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The Southern States of America
The History of Virginia - Chapter VI


Virginia's unwillingness to Leave the Union.

Virginia was attached to the Union more strongly than any other state. None of them had done so much to create and enrich it. Her sons had taken the leading part in securing its independence, and were chiefly instrumental in framing the constitutional compact, which was designed to secure to each and all of the states the blessings of liberty and peace, without the sacrifice of rights. When objections were made by other states, in the formative period, that Virginia s vast territorial area would give her undue preponderance in the new government, with a free, self-abnegating hand, she conveyed to the United States her territory northwest of the Ohio River "for the common benefit of the Union." The Louisiana purchase made by President Jefferson, added to the national domain an area larger than the original states. The armies which acquired the larger part of Mexico, and expanded our possessions on the Pacific Ocean into imperial proportions, were commanded by Virginia generals. Indeed, the stars in the blue field of the national flag are a proof to those who know their story and significance of the Old Dominion's devotion and sacrifices for the Union. And not less earnest, though unavailing, were Virginia's efforts to preserve the Union than those she had successfully made to secure its formation and prosperity.

Never did her people rise so high above all selfish considerations, and stand upon a sublimer moral plane, than when they took up arms for their convictions of right and duty, in the then impending conflict. And it will ever be a proud recollection of Virginians that every effort short of abject humiliation and abandonment of their time-honored and sacred principles, was made by her representative bodies to avert a war which cost ten thousand millions of money (five times the value of all the slaves), and nearly 1,000,000 men who perished by the sword or by disease.

On Jan. 1, 1860, John Letcher, an ardent Union man, succeeded Henry A. Wise as governor of Virginia. In his inaugural message to the General Assembly, he strongly urged the calling of a state convention to consider and provide a remedy for the alarming state of political affairs, if the Union were to be preserved, "to which end everything should be done consistent with honor, patriotism and duty."

Disintegrating events, in rapid succession, signalized the year 1860. There were four presidential tickets in the field. Two of them represented wings or factions of the Democratic party, to wit: (1) Douglas, of Illinois, and Johnson, of Georgia; (2) Breckinridge, of Kentucky, and Lane, of Oregon. Another ticket was Lincoln, of Illinois, and Hamlin, of Maine, sectional candidates, upon an anti-slavery platform. The fourth was Bell, of Tennessee, and Everett, of Massachusetts, upon the broad platform; "The Union, the Constitution and the Enforcement of the Laws." Virginia cast her electoral vote for Bell and Everett. Lincoln received a majority of the electoral college, but fell far short of a majority of the popular vote, having received only 1,857,610 as against 2,804,560 cast for the other candidates. This election of sectional candidates by an exclusively sectional vote caused intense excitement, especially in the extreme Southern states, whose people regarded it as the precursor of a war against their reserved rights and domestic institutions.

President Buchanan was torn by conflicting opinions. He argued against the right of secession, but expressed doubt as to the right of the government to coerce a state by military force. The situation thus became more complicated and strained by the vacillation of the administration, which seemed like a ship adrift in a tempestuous sea. Seven Southern states had seceded and their senators and representatives had withdrawn from Congress. They took possession as far as possible of such of the forts and arsenals of the United States as were within their borders, and demanded those which were still held by the government.

In the midst of these exciting events, Governor Letcher, on Jan. 7, 1861, convened the General Assembly of the state in extra session. Among its first acts was a call for a state convention, the people when electing delegates thereto, to vote also on the question as to whether any ordinance changing the relations of Virginia to the other states of the Union should be submitted to a popular vote for approval or rejection. It also invited the other states of the Union to meet Virginia in a peace conference at Washington, to devise, if possible, a plan of pacification, naming as her own representatives ex-President John Tyler, William C. Rives, John W. Brockenbrough, George W. Summers and James A. Seddon, from different parts of the state, and all men of national distinction. It also appointed Mr. Tyler a commissioner to the President of the United States, and Judge John Robertson a commissioner to the states that had seceded to urge them to refrain from acts likely to cause a collision of arms, pending Virginia's efforts to secure peace. The peace conference met in Washington and the venerable ex-President Tyler was made president of it.

