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Shanet Clark

Seceding From Secession 1863:

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SECEDING FROM SECESSION,

THE PARTITION OF VIRGINIA AND WEST VIRGINIA 1861–1863:

GEOGRAPHIC AND STRATEGIC FACTORS

BY

D. SHANET CLARK

ATLANTA, February 15, 2006

West Virginia, with its fantastic vistas, surreal vegetation, unusual topography, bear, bobcat, beaver and foxes is today a living relic of the American frontier. Along the high Allegheny ridgeline and the rare old growth forests stand as they did six, eight, ten generations ago, a formidable force, with many of the rural people still resisting the encroachments of modernity and urbanization. West Virginia’s annals of geographic and geologic history, the study of Greater Virginia geography since the seventeenth century, reveal the importance of the Allegheny Mountain Ridge to American history.

The history of West Virginia has been examined by capable writers, and the nineteenth century view of the new State stressed the theme of loyal citizens, showing loyalty to the Union.

Western Virginia occupied the center of the national demographic map for the first decades of the nineteenth century, and it was a central part of the American frontier from the 1700’s through the late antebellum era. The most contested U.S. domestic issue in early nineteenth century was the internal improvements debate. In 1817 President James Madison found Federal investment in post and military roads to be constitutional. The National Road he and Congress chartered stretched from Cumberland Maryland to the Ohio River and passed through present-day West Virginia. This extension of the settlers’ westbound Potomac River route formed a strategic and developmental mainway from the Federal capital city inland to the Ohio, the Old Northwest Territory and the Mississippi Valley. Forty-five years later, when West Virginia seceded from Confederate Virginia to join the Union, the Federal government gained strategic defense of the National Road, the 1853 Baltimore and Ohio Railroad along a parallel route, the Potomac River itself and the western Shenandoah waters west of the Allegheny Ridge. With West Virginia, the Union firmed up the Ohio, Maryland and Kentucky area’s strategic security and helped clear the Ohio from points north of Pittsburgh south to South Point, Ohio. The Ohio River linked the Union and completed the bloc of loyal Border States. Students of geopolitics should familiarize themselves with the High Allegheny watershed and the relationship of this massif to events in Native American, French, and British eighteenth century history as well as to the nineteenth century Union vs. Confederacy strategic realities.

George Washington knew the crucial importance of the old Virginia frontier area, in 1785 the Potomac Company incorporated to build a canal to connect the Potomac River with the Cheat River and the James River Company was incorporated to construct a canal to connect the James River with the Great Kanawha. George Washington was made President of both chartered groups. The National Road was completed from Cumberland, Md. to Wheeling, Va. in 1818, while the first commercial steamboat on the Ohio River dates to 1817. The Staunton to Parkersburg road from the Great Valley to the Ohio River was established between 1823-1847. The Winchester to Parkersburg Road was completed in the 1830’s. With settlements established, almost all after 1789, by Germans, Scots, Irish and various pioneers who had migrated southwest from Baltimore, Philadelphia or New England, western Virginia had little of the Anglican tobacco plantation interests. Good roads pushing through the interior hollows in the Clay-Jackson period developed and improved the economy. It is significant that the United States Census of 1820, 1830, 1840 and 1850 Show s the center of U.S. population moving west over time across present day West Virginia, like a slow wagon of popular political weight moving west out of the colonial area into the Ohio Valley and by 1860 into Ohio and the northwest territory. The completion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway in the winter of 1852-1853 brought a quickening of market prosperity for the mixed agricultural families now less dependent on game. As hard pioneer conditions abated in much of western Virginia, due to steam-powered river transport, wood and coal fired railroads, new roads and bridges, the region’s cultural and political establishment reached new heights. West Virginia was both made and unmade by the war.

The New River, the Kanawha River and other rivers in the Ohio-Mississippi-Gulf system; the Cheat River, the Guyandotte, the Elk River, the Gauley River and the Greenbrier River are all interesting for their effects on important trade, development and political boundary decisions. When Virginia seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy in 1861, the people of these western river valleys mobilized immediately for resistance and Union statehood. Western Virginia political leaders were recognized by the Lincoln Administration, and sat in the wartime House and Senate as loyalists, or Reformed Virginia. By 1863 a series of conventions and lop-sided elections had established the new state, West Virginia.

