a convention about secession on February 13, 1861, after seven seceding states had formed the Confederacy on February 4. The convention deliberated for several months, but, on April 15 President Abraham Lincoln called for troops from all states still in the Union in response to the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter. On April 17, the Virginia convention voted to secede. With the entry of Virginia into the Confederacy, a decision was made in May to move the Confederate capital from Montgomery, Alabamamarker, to Richmond. Virginians ratified the articles of secession on May 23. The following day, the Union army moved into northern Virginia and captured Alexandriamarker without a fight.

The White House of the Confederacymarker, located a few blocks north of the State Capital, was home to the family of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The first major battle of the Civil War occurred on July 21, 1861. Union forces attempted to take control of the railroad junction at Manassasmarker for use as a supply line, but the Confederate Army had moved its forces by train to meet the Union. The Confederates won the First Battle of Manassasmarker (known as "Bull Run" in Northern naming convention).

In April 1865, Richmond was burned by the retreating Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and fell under Northern control. Virginia was administered as the "First Military District" during the Reconstruction period (1865-1870) under General John Schofield. The state's representatives were officially readmitted to Congress on January 26, 1870, thus restoring the state to the Union.

Prewar tensions

On October 16, 1859, the radical abolitionist John Brown led a group of 22 men in a raid on the Federal Arsenal in Harpers Ferrymarker, Virginia. Federal troops, led by Robert E. Lee, responded and quelled the raid. Subsequently, John Brown was tried and executed by hanging in Charles Town on December 2, 1859.

In 1860 the Democratic Party split into northern and southern factions over the issue of slavery in the territories and Stephen Douglas’ support for popular sovereignty: after failing in both Charleston and Baltimore to nominate a single candidate acceptable to the South, Southern Democrats held their convention in Richmond, Virginiamarker on June 26, 1860 and nominated John C. Breckinridge as their party candidate for President.

When Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected as president, Virginians were concerned about the implications for their state. While a majority of the state would look for compromises to the sectional differences, most people also opposed any restrictions on slaveholders’ rights. As the state watched to see what South Carolina would do, many Unionists felt that the greatest danger to the state came not from the North but from "rash secession" by the lower South.

Secession timeline

Call for secession convention

On November 15, 1860 Virginia Governor John Letcher called for a special session of the Virginia General Assembly to consider, among other issues, the creation of a secession convention. The legislature convened on January 7 and approved the convention on January 14. On January 19 the General Assembly called for a national Peace Conference, led by Virginia's former President of the United States, John Tyler, to be held in Washington on February 4, the same date that elections were scheduled for delegates to the secession convention.

The election of convention delegates drew 145,700 voters who elected, by county, 152 representatives. Thirty of these delegates were secessionists, thirty were unionists, and ninety-two were moderates who were not clearly identified with either of the first two groups. Nevertheless, advocates of immediate secession were clearly outnumbered. Simultaneous to this election, six Southern states seceded to form the Confederate States of America on February 4.

Secession convention

The convention met on February 13 at the Richmond Mechanics Institute located at Ninth and Main Street in Richmond. One of the conventions first actions was to create a 21 member Federal Relations Committee charged with reaching a compromise to the sectional differences as they affected Virginia. The committee was made up of 4 secessionists, 10 moderates and 7 unionists. At first there was no urgency to the convention’s deliberations as all sides felt that time only aided their cause. In addition, there were hopes that the Peace Conference of 1861 on January 19, led by Virginia's former President of the United States, John Tyler, might resolve the crisis by, in historian Edward Ayer’s words, “guaranteeing the safety of slavery forever and the right to expand slavery in the territories below the Missouri Compromise line.” With the failure of the Peace Conference at the end of February, moderates in the convention began to waver in their support for unionism. Unionist support by many was further eroded for many Virginians by Lincoln’s March 4 First Inaugural address which they felt was “argumentative, if not defiant. Throughout the state there was evidence that support for secession was growing.

The Federal Relations Committee made its report to the convention on March 9. The fourteen proposals defended both slavery and states’ rights while calling for a meeting of the eight slave states still in the Union to present a united front for compromise. From March 15 through April 14 the convention debated these proposals one by one. During the debate on the resolutions, the sixth resolution calling for a peaceful solution and maintenance of the Union came up for discussion on April 4. Lewis Edwin Harvie of Amelia County offered a substitute resolution calling for immediate secession. This was voted down by 88 to 45 and the next day the convention continued its debate. Approval of the last proposal came on April 12. The goal of the unionist faction after this approval was to adjourn the convention until October, allowing time for both the convention of the slave states and Virginia’s congressional elections in May which, they hoped, would produce a stronger mandate for compromise.