When the result of its anxious deliberations was transmitted to Congress, with a favorable message from President Buchanan, Senator Crittenden appealed for a vote, either for his own plan, or that of the peace congress, and Senator Hunter declared that Virginia would deeply deplore the failure of her patriotic mediation.

Though the peace conference really represented a majority of the people of the country, and a still greater preponderance of its wealth, its intelligence and patriotism, the radical element of the North had control of Congress, and rejected all propositions of compromise.

The Virginia convention, the embodiment of her sovereignty, met on Feb. 13, 1861. Its members were chosen from its ablest and most distinguished citizens without regard to party predilections. Its composition proved that the people of that state did not regard Mr. Lincoln's election as a sufficient cause for secession, for at least two-thirds of its members were elected as "Union men," and believing that there was still at the North a strong sentiment opposed to the coercion of the seceded states, the convention, "like a strong man struggling with the storms of fate," tried every expedient of negotiation in the hope of an adjustment which would restore the Union.

"Better for the South to fight for its rights within the Union than out of it," was a very general sentiment. Notwithstanding the failure of the peace conference, the convention, soon after Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, sent William Ballard Preston, Alexander H. H. Stuart and George W. Randolph as a committee to wait upon him and advise a pacific policy.

Virginia Secedes.

In the convention a report was presented recognizing the right of a state to secede, but asking for a convention of representatives from the eight Southern states still remaining in the Union, to be held at Frankfort, Ky. "The peculiar relation" of these border states "to the other states" made it proper in the judgment of the convention that they "should consult together and concert such measures for final action as the honor, the interests and the safety of the people thereof may demand." While the reports and amendments were being discussed the committee which had waited upon President Lincoln returned to Richmond and reported the result of their mission, whereupon the convention went into secret session to consider it. While thus deliberating, Mr. Lincoln, on April 15, issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 militia, apportioned among the states, to suppress combinations against the laws of the United States in the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. It was stated that the first service as signed to the forces called out, would probably be to repossess the "forts, places and property which had been seized from the Union." The quota called for from Virginia was three regiments, embracing 2,340 men, to rendezvous at Staunton, Wheeling and Gordonsville. Governor Letcher made prompt reply in these memorable words: "I have only to say that the militia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such use or purpose as they have in view. Your object is to subjugate the Southern states, and a requisition made upon me for such an object-an object, in my judgment, not within the purview of the constitution or the act of 1795-will not be complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war, and having done so, we will meet it in a spirit as determined as the administration has exhibited towards the South."

Lincoln's proclamation blasted the last hope of a peaceful settlement, and precipitated the war. It also determined the action of the convention. The Hon. John Goode, the only survivor of this distinguished body, in his Recollections of a Lifetime, gives the following account of its action in view of the President's declaration of war.

"The middle-men, so-called, who had held on to the Union as the ship-wrecked mariner holds to the last plank when the midnight storm and tempest are gathering around him, were swept away by the overwhelming tide of popular excitement. They realized that the Union had already been dissolved by the withdrawal of the seven seceding states, and that the proclamation of President Lincoln had reduced Virginia to a most distressing alternative. She must fight on one side or the other. She must unite with the North in the work of subjugation, or she must stand as the defender of her Southern sisters. She knew full well that if she attempted to secede she would have to take upon herself the principal burden of the great conflict; that every foot of her soil would be pressed by the red, fiery hoof of war, and that every field would soon become a battlefield. But she did not hesitate. She resolved that every consideration of duty and of honor required her to unite her fortunes with those of the seceding states. On April 16, William Ballard Preston submitted `An ordinance to repeal the ratification of the constitution to the United States of America by the state of Virginia and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said constitution.' Mr. Robert E. Scott, of Fauquier, submitted a substitute providing for a vote ca the fourth Thursday of May, to ascertain the preference of the people between immediate secession and a consultation with the eight slave-holding states still remaining in the Union before taking final action. After an earnest and solemn debate, during which strong men were seen to shed tears, the convention on April 17 rejected the proposed substitute and adopted, by a vote of 88 to 55, the ordinance offered by Mr. Preston.