Marked by its sprawling, irregular shape and mountainous terrain, West Virginia is poorly understood by many 19th century and civil war historians, probably because no great armies ever fought there. Strategically, however, the severance of the northwest half of Virginia had great impact on the Confederacy and the Union. This minor general theater of campaign, West Virginia, had a major railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio, and the river systems mentioned above.

As John Shaffer states:

Federal success in Western Virginia gave the north its most important victory of the first year of the war. A third of Virginia had been won to the Union, territory from which its Armies could be launched deep into the Confederacy. In the spring of 1862 the U.S. high command launched a 2-pronged attack into the Shenandoah Valley from Western Virginia.

A few battles and countless skirmishes cemented the new border, which carefully follows the high ridge of the Allegheny Mountains, and for many miles the border shares its identity with the actual watershed between the Ohio River or Mississippi Gulf-bound tributary waters and the Chesapeake Bay James River and Atlantic bound mountain headwaters. Here in the less populated cold and rugged hinterlands, both the Union and the Confederacy could tacitly utilize the high defensive wall of the Allegheny Ridge to their tactical and strategic advantage, or stalemate. The Union gained the Ohio River itself, the Potomac River, the route of the old National Road and the 1853 Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the northern panhandle of old Virginia near Pittsburg, plus Harpers’ Ferry (strategic river/rail confluence) and the old buffalo cattle trail road across the mountains from Lewisburg to the Kanawha and Ohio Valleys, the Midland Trail. By November 1863 U.S.A. General William A. Averell defeated the Confederates at Droop Mountain and ended rebel control of the Greenbriar River Valley. This “produced a considerable degree of congruity between territory within the boundaries of the new state of West Virginia and that actually under the control of its authorities”

The 20th century French historians Fernand Braudel and Marc Bloch understood that long duration geographic factors might in some ways dominate human industry, culture and political behaviour. George Washington, Peter Jefferson and Thomas Jefferson were cartographic surveyors, and the history of the colonial and federal (eastern) frontier is one of land claims and jurisdictional issues in which accurate knowledge of space, terrain and remote topography were of central importance. Human agency is restrained by physical factors in the environment—floating down a river is easy, climbing over a mountain is much more difficult. Braudel’s theory of la longue duree is a good approach to the history of the trans-Allegheny region. Time passes in different cycles in the rural mountains, between rural small towns and the coal and chemical producing cities. The events’ horizon of recent history is formed by a longer pattern, and the Olympian view of the old frontier can show us these high mountain ridges and their swift river systems impacting history and dividing colonial and Federal era frontier people, more or less neatly. Human agency is determined in some degree by forbidding or compelling geographic realities. The importance of the watershed over the long term cannot be underestimated.

The Shawnee and the Cherokee are known to have used the border states of Kentucky and West Virginia as a buffer zone in the first contact period. When the Proclamation Line of 1763 was promulgated by George III to end westward frontier expansion into the freshly conquered French northwest territory, the line followed the high ridge of the Alleghenies, from the southwest to the northeast, incorporating nearly the present border of West Virginia and Virginia, and the Southern Methodists’ break from the Northern Methodists in 1844 also followed this line. The French, following LaSalle’s expedition, laid claim to the Ohio tributaries from the River to the highest sources, i.e. the French claimed the west Virginia part of old Virginia in the 18th century until 1763. One of the oldest and most simple maps of this region labels West Virginia and Kentucky simply as Florida, showing a primitive Spanish claim.

