Virginia in the American Civil War

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 six states seceded to form 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 firing on 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, Alabama, to Richmond. Virginians ratified the articles of secession on May 23. [ [ Virginia Historical Society] ] The following day, the Union army moved into northern Virginia and captured Alexandria without a fight.

The White House of the Confederacy, 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 Manassas 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 Manassas (known as "Bull Run" in Northern naming convention).

In April 1865, Richmond was burned by the retreating Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and was returned to Northern control. Virginia was administered as the "First Military District" during the Reconstruction period (1865-1870) under General John Schofield. The state formally rejoined the Union on January 26, 1870.

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 Ferry, 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, Virginia on June 26, 1860 and nominated John C. Breckinridge as their party candidate for President. [McPherson pp. 213-216]

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. [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.”] 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. [Ayers p. 86]

ecession 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. [Link p. 224]

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. [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."] Simultaneous to this election, six Southern states seceded to form the Confederate States of America on February 4.

ecession convention

Rquote2|right|Proposals Adopted by the Virginia Convention of 1861

“The first resolution asserted states’ rights "per se"; the second was for retention of slavery; the third opposed sectional parties; the fourth called for equal recognition of slavery in both territories and non-slave states; the fifth demanded the removal of federal forts and troops from seceded states; the sixth hoped for a peaceable adjustment of grievances and maintaining the Union; the seventh called for Constitutional amendments to remedy federal and state disputes; the eighth recognized the right of secession; the ninth said the federal government had no authority over seceded states since it refused to recognize their withdrawal; the tenth said the federal government was empowered to recognize the Confederate States; the eleventh was an appeal to Virginia’s sister states; the twelfth asserted Virginia’s willingness to wait a reasonable period of time for an answer to its propositions, providing no one resorted to force against the seceded states; the thirteenth asked United States and Confederate States governments to remain peaceful; and the fourteenth asked the border slave states to meet in conference to consider Virginia’s resolutions and to join in Virginia’s appeal to the North.” [Riggs p. 264. Riggs made his summary based on Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861, Volume 1, pp. 701-716 ] 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. [Link p. 227] The committee was made up of 4 secessionists, 10 moderates and 7 unionists. [Robertson p. 5] 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.” [Ayers pp. 120-123] With the failure of the Peace Conference at the end of February, [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.] moderates in the convention began to waver in their support for unionism. [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.”] 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. [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.”] Throughout the state there was evidence that support for secession was growing. [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.’”]

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. [Robertson p. 13. The committee report represented the moderate/unionist position; the vote in committee was 12 in favor, 2 against, with 7 abstaining. ] 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. [Riggs p. 268] Approval of the last proposal came on April 12. [Robertson p. 15] 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. [Link p. 235]

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. [Potter p. 355] 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. [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.] 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. [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.]

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.” [Robertson p. 14-15. Furgurson p. 29-30.]

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. [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;cc=ddr;view=text;idno=ddr0141.0019.087;rgn=div3;node=ddr0141.0019.087%3A3.2.1)] The convention reconvened on April 13 to reconsider Virginia's position, given the outbreak of hostilities. [cite web |url= |title=On This Day: Legislative Moments in Virginia History |publisher=Virginia Historical Society] With Virginia still in a delicate balance, with no firm determination yet to secede,Fact|date=September 2008 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. [cite web |url= |title=Lincoln Call for Troops(page includes TWO documents)]

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" [Evans, Vol.III, pt. 1, p. 38] Verify credibility|date=September 2008) 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". [Evans, Vol.III, pt. 1, p. 38] , 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", [Ayers p. 140] 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, Virginia and the navy yard, burning and torching as many of the ships and facilities as possible. [McPherson p. 279-280]

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

ecession 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 seccesion 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. [] The following day, the Union army moved into northern Virginia and captured Alexandria without a fight.

Pending the outcome of the ratification election, on May 6 provisional plans were made to move the Confederate capital from Montgomery, Alabama 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 Manassas 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 Manassas (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 Manassas and the last being Battle of Appomattox Courthouse. During the American Civil War, Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States of America. The White House of the Confederacy, located a few blocks north of the State Capital, was home to the family of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Union general Pope was defeated at the Second Battle of Manassas. Union general George B. McClellan was forced to retreat from Richmond by Robert E. Lee's army. 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 Petersburg and Confederate defeat.

In April 1865, Richmond was burned by a retreating Confederate Army and was returned to Northern 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.


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 Richmond at Tredegar Iron Works. 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 Virginia voted 32 to 15 against secession. [Ambler, p. 309] 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 Virginia, 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. [Curry, pgs. 141-149] On June 20, 1863, West Virginia 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 Court. In December, 1870, the court ruled in favor of West Virginia. [Lewis, pgs. 190-192]

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 County and Jefferson County, West Virginia. In 1991, both state legislatures appropriated money for a boundary commission to look into 15 miles of the border area [] .

Notable Civil War leaders (Confederate) from Virginia



*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.

ee also

*Richmond in the Civil War
*Winchester in the Civil War
*Virginia Units in the Civil War
*Stonewall Jackson's Headquarters Museum
*Army of Northern Virginia
*Virginia Units in the Civil War

External links

* [ National Park Service map of Civil War sites in Virginia: 1861-62]
* [ National Park Service map of Civil War sites in Virginia: 1863]
* [ National Park Service map of Civil War sites in Virginia: 1864]
* [ National Park Service map of Civil War sites in Virginia: 1865]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Romney, West Virginia in the American Civil War — The city of Romney, Virginia (now West Virginia) traded hands between the Union Army and Confederate States Army no fewer than 10 times during the American Civil War, assuming the occupying force spent at least one night in the town. (Oral… …   Wikipedia

  • Romney, West Virginia, in the American Civil War — The city of Romney, Virginia (now West Virginia) traded hands between the Union Army and Confederate States Army approximately 56 times during the American Civil War. The story of the small town is emblematic of the many military campaigns that… …   Wikipedia

  • West Virginia in the American Civil War — Confederate States in the American Civil War South Carolina Mississippi Florida Alabama …   Wikipedia

  • Outline of the American Civil War — The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the American Civil War: American Civil War – civil war in the United States of America that lasted from 1861 to 1865. Eleven Southern slave states declared their secession… …   Wikipedia

  • Kentucky in the American Civil War — Confederate States in the American Civil War South Carolina Mississippi Florida Alabama …   Wikipedia

  • Conclusion of the American Civil War — The McLean house where Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865. This is a timeline of the conclusion of the American Civil War which includes important battles, skirmishes, raids and other events of 1865. These led to additional Confederate… …   Wikipedia

  • Winchester in the American Civil War — The city of Winchester, Virginia, and the surrounding area were the site of numerous fights during the American Civil War as both contending armies strove to control that portion of the Shenandoah Valley.BackgroundJohn Brown s RaidTies between… …   Wikipedia

  • Disfranchisement after the American Civil War — The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1870 to protect the suffrage of freedmen after the American Civil War. It prevented any state from denying the right to vote to any citizen on account of his race. Because… …   Wikipedia

  • Britain in the American Civil War — The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was officially neutral in the American Civil War. Confederate strategy depended on British and French intervention and that never happened; intervention would have meant war with the U.S. Although… …   Wikipedia

  • Infantry in the American Civil War — The Infantry in the American Civil War comprised foot soldiers who fought primarily with small arms, and they carried the brunt of the fighting on battlefields across the United States. As the Civil War progressed, battlefield tactics soon… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.