"The ordinance was submitted to the people, and on the fourth Thursday of May it was ratified by a large majority, the vote being 125,950 for ratification, and 20,373 against it. It is proper to say that the vote in opposition was cast principally in the northeastern counties, whose members had voted against the ordinance in the convention, and which subsequently formed the new state of West Virginia."

Virginia's Army.

During the interval between the adoption of the ordinance of secession and its ratification by the people, the convention made provision for the creation of an army. Its action was kept secret for two days, in order to give the volunteer companies of the Valley time to capture the army and arsenal at Harper's Ferry, and for a sufficient force to assemble at Norfolk for the capture of the Gosport navy yard, but the Federal garrisons, learning of the movements, set fire to the buildings at both places and scuttled and burned the ships not in commission at the navy yard, and retired upon the approach of the troops. The governor was empowered to call into the service of the state "as many volunteers as might be necessary to repel invasion, and to invite all efficient and worthy Virginians in the army and navy of the United States to retire there from and to enter the service of Virginia, assigning to them such rank as would not reverse the relative rank held by them in the United States service, and would at least be equivalent thereto."

Col. Robert E. Lee was appointed commander-in-chief, with the rank of major-general, to take charge of the organization and operations of the military and naval forces of the state. Col. R. S. Garnett, then holding a commission of adjutant-general of state forces, was General. Lee's right-hand man in organizing and marshalling the troops that were to constitute the army of Virginia. The response to the governor's call for volunteers was prompt, enthusiastic and general, except in the extreme northwestern section. The "Provisional Army for the State of Virginia" was organized. The "Navy of Virginia" was established, to consist of two thousand seamen and mariners, and provision was also made for the organization of staff departments for the military forces of the state. Thus it will be seen that the organization of the army of Virginia was complete before the state formally joined the Southern Confederacy, and before its troops were merged by formal transfer with the provisional army of the Confederate States.

General Lee took up arms as a Virginian, and his people wish the world to regard him as their representative, not only in his reluctance to sever the ties which had bound them to the Union, but also in their determination to resist to the utermost the hostile invasion of their soil.

Adjutant-General Richardson reported to Governor Letcher, on April 17, 1861, the very day the state adopted its ordinance of secession, that the volunteer force of the state, rank and file, of all arms, amounted to only 18,300, of whom 6,150 were unarmed.

The expansion of this small nucleus into a grand array of sixty-four regiments and forty battalions of infantry, twenty regiments and forty battalions of cavalry, and 125 batteries of artillery, besides the engineers, the staff, the navy and marines, the militia of two classes, the local defense troops and reserves, it will be conceded was an "outburst of ability and force" exceeding that of the Revolutionary era of our history.

Until the rosters, now being compiled by the war department, are published, the number of men furnished by Virginia to the Confederacy cannot be given with certainty, but from the best data available at present, it is estimated that the total will be about 175,000, including all classes. On April 24, the convention appointed commissioners to formulate a treaty with Vice-President Stephens for provisional cooperation with the Confederate states, and on the next day ratified the agreement and adopted its provisional constitution.

Events now followed in quick succession. The seat of government of the new republic was transferred from Montgomery to Richmond, the Confederate Senate and House of Representatives were housed in the old capitol along with the Senate and House of Delegates of Virginia.

Virginia's Contribution to the Confederate Armies.

Considering the meagreness of the military resources at the time, there has never been a more striking exhibition of governmental energy in marshalling and organizing troops than was shown by the Virginia authorities, and by General Lee, as commander-in-chief, during the two months spent in getting Virginia's army ready for the field.

It was a complete organization when it was merged into the provisional army of the Confederate states. The Southern states sent their troops to Virginia as fast as they were organized, and in the north a vast army was being collected for the defense of Washington and the invasion of Virginia.