At the same time, unionists were concerned about the continued presence of federal forces at Fort Sumter despite assurances communicated informally to them by Secretary of State William Seward that it would be abandoned. Lincoln and Seward were also concerned that the Virginia convention was still in session as of the first of April while secession sentiment was growing. At Lincoln’s invitation, unionist John B. Baldwin of Augusta County, met with Lincoln on April 4. Baldwin explained that the unionists needed the evacuation of Fort Sumter, a national convention to debate the sectional differences, and a commitment by Lincoln to support constitutional protections for southern rights. Over Lincoln’s skepticism, Baldwin argued that Virginia would be out of the Union within forty-eight hours if either side fired a shot at the fort. By some accounts, Lincoln offered to evacuate Fort Sumter if the Virginia convention would adjourn.

On April 6, amid rumors that the North was preparing for war, the convention voted by a narrow 63-57 to send a three man delegation to Washington to determine from Lincoln what his intentions were. However due to bad weather the delegation did not arrive in Washington until April 12. They learned of the attack on Fort Sumter from Lincoln, and the President advised them of his intent to hold the fort and respond to force with force. Reading from a prepared text to prevent any misinterpretations of his intent, Lincoln told them that he had made it clear in his inaugural address that the forts and arsenals in the South were government property and “if ... an unprovoked assault has been made upon Fort Sumter, I shall hold myself at liberty to re-possess, if I can, like places which have been seized before the Government was devolved upon me.”

The pro-Union sentiment in Virginia was further weakened after the April 12 Confederate attack upon Fort Sumter. Richmond reacted with large public demonstrations in support of the Confederacy on April 13 when it first received the news of the attack. The convention reconvened on April 13 to reconsider Virginia's position, given the outbreak of hostilities. With Virginia still in a delicate balance, with no firm determination yet to secede, sentiment turned more strongly toward secession on April 15, following President Abraham Lincoln's call to all states that had not declared a secession, including Virginia, for troops to assist in halting the insurrection and recovering the captured forts.

The quota for Virginia attached called for three regiments of 2,340 men to rendezvous at Staunton, Wheeling and Gordonsville. Governor Letcher and the recently reconvened Virginia Secession Convention considered this request from Lincoln "for troops to invade and coerce" ) lacking in constitutional authority, and out of scope of the Act of 1795. Governor Letcher's "reply to that call wrought an immediate change in the current of public opinion in Virginia"., whereupon he issued the following reply:

Thereafter, the secession convention voted on April 17, provisionally, to secede, on the condition of ratification by a statewide referendum. Historian Edward L. Ayers, who felt that "even Fort Sumter might have passed, however, had Lincoln not called for the arming of volunteers", wrote of the convention's final decision:

The Governor of Virginia immediately began mobilizing the Virginia State Militia to strategic points around the state. Former Governor Henry Wise had arranged with militia officers on April 16, before the final vote, to seize the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry and the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk. On April 17 in the debate over secession Wise announced to the convention that these events were already in motion. On April 18 the arsenal was captured and most of the machinery was moved to Richmond. At Gosport, the Union Navy, believing that several thousand militia were headed their way, evacuated and abandoned Norfolk, Virginiamarker and the navy yard, burning and torching as many of the ships and facilities as possible.

Colonel Robert E. Lee resigned his U.S. Army commission, turning down an offer of command for the U.S. Army.

Secession ratification

By popular vote, Virginians ratified the articles of secession on May 23, 1861, with a vote of 132,201 to 37,451 in favor of, and ratifying the secession proposal. The results were initially held in secret for a couple of days, giving Virginia military forces time to officially respond in the defenses of Virginia, by making final preparation for the defense of Virginia.

After notification of the election results by telegram, Colonel Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson moved to shut down the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in the Great Train Raid of 1861. [344042] The following day, the Union army moved into northern Virginia and captured Alexandriamarker without a fight.

Pending the outcome of the ratification election, on May 6 provisional plans were made to move the Confederate capital from Montgomery, Alabamamarker to Richmond. Once the ratification was made official, the move of the capital to Virginia was enacted on May 29.

Virginia during the war

The ensuing conflict was generally referred to by notable Virginias as "The War Between the States", as in the title of the 1907 book The Confederate Cause and Conduct in the War Between the States, published by Dr. Hunter McGuire and George L. Christian. The first major battle of the Civil War occurred on July 21, 1861. Union forces attempted to take control of the railroad junction at Manassasmarker for use as a supply line, but the Confederate Army had moved its forces by train to meet the Union. The Confederates won the First Battle of Manassasmarker (known as "Bull Run"in Northern naming convention) and the year went on without a major fight.