The Ohio River is a very plain demarcation, but the high ridge is less manifest to the eye. Confronting the Allegheny massif, a forbidding front broken by gaps, western explorers were steered around present day West Virginia. The Warrior Road became the Great (Shenandoah) Valley Road and it trailed off to the southwest to pass through the Cumberland Gap as the Wilderness Road to the Bluegrass; here Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone’s route led rustic Virginians out of old Virginia, and into the Ohio Valley. The Shenandoah Valley, with its slaves enduring the General Stonewall Jackson’s campaign theater, was not enrolled in the new state in 1863; the Valley, east of the high Allegheny watershed ridge, but east of the mighty Blue Ridge, remained with the Confederacy and the Old Dominion, in its geographic and Atlantic-bound rivers’ region. Just as the southwest Wilderness trail through the Cumberland Gap the Allegheny massif propelled all but the hardiest explorers and frontier families to go north, through Cumberland, Maryland and north to Pittsburgh, where the mighty Ohio River carried them southwest through the Ohio Valley, again bypassing western Virginia -- unless they disembarked on the left bank before reaching Kentucky at present South Point, Ohio. The Cumberland Gap and Wilderness Road route worked in the other direction as well, during the Lewis and Clark expedition an envoy of Osage Indians led by Peter Choteau went “eastward from St. Louis to Vincennes, Louisville, Frankfort, Lexington, through the Cumberland Gap and then [north] down the Shenandoah to Winchester, and on to Shepherdstown, Maryland, Harpers Ferry and Frederick [Md.] to Washington.”

The Potomac River was the original corridor into the ‘west,’ and by 1818 the National Road ran from Baltimore along the Potomac to Cumberland, Maryland and on to Wheeling on the Ohio in present day West Virginia. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad reached the same spot by 1853, along a similar route. Both the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky and the later National Road through Cumberland, Maryland to the Ohio Valley by-passed western Virginia and propelled settlers to points west, north and south of the trans-Allegheny Virginia hinterland. This is the central historic impact of the Allegheny High Ridge on U.S. history in the antebellum and colonial contact periods.

Indeed, there were trails and a cattle road into the trans-Allegheny, or today’s West Virginia. The Native American Midland Trail linked Staunton, in Augusta County Virginia in the southern Shenandoah Valley, with the Greenbrier and Kanawha River valleys in West Virginia. Between the Valley and the farmland near Kanawha Falls lay nearly impenetrable ravines, forested escarpments, the New River Gorge and the wild Gauley River rapids. Only animal trails, widened by cattle traders, carried frontier farmers through the southeast section of today’s West Virginia, until road building began in earnest in the 1830’s and 1840’s. Another rugged 19th century road led from Monterey to Beverly, but these were little more than trails until 1830. George Washington recognized the importance of linking the settled parts of Virginia to the Ohio Valley in the late eighteenth century, “I aver, most seriously, that I wd not give my tract of 10,990 acres on the Kanawha for 50,000 acres back of it, and adjoining thereto, nor for any 50,000 acres of the common land of the country, which I have seen, back from the water and in one body.” Washington understood his river bottoms to be “Extremely valuable” and worth five times the inland tracts. Washington states that common western Virginia land values in the Adams administration to be “half a dollar or less per acre.” Washington also owned large tracts of land in the Great Bend of the Ohio River and his family was prominent in the Harpers Ferry and Berkeley Springs part of what later would become West Virginia.

With the completion of the National Road, then the James and Kanawha Turnpike and finally the Staunton to Parkersburg Road the ‘west’ was settled but a series of constitutional conventions show that the western denizens held bitter feelings for the Richmond government long before the confederacy crisis of 1861. Poll taxes discriminated against the low income Westerners and the tax on property included a bias in favor of slave-holding interests. With state government offices and banks centered in Richmond the people of the west felt the sting of poor government services and high travel expenses, on top of tax and representation imbalances. The high remote hinterlands, a band of counties along and in the Allegheny highlands, sharply divided political opinion in the period before secession.

In the wartime partition of Virginia into Union and Confederate halves, a constitutional contract formed between the Union government and the political leadership of the Trans-Allegheny. The contract extended to a region that the West Virginians could lead into statehood against the Old Dominion’s Richmond government. The Union negotiated with the seceding anti-secessionists, who conducted overwhelming polls against Richmond. With the results in hand, they Wheeling Union loyalists met with an enthusiastic reception in wartime Washington. Benjamin Wade squired a Statehood Bill through the House, and Cabinet members William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edwin Stanton advised Lincoln to sign it. Francis Pierpont, Governor of Reformed Virginia and U.S. Senator Waitman T. Willey are West Virginia’s native founders.