The war was now on in earnest, and Virginia, by reason of her border position, became the main battleground-the "Flanders of the South."

It is beyond the scope of this article to describe the great campaigns and battles which attracted the eyes of the world to Virginia during their progress and which invest the localities where they were tactically executed with lasting interest to historians and military students. And not to these alone for if, despite the lapse of ages, patriotism will always gain force upon the plain of Marathon, "and piety grow warmer among the ruins of Ionia," surely undying glory will cling round the Virginia fields, whereon her sons and their brothers of the South for four years confronted their gigantic foe, and won victory after victory against tremendous odds, until their country's resources were exhausted, and victory was no longer possible to human valor. No wonder that an English paper, in reviewing the long and desperate struggle, enthusiastically said: "The countrymen of Lee and Jackson have made themselves forever famous."

The "Battlefields Map," on which the battles, combats and actions which took place within the limits of the state are located with red stamps, shows an aggregate of 1,404, and presents, at a single glance, a theatre of conflict more crowded with great martial exploits, and more profusely dyed with patriot blood than any similar area of the earth's surface whereon great armies have contended.

The best history of Virginia in the Confederacy is to be gathered from the biographies of her great commanders, but it would be obviously unjust to her civil authorities, constituted as they were chiefly from eminent citizens over military age, to obscure the fact that they measured up nobly to the emergencies which confronted them.

The list of generals appointed from Virginia is as follows: The Generals-Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, Samuel Cooper (adjutant and inspector general); Lieutenant - Generals - Jackson, Hill, Ewell, Early, Pemberton; Major-Generals-Heath, Johnson, James L. Kemper, Fitzhugh Lee, G. W. C. Lee, W. H. F. Lee, Lomax, Magruder, Mahone, Maury, Pickett, Rodes, Rosser, Smith, Stevenson, Stuart, Taliaferro; Brigadier-Generals-Anderson, Armstead, Ashby, Barton, Beale, Chambliss, Chilton, Cocke, Colston, Corse, Dearing, Echols, Floyd, Garland, R. B. Garnett, R. S. Garnett, Harris, Hunton, Imboden, W. L. Jackson, Jenkins, J. M. Jones, J. R. Jones, E. G. Lee, Lilley, Long, McCausland, Moore, Munford, Page, Paxton, Payne, Pegram, Pendleton, Pryor, Randolph, Reynolds, Robertson, Ruggles, Slaughter, Starke, Stevens, Terrill, W. Terry, W. R. Terry, J. A. Walker, H. H. Walker, R. L. Walker, Weisiger, Wharton, Wickham, Wise.

The Virginians in the old navy came home promptly upon the call. They were a splendid galaxy, and wanted only the opportunity to achieve greater success and distinction than was possible under the existing conditions. But the naval power of the North was a far more effective factor in the overthrow of the Confederacy than were its land forces. This was because of its overwhelming preponderance as compared with the Confederate naval power. Many instances may be cited when the armies of the North, after defeat in the field, sought safety under the guns of their fleets. This was McClellan's refuge at Harrison's Landing, after the seven days' battles around Richmond. It severed the Confederacy, and made of no avail the large body of troops and much needed food supplies in the Trans-Mississippi country. When Grant's "Onto Richmond" was arrested by the disaster to his army at second Cold Harbor, the navy was invoked to aid in the transfer of his base to the south side of the James. It is marvellous, in view of this immense superiority in naval power and armament, that the Confederate navy made so brilliant a record. The explanation is to be found in the genius and audacity of its splendid personnel. The great sea fight in Hampton Roads, in which the home-made ironclad Virginia (Merrimac), with her wooden consorts, the Raleigh, the Henry, the Jefferson and Teaser, sank the Cumberland and Congress, and drove the Monitor to the shelter of shallow water, revolutionized naval warfare the world over, and made a glorious chapter in the annals of the sea, worthy of the days of Nelson and John Paul Jones.

