Tag Archives: Wheeling

Lee Returns to Richmond

October 31, 1861 – General Robert E. Lee returned to Richmond after this three-month campaign in western Virginia that many southerners considered a failure.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

As October opened, Lee continued supervising General John B. Floyd’s Confederate Army of the Kanawha on Sewell Mountain. He had pulled troops from the Army of the Northwest to reinforce Floyd, leaving a token force to fend off Federals on Cheat Mountain, about 100 miles north. Opposing Lee and Floyd was a Federal army led by General William S. Rosecrans, which was falling back to its base of operations at Gauley Bridge on the Kanawha River.

Following the engagement at the Greenbrier River, Lee transferred troops from Floyd back to northwestern Virginia. This diminished the strength of the Confederates on Sewell Mountain, but Rosecrans was in no hurry to exploit it. The miserably cold, wet autumn was adversely affecting both sides, and a general engagement seemed improbable.

With the armies stalemated, Lee wrote to his wife about press criticism of his performance:

“I am sorry, as you say, that the movements of the armies cannot keep pace with the expectations of the editors of the papers. I know they can regulate matters satisfactorily to themselves on paper. I wish they could do so in the field. No one wishes them more success than I do & would be happy to see them have full swing. Genl Floyd has the benefit of three editors on his staff. I hope something will be done to please them.”

Farther north, a third Federal force in western Virginia led by Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley seized the important town of Romney after skirmishing there and at South Branch Bridge. Kelley, victor of the war’s first land battle at Philippi, commanded the Federal Department of Harpers Ferry. This action expelled the last remaining Confederates from the area. The feeble Confederate hold on the region was rapidly slipping.

That hold became even more tenuous when the male voters of 39 northwestern Virginia counties voted overwhelmingly to ratify the Wheeling Convention resolutions to secede from the rest of the state and form the new State of Kanawha. The voters also elected delegates to attend a convention at Wheeling, 10 miles from the Pennsylvania border, to draft a constitution for the new state.

The extremely lopsided vote count made this election legally questionable. The final count was 18,408 for secession and 781 against; this was about 40 percent of the voter turnout in the same counties for the previous year’s presidential election. The vote was not anonymous; voters had to tell the registrar whether they favored or opposed the measure and the registrar recorded each voter’s name. Most opposition came in counties not under Federal occupation. In Kanawha County, which was known to have many residents with Confederate sympathies, the count was 1,039 in favor and just one against. Federal military control over the region enabled the election to take place.

With western Virginia seemingly lost, Lee returned to Richmond to resume duty as military advisor to President Jefferson Davis. Lee assumed full responsibility for failing to curtail Unionist influence in the region. Many southerners considered his talents overrated, and his reputation suffered among those who nicknamed him “Granny Lee.” But Davis maintained confidence in Lee’s abilities.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 264; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 75; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2968; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 130-31; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 303; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

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The New State of Kanawha

August 20, 1861 – Delegates to the second session of the Second Wheeling Convention approved a measure seceding from Virginia and bundling the state’s northwestern counties into the new state of Kanawha.

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The delegates reconvened their legally questionable convention at Wheeling, 10 miles west of the Pennsylvania border, after adjourning in June. While the members had previously considered declaring the Virginia government null and void because it had seceded from the Union, the members in this session instead proposed an Ordinance of Separation from Virginia. Delegates set up a Committee on the Division of the State that included one member from each of the 35 northwestern counties being represented.

The committee submitted its Division of the State Ordinance on August 13, which shifted the focus of debate from whether to secede from Virginia to how many counties would secede. The ordinance absorbed all Virginia counties in the Shenandoah Valley and along the Potomac River into the new state of New Virginia (later renamed Allegheny).

Most delegates supported forming the new state, but some urged postponement for now. Postponement was rejected a week later when the majority approved an “ordinance of dismemberment.” Delegates also reached a compromise on the number of counties to secede; they would begin with 39 counties of northwestern Virginia and add any other adjacent county if its residents voted to join.

Extensive debate took place over what the new state’s name should be, as many delegates did not like the names “New Virginia” or “Allegheny” proposed the previous week. A suggestion of “West Virginia” was also rejected. Finally, the name “Kanawha” was approved by a vote of 48 to 27.

The secession of “Kahawha” from the rest of Virginia violated Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution (“no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State… without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress”). But the delegates approved the move nonetheless and resolved to submit the ordinance to the people in a popular election scheduled for October 24.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 110; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 298; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 816-17; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

The Western Virginia Secession

June 17, 1861 – Delegates to a Unionist meeting at Wheeling in western Virginia unanimously approved declaring their independence from the Confederacy.