Union arms had secured the bulk of the state to the Union militarily, and by June 23, 1863 the new State had full status. The Trans-Allegheny was joined to a secure corridor of eastern counties and a smaller northbound salient. The Eastern Panhandle of the new state secured the Potomac River and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, while the Northern Panhandle protected the industrialized ironworks at Wheeling and the Union’s southbound Ohio River. So both the eastern and northern irregularities are seen as wartime strategic corridors, essential to the Union’s transportation needs, the Ohio, the Potomac and the Baltimore and Ohio rail beds were all secured by the new arrangement of loyal and confederate counties in old Virginia. Marked by a few high mountain gaps, the new border formed a defensive wall, amenable to the south, and formed a defensive wall for the Union forces in West Virginia, as well. As a strategic conquest, the West Virginia counter-secession must rank with CSA Gen. Joseph Johnson’s precipitous retreat from northern Virginia early in the war or Sherman’s March in 1864. Numerous historians have noted that the fate of the border states decided the war, and this new border state marks a significant strategic conquest on the part of the north, as it secured the Ohio River, its Virginia tributaries, the iron works at Wheeling, much of the Potomac River System and the Baltimore and Ohio rail beds. Of course vulnerable bridges and towns along the B&O were raided and West Virginia towns such as Martinsburg, Romney and Harper’s Ferry changed hands repeatedly, but the borders held to the Union’s advantage as the action came to center more on points south after the Battle of Gettysburg.

When the highest Ridges were linked to encompass the Ohio River waters into the new state, the line marked the watershed of Atlantic versus Gulf runoffs, south of the line rainwater runs through the Greater James and Rappahannock systems, while north of the line, the New River and the Kanawha waters rolled down the Ohio to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, the politically stable Atlantic Northeast was joined to massive inland ‘western’ power. The Northeast and Old Northwest Territory states enrolled the south bank of the Ohio (West Virginia and Kentucky) into its Union government. I find it very interesting that radically dissenting political forces, in the heat of an unprecedented civil war, decided upon the watershed at the high Allegheny dividing ridge to be the ultimate extent of the new state.

County by county, the Union power was strongest along the Ohio and was contested more convincingly inland. The new state’s founders rejected counties lying now in Virginia, the counties along the border and in the Shenandoah Valley. The Founders knew that Secessionist interest was stronger in these counties closer to Richmond and the number of slaves and free blacks in these Valley counties were also at issue. Waitman T. Willey and the other founders limited the state to western Virginia counties with strong white majorities. Lincoln’s government sent the State bill back to the convention demanding an emancipation clause in the new West Virginia Constitution, which was added before the final vote which led to Lincoln’s signature.

Ultimately, geography determines political junctures because of strategic imperatives inherent in the topography. By late 1862 the Union did lay military claim to the high ridge of the Alleghenies, and the differences in settlement patterns, labor and crop approaches, informed by the terrain, reached their conclusion in the new State. As Dr. Shaffer shows clearly, the west Virginians of 1861-1863 who joined the Confederacy as individuals had a high proportion of Virginia native parents and grandparents, while Unionists had more Pennsylvania, Maryland and Northeast born ancestors.

The unique shape of West Virginia, its geometrically irregular and sprawling non-compact form actually follows from common sense geographic principles. Strategically the new State aided the Union by: securing the defense of Washington D.C. and the Potomac River; in the defense of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the National Road and the Chesapeake and Ohio canals along the old Virginia-Maryland border; cleared the Ohio from North of Pittsburg to South Point Ohio, firmed up Southern Ohio and Southern Pennsylvania’s situation relative to Maryland and Kentucky, the true border states, and meant the loss of Weirton and the Pittsburg area north Virginia salient to the Confederacy. The southern border provided a wall of defense. The three concepts of rivers, high watersheds and strategic corridors explain the panhandles and ‘teapot’ shape. Armed with geographic, climate, elevation, rail, road and river topographic facts, the political and social events leading up to counter-secession and West Virginia statehood can be understood.

Works Cited

Ambler, Charles Henry. Sectionalism in Virginia from 1776-1881. Chicago: University of

Chicago Press, 1910.

----------------------------, West Virginia, The Mountain State, Chicago: University of

Chicago Press, 1958.

Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire In

British North America. New York: Publisher, 2000.

Barraclough, Geoffrey. The Atlas of World History. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.

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1923.

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1856.