The first and last significant battles were held in Virginia. The first being the Battle of Manassasmarker and the last being Battle of Appomattox Courthousemarker. During the American Civil War, Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States of America. The White House of the Confederacymarker, located a few blocks north of the State Capital, was home to the family of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Union general George B. McClellan was forced to retreat from Richmond by Robert E. Lee's army. Union general Pope was defeated at the Second Battle of Manassas. Following the one-sided Confederate victory Battle of Fredericksburgmarker, Union general Hooker was defeated at Chancellorsville by Lee's army. Ulysses Grant's Overland Campaign was fought in Virginia. The campaign included battles of attrition at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor and ended with the Siege of Petersburgmarker and Confederate defeat.

In April 1865, fires set in Richmond by a retreating Confederate Army led to a wide-spead conflagration as the flames were soon out of control. Shortly afterwards the city was occupied and returned to United States control. Virginia was administered as the "First Military District" during the Reconstruction period (1865-1870) under General John Schofield. Local rule was reestablished on October 5, 1869. On January 26, 1870, when the U.S. Congress approved a new Virginia constitution, Virginia's representatives membership to the Congress was restored. This has been traditionally known as the "readmittance" of the Commonwealth of Virginia to the United States.

Industrialization



Various textile production was present prior to 1861 but nothing of great significance. A center of iron production during the civil war was located in Richmondmarker at Tredegar Iron Worksmarker. Tredegar was run partially by slave labor, and it produced most of the artillery for the war, making Richmond an important point to defend.

West Virginia split

The 47 delegates from what eventually became West Virginiamarker voted 32 to 15 against secession. Some of those delegates and other Unionists in western Virginia formed an alternative government, the Restored Government of Virginia, in the city of Wheeling. On August 20 1861 this government granted itself permission to form a new state, eventually named West Virginiamarker, and presented an application for statehood to the U.S. Congress which consisted of 48 counties of Virginia, nearly half of which had voted for secession. On June 20, 1863, West Virginiamarker was formally admitted to the Union. Two more counties were added in 1863, Jefferson and Berkeley. These had not been part of the original Statehood bill, and Virginia attempted reclamation in a suit before the United States Supreme Courtmarker. In December, 1870, the court ruled in favor of West Virginiamarker.

With the formation of West Virginia, Virginia no longer shared a border with Pennsylvania. Even in the 20th century, there were still some disputes about the precise location of the border in some of the northern mountain reaches of Virginia between Loudoun Countymarker and Jefferson County, West Virginiamarker. In 1991, both state legislatures appropriated money for a boundary commission to look into 15 miles of the border area [344043].

Notable Civil War leaders (Confederate) from Virginia

Image:Robert Edward Lee.jpg|
Gen.
Robert E.

Lee
Image:Jackson-Stonewall-LOC.jpg|
Lt.
Gen.
Thomas J.

Jackson
Image:jeb stuart.jpg|
Maj.
Gen.
J.E.B.

Stuart
Image:Joseph_Johnston.jpg|
Gen.
Joseph E.

Johnston
Image:ap hill.jpg|
Lt.
Gen.
A.

P.

Hill
Image:Robert S Ewell.png|
Lt.
Gen.
Richard S.

Ewell
Image:JubalEarly.jpeg|
Lt.
Gen.
Jubal A.

Early
Image:GeorgePickett.jpeg|
Maj.
Gen.
George Pickett
Image:Edward Johnson.jpg|
Maj.
Gen.
Edward Johnson
Image:Fitzhugh Lee General.jpg|
Maj.
Gen.
Fitzhugh Lee
Image:Lewis A. Armistead.jpg|
Brig.
Gen.
Lewis A.