The delegation representing 39 northwestern counties assembled at Wheeling’s Washington Hall on June 11, in accordance with last month’s convention resolution to come together if Virginia seceded from the U.S. Western Virginia, largely mountainous, contained few slaves and was economically linked more to northern states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania than the South. Western Virginians had voted against secession in the May election by a margin of 10-to-1, and their delegates met to decide how best to secede from Virginia and return to the U.S.

Arthur I. Boreman, Parkersburg lawyer and state legislator, was elected convention president. The delegates formed a Committee of Business “to make the requisite preparatory arrangements for the separation from Virginia, and the formation into a new State.” On the 13th, members presented the “Declaration of the People of Virginia Represented in Convention at Wheeling,” which charged that last month’s Virginia state convention had “abused the powers nominally entrusted to it,” and “usurped and exercised other powers, to the manifest injury of the people, which, if permitted, will inevitably subject them to a military despotism.”

Declaring that Virginia’s separation from the U.S. was “without authority and void,” the delegates called not for forming their own separate government, but for a “reorganization of the government of the Commonwealth” of all Virginia. To do this, the delegates proclaimed that “the offices of all who adhere to the said Convention and Executive, whether legislative, executive or judicial, are vacated.” They had no legal or military authority to execute this decree, but it was proclaimed nonetheless.

Two days after voting to declare independence, delegates overwhelmingly approved an Ordinance for the Reorganization of the State Government of Virginia. On that afternoon, the delegates proposed “the immediate organization of volunteer companies in every county represented in the Convention, to support the State government as organized by this Convention.”

A portion of a state seceding from the rest of the state violated Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing that states shall not change their borders without legislative consent. The pro-Confederate Virginia legislature at Richmond would not consent, so to bypass this, the Wheeling delegates declared that the Virginia government had rendered itself illegitimate by seceding from the U.S.; therefore the new western Virginia regime was now the rightful “restored government” of all Virginia.

Francis H. Pierpont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Francis H. Pierpont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Establishing this “restored government” was approved on June 20, when delegates elected Francis H. Pierpont of Marion County the new governor of “restored” Virginia. Pierpont had gained wealth as a lawyer for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and from coal mine investments. He had never held an elected office before, but he strongly supported the Union, abolition, and the Lincoln administration.

Pierpont delivered a speech railing against the southern aristocracy that western Virginians so resented:

“A new doctrine has been introduced by those who are at the head of the revolution in our Southern States–that the people are not the source of all power. Those promulgating this doctrine have tried to divide the people into two classes; one they call the laboring class, the other the capital class. They have for several years been industriously propagating the idea that the capital of the country ought to represent the legislation of the country, and guide it and direct it; maintaining that it is dangerous for the labor of the country to enter into the legislation of the country. This, gentlemen, is the principle that has characterized the revolution that has been inaugurated in the South; they maintaining that those who are to have the privilege of voting ought to be of the educated class, and that the legislation ought not to be represented by the laboring classes.”

Pierpont asserted that his government was for all of Virginia, not just the counties that joined to elect him. He and his new regime petitioned the Lincoln administration, which supported this new entity, for official recognition. Meanwhile, delegates elected Daniel Polsey as the new lieutenant governor, and they named W.T. Willie and John S. Carlile, two men who had opposed secession at last month’s Virginia Convention in Richmond, as U.S. senators.

On June 21, delegates to the Wheeling Convention elected various state officials, including a new auditor, treasurer, and state legislature. The Merchants’ and Mechanics’ Bank of Wheeling would finance the new treasury. By proclaiming this new government to be the legitimate government of all Virginia, the delegates hoped to garner support from Unionists in the eastern part of the state.

However, most Virginians opposed this new western Virginia puppet government, and many argued that it had been unconstitutionally formed. Others cited the inconsistency in President Lincoln’s policy by supporting the secession of western Virginia from the rest of the state while opposing the secession of southern states from the U.S.

“Governor” Pierpont wrote to Lincoln, contending that “large numbers of evil-minded persons have banded together in military organizations with intent to overthrow the government of the State, and for that purpose have called to their aid like-minded persons from other States, who, in pursuance of such call, have invaded this commonwealth.” Pierpont accused the Confederate Armies of the Northwest and the Kanawha of “pressing citizens against their consent into their military organizations, and seizing and appropriating their property to aid in the rebellion.”

Acknowledging that he lacked “sufficient military force to suppress this rebellion and violence,” Pierpont was compelled, “as governor of this commonwealth, to call on the Government of the United States for aid to suppress such rebellion and violence.” Lincoln quickly recognized Pierpont’s administration as the de jure government of Virginia, and he authorized Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal troops to invade the region to protect the predominantly Unionist sentiment there.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16894; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 50, 52; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6303; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 128; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 37-39; Guelzo, Allen C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 633; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 84, 87; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 298; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 96; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 185, 816-17