Craf, John A. Economic Development Of The United States. New York: McGraw Hill,

1952.

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Chapel Hill UNC 1989.

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1960.

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Hogan, Roseann R. “Buffaloes in the Corn: James Wade’s Account of Pioneer Kentucky”

The Register of The Kentucky Historical Society. Vol. 89, #1 Winter 1991.

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McCardell, John. The Idea of a Southern Nation: Southern Nationalists and Southern

Nationalism 1830-1860. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979.

Rice, Otis. A West Virginia History. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1980.

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Shaffer, John. Clash of Loyalties: A Border County In the Civil War. Morgantown: WVU

Press, 2003.

Stealey, John E. The Antebellum Kanawha Salt Business and Western Markets.

Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1993.

Stephenson, Richard W. and Marianne M. McKee. Virginia In Maps: Four Centuries of

Settlement, Growth and Development. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2000.

Twohig, Dorothy, ed. Letters of George Washington, Retirement Series. Charlottesville:

UVA Press, 1998.

Von Glahn, Richard and Paul Jakov Smith, eds. The Song Yuan Ming Transition in

Chinese History: Imagining Pre-Modern China. Cambridge: Harvard University

Press, 2003.

West Virginia, Atlas and Gazetteer: Detailed Topographic Maps. New York:

DeLorme, 2001.

Willcox, Cornelius DeWitt. A French English Military Technical Dictionary. Washington

D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1917.

Writers’ Program of the Works Projects Administration. West Virginia: A Guide to the

Mountain State. Washington: WPA and Oxford University Press, 1941.

Works Cited

Ambler, Charles Henry. Sectionalism in Virginia from 1776-1881. Chicago: University of

Chicago Press, 1910.

----------------------------, West Virginia, The Mountain State, Chicago: University of

Chicago Press, 1958.

Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire In

British North America. New York: Publisher, 2000.

Barraclough, Geoffrey. The Atlas of World History. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.

Blow, Michael. History of the Thirteen Colonies. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967.

Callahan, James Morton. History of West Virginia: Old and New. Chicago: Publisher,

1923.

Colton, Calvin. The Private Correspondence of Henry Clay. Boston: Frederick Parker,

1856.

Craf, John A. Economic Development Of The United States. New York: McGraw Hill,

1952.

Crofts, Daniel. Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis.

Chapel Hill UNC 1989.

Faulkner, Harold. American Economic History 8th Edition. New York: Harper and Row,

1960.

Hall, Granville D. The Rending of Virginia. Chicago: Publisher, 1901.

Hogan, Roseann R. “Buffaloes in the Corn: James Wade’s Account of Pioneer Kentucky”

The Register of The Kentucky Historical Society. Vol. 89, #1 Winter 1991.

Holmberg, James, ed. Dear Brother: Letters of William Clark to Jonathan Clark.

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Hull, Forrest. A Forrest Hull Sampler. Richwood W.Va.: Jim Comstock,1960.

Martineau, Harriet. Society in America London. London: Saunders and Otley, 1837.

McCardell, John. The Idea of a Southern Nation: Southern Nationalists and Southern

Nationalism 1830-1860. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979.

Rice, Otis. A West Virginia History. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1980.

Roberts, Gail. Atlas of Discovery. New York: Crown, 1973.

Shaffer, John. Clash of Loyalties: A Border County In the Civil War. Morgantown: WVU

Press, 2003.

Stealey, John E. The Antebellum Kanawha Salt Business and Western Markets.

Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1993.

Stephenson, Richard W. and Marianne M. McKee. Virginia In Maps: Four Centuries of

Settlement, Growth and Development. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2000.

Twohig, Dorothy, ed. Letters of George Washington, Retirement Series. Charlottesville:

UVA Press, 1998.

Von Glahn, Richard and Paul Jakov Smith, eds. The Song Yuan Ming Transition in

Chinese History: Imagining Pre-Modern China. Cambridge: Harvard University

Press, 2003.

West Virginia, Atlas and Gazetteer: Detailed Topographic Maps. New York:

DeLorme, 2001.

Willcox, Cornelius DeWitt. A French English Military Technical Dictionary. Washington

D.C.: U.S. Government

scribners.org

photos

Copyright DS CLARK 2006 atlanta georgia.

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