The war governors of Virginia were the Hon. John Letcher and Gen. William Smith, ripe statesmen and noble patriots, the latter having won laurels in the field before being called, for the second time, to the chair of state. President Davis and the Confederate government had no more earnest and loyal supporters, and never had the state more devoted and efficient executives. Adopting Grattan's phrase in regard to Irish freedom to Virginia in the Confederacy, it may be truly said that Letcher "sat at its cradle" and Smith "followed its hearse."

There is a part of the history of this war period which no true American can recall without a blush of shame. It relates to the wanton cruelties and outrages upon unoffending citizens, notably in the Shenandoah Valley, and the brutal disregard of the usages of civilized warfare and the dictates of humanity by some of the officers of highest rank in the Union army. Monuments may be erected to them, but their infamy cannot escape the avenging pen of history. "Since the fall of Robespierre," said the Hon. Jeremiah S. Black, "nothing has occurred to cast so much disrepute upon Republican institutions."

The defense of Richmond was not so important because it was the capital of the state and of the Confederacy, as from the fact that its foundries, rolling mills, manufacturing establishments and railroad connections were, practically, the only source for the supply of the war and railway material essential to the maintenance of the armies in the field. The loss of Richmond, at any period of the war, would probably have been fatal to the Confederacy. The campaigns of the army of Northern Virginia, including Jackson's and Early's campaigns in the Valley, which caused consternation in Washington, were planned primarily for the defense of Richmond, and this must be borne in mind in studying them. The Federal government from the beginning realized the importance of capturing Richmond, and the Federal army, sent out in 1861, which was defeated at Manassas by Beauregard and others, was moving towards Richmond. In 1862, the famous campaigns around Richmond directed by McClellan, which came to defeat at the hands of Joseph E. Johnston and Robert E. Lee, were for the same purpose. This was followed by Burnside's attempt and his defeat by Lee at Fredericksburg, and Hooker's attempt and his defeat by Lee at Chancellorsville in May, 1863. The effort to capture Richmond was renewed in the spring of 1864 by General Grant, and was never abandoned until the Confederacy fell.

When Richmond was evacuated April 2, 1865, the fall of the Confederacy was at hand. It was a great heroic struggle that had been made to hold the capital of the Confederacy, and it took four years for the Federal armies to conquer it.


The population of Virginia by the census of 1860 was 1,579,318. As a result of the war and dismemberment of the state it was 1,225,163 in 1870.

No sketch of the Confederacy is complete which fails to mention the work of the Virginia women and their Southern sisters. The influence they wielded was second to none other in its effect upon the fortunes of the Confederacy. But for the enthusiasm and encouragement so lavishly supplied from this inspiring source, the labors of statesmen and the plans of generals might have gone for nought.

"Eras," says Froude, "like individuals, differ from one another in the species of virtue which they encourage. In one age we find the virtues of the warrior, in the next of the saint." In the era of which we have written, Virginia had the honor of giving to the world a representative Hero, in whom the highest virtues of warrior and Christian were happily blended - a model for the uplifting of the human race and the exaltation of the moral standards of the world.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. - Anderson, Archer: "Robert Edward Lee" (an Address delivered at the unveiling of the equestrian monument in Richmond); Bell, J. W.: Memoirs of Gov. William Smith; Bruce, P. A.: Robert E. Lee (American Crisis Biographies); Dabney, R. L.: Defence of Virginia and of the South; Davis, Jefferson: Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government; Goode, John: Recollections of a Lifetime, Gordon, John B.: Reminiscences o f the Civil War; Henderson, G. F. R.: Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, Hotchkiss, Jed.: Confederate Military History (Vol. III, Virginia); Lee, Robert E.: Recollections and Letters of General R. E. Lee, Lee, Fitzhugh: General R. E. Lee (Great Commander Series); Long, A. L.: Memoirs of General Lee; McCabe, W. Gordon: "Siege of Petersburg" (an Address before the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia); McGuire, Christian: The Confederate Cause and Conduct in the War between the States; Taylor, Richard: Destruction and Reconstruction; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Southern Historical Society Publications.

Secretary of Virginia Military Records, Richmond.

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