Armistead
Image:JohnLetcher.jpg|
Gov.
John Letcher


Notes

  1. Virginia Historical Society
  2. McPherson pp. 213-216
  3. Link p. 217. Link wrote, “Although a majority probably favored compromise, most opposed any weakening of slaveholders’ protections. Even so-called moderates -- mostly Whigs and Douglas Democrats -- opposed the sacrifice of these rights and they rejected ant acquiescence or ‘submission’ to federal coercion. ... To a growing body of Virginians, Lincoln’s election meant the onset of an active war against southern institutions. These men shared a common fear of northern Republicans and a common suspicion of a northern conspiracy against the South.”
  4. Ayers p. 86
  5. Link p. 224
  6. Robertson p. 3-4. Robertson, clarifying the position of the moderates, wrote, "However, the term 'unionist' had an altogether different meaning in Virginia at the time. Richmond delegates Marmaduke Johnson and William McFarland were both outspoken conservatives. Yet in their respective campaigns, each declared that he was in favor of separation from the Union if the federal government did not guarantee protection of slavery everywhere. Moreover, the threat of the federal government's using coercion became an overriding factor in the debates that followed."
  7. Link p. 227
  8. Robertson p. 5
  9. Ayers pp. 120-123
  10. Potter pp. 545-546. Nevins pp. 411-412. The conferences recommendations, which differed little from the Crittenden Compromise, were defeated in the Senate by a 28 to 7 vote and were never voted on by the House.
  11. Robertson p. 8. Robert E. Scott of Faquier County noted that this failure and the North’s apparent indifference to southern concerns “extinguished all hope of a settlement by the direct action of those States, and I at once accepted the dissolution of the existing Union ... as a necessity.”
  12. Robertson p. 8. Robertson quotes an observer of the speech saying, ”Mr. Lincoln raised his voice and distinctly emphasized the declaration that he must take, hold, possess, and occupy the property and places [in the South] belonging to the United States. This was unmistakable, and he paused for a moment after closing the sentence as if to allow it to be fully taken in and comprehended by his audience.”
  13. Robertson p. 9. Robertson writes, “Although some leaders such as Governor Letcher still believed that ‘patience and prudence’ would ‘work out the results,’ a growing, uncontrollable attitude for war was sweeping through the state. Militia units were organizing from the mountains to the Tidewater. Newspapers in Richmond and elsewhere maintained a steady heat, noisy partisans filled the convention galleries, and at night large crowds surged through the capital streets ‘with bands of music and called out their favorite orators at the different hotels.’”
  14. Robertson p. 13. The committee report represented the moderate/unionist position; the vote in committee was 12 in favor, 2 against, with 7 abstaining.
  15. Riggs p. 268
  16. Robertson p. 15
  17. Link p. 235
  18. Potter p. 355
  19. Klein p. 381-382. Ayers (p. 125) notes that Baldwin had said that “there is but one single subject of complaint which Virginia has to make against the government under which we live; a complaint made by the whole South, and that is the subject of African slavery.
  20. Klein p. 381-382. Baldwin denied receiving the offer to evacuate Fort Sumter, but the next day Lincoln told another Virginia unionist, John Minor Botts, that the offer had been made. In any event, the offer was never presented to the convention.
  21. Robertson p. 14-15. Furgurson p. 29-30.
  22. McPherson p. 278. Furgurson p. 32. A Richmond newspaper described the scene in Richmond on the 13th: :"Saturday night the offices of the Dispatch, Enquirer and Examiner, the banking house of Enders, Sutton & Co., the Edgemont House, and sundry other public and private places, testified to the general joy by brilliant illuminations. :Hardly less than ten thousand persons were on Main street, between 8th and 14th, at one time. Speeches were delivered at the Spottswood House, at the Dispatch corner, in front of the Enquirer office, at the Exchange Hotel, and other places. Bonfires were lighted at nearly every corner of every principal street in the city, and the light of beacon fires could be seen burning on Union and Church Hills. The effect of the illumination was grand and imposing. The triumph of truth and justice over wrong and attempted insult was never more heartily appreciated by a spontaneous uprising of the people. Soon the Southern wind will sweep away with the resistless force of a tornado, all vestige of sympathy or desire of co-operation with a tyrant who, under false pretences, in the name of a once glorious, but now broken and destroyed Union, attempts to rivet on us the chains of a despicable and ignoble vassalage. Virginia is moving." (Richmond Daily Dispatch April 15, 1861 http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr;cc=ddr;view=text;idno=ddr0141.0019.087;rgn=div3;node=ddr0141.0019.087%3A3.2.1)
  23. (page includes TWO documents)
  24. Evans, Vol.III, pt. 1, p. 38
  25. Ayers p. 140
  26. McPherson p. 279-280
  27. Ambler, p. 309
  28. Curry, pgs. 141-149
  29. Lewis, pgs. 190-192


References

  • Ambler, Charles, A History of West Virginia, Prentice-Hall, 1933.
  • Ayers, Edward L. In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America 1859-1863. (2003) ISBN 0-393-32601-2.
  • Curry, Richard Orr, A House Divided, University of Pittsburgh, 1964.
  • Furgurson, Ernest B. Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War. (1996) ISBN 0-678-42232-3.
  • Hodges, Vivienne, PhD, Virginia SOL Coach: Virginia Studies, Educational Design, 1999. ISBN 087694764X
  • Klein, Maury. Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War. (1997) ISBN 0-679-44747-4.
  • Lewis, Virgil A. and Comstock, Jim, History and Government of West Virginia, 1973.
  • Link, William A. Roots of Secession: Slavey and Politics in Antebellum Virginia. (2003) ISBN 0-8078-2771-1.
  • McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom. (1988) ISBN 0-345-35942-9.
  • Potter, David M. Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis. (1942) ISBN 0-8071-2027-8.
  • Randall, J. G., Civil War and Reconstruction, D.C. Heath and Company, 1966.
  • Riggs, David F. "Robert Young Conrad and the Ordeal of Secession."The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 86, No. 3 (July 1978), pp. 259-274.
  • Robertson, James I. Jr. "The Virginia State Convention" in Virginia at War 1861. editors Davis, William C. and Robertson, James I. Jr. (2005) ISBN 0-8131-2372-0.


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