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Virginia at War, 1861

Virginia at War, 1861

William C. Davis
James I. Robertson
Series: Virginia at War
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Virginia at War, 1861
    Book Description:

    Although nine of the former British colonies joined the United States before Virginia, the fate of the new republic depended heavily on the Commonwealth. With four of the first five American presidents, and many other founding fathers and framers of the Constitution, calling Virginia their home, the roots of American democracy are firmly planted within the borders of the Old Dominion. Similarly, several Southern states preceded Virginia in seceding from the Union, but until Virginia joined them in April 1861, the Confederacy lacked cohesion. Richmond was immediately named the capital of the fledgling nation, and by the end of spring, Virginia had become the primary political and military theater in which the grand tragedy of the Civil War was enacted. Virginia at War, 1861, edited by acclaimed historians William C. Davis and James I. Robertson Jr., vividly portrays the process of secession, the early phases of conflict, and the struggles of Virginians to weather the brutal storms of war. Virginia at War, 1861 is the first in a series of volumes on each of Virginia's five years as a Confederate state. Essays by eight noted Civil War scholars provide a three-dimensional view of Virginians' experiences during the first year of the War Between the States. In addition to recounting the remarkable military events taking place in Virginia in 1861, this collection examines a civilian population braced for war but divided on crucial questions, an economy pressed to cope with the demands of combat, and a culture that strained to reconcile its proud heritage with its uncertain future. In 1861, the outcome of the Civil War was far from determined, but for Virginians there was little doubt that the war experience would alter nearly everything they had known before the outbreak of hostilities. In exacting detail, Virginia at War, 1861 examines the earliest challenges of the Civil War, the changes war wrought, and the ways in which Virginians withstood and adapted to this profound, irrevocable upheaval.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7171-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xi)
    William C. Davis and James I. Robertson Jr.
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. The Virginia State Convention of 1861
    (pp. 1-26)
    James I. Robertson Jr.

    On Wednesday, April 17, 1861, an air of tension engulfed Richmond, Virginia. All eyes focused on the Capitol Building. There two months of seemingly endless debate by the Virginia State Convention was about to climax. A few days earlier, the artillery batteries of seven Confederate states had bombarded Fort Sumter, South Carolina, into surrender. The Union’s new president, Abraham Lincoln, had responded with a call on all states for seventy-five thousand militia to put down an insurrection “too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.”¹

    Virginia—the “Mother State”—now was caught literally in the middle...

  6. Land Operations in Virginia in 1861
    (pp. 27-44)
    Craig L. Symonds

    On April 17, 1861, three days after Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in far away Charleston, South Carolina, the delegates to Virginia’s state convention, who up to that moment had generally opposed disunion, passed an ordinance of secession by a vote of 88 to 55. Most Virginians had been willing to adopt a wait-and-see attitude toward the new Republican president, and believed that the precipitous secession by seven southern states that winter had been, at best, premature. But after Fort Sumter when Abraham Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand volunteers to “suppress” the seceded states and “to maintain the honor,...

  7. Confederate Soldiers in Virginia, 1861
    (pp. 45-64)
    Joseph T. Glatthaar

    Most scholars and students of the Civil War simply assume that soldiers from rural areas were vastly superior to the urban enlistees. They believe that those from farms and the country had greater familiarity with weapons from hunting, and they unquestionably rode horses better. We presume that farmers were jacks-of-all-trades, people who could fix almost anything. While he might lack the sophistication and education of his urban counterparts, the rural soldier had developed his own horse sense, a kind of good-judgment compass that steered him through the morasses of military life. Surely those many days out hunting game taught them...

  8. “A Navy Department, Hitherto Unknown to Our State Organization”
    (pp. 65-88)
    John M. Coski

    Governor John Letcher had opposed secession, and embraced it only after the state convention voted on the evening of April 17, 1861, to take Virginia out of the Union. Within hours, the reluctant governor was a commander in chief, confronting the challenge of saving the state’s two most important military assets: the federal armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry and the Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth directly across the Elizabeth River from the vital port of Norfolk. Officials in Norfolk were particularly anxious about the fate of the yard. They informed Letcher on April 17 that they had sunk three...

  9. Afro-Virginians’ Attitudes on Secession and Civil War, 1861
    (pp. 89-112)
    Ervin L. Jordan Jr.

    Virginia in 1861 was a biracial commonwealth of more than half a million blacks and slightly more than a million nervous whites (1,047,411 whites; 548,907 blacks, of which 490,865 were slaves and 58,042 were free blacks). In one sense, the Old Dominion personified black America because it had more black inhabitants than anywhere else in North America and the most enslaved blacks in the Western Hemisphere except Brazil. One of every six of the Confederacy’s 3.7 million blacks lived in Virginia.¹

    Regardless of their numbers, there are inherent difficulties in discerning black Virginians’ true feelings about secession during the first...

  10. Richmond Becomes the Capital
    (pp. 113-130)
    William C. Davis

    When the Deep South states began their careers in secession, there was virtually no coordination or even much cooperation among them. Each acted independently. Indeed, previous attempts among a few ardent disunionists to bring about a coordinated movement had been rebuffed indignantly by secession men in several states like Mississippi and Georgia, because they perceived it as outside interference in their “state sovereignty.” Thus when South Carolina passed its ordinance of secession in December 1860, there was no prearranged next step. The Palmetto State was simply out on a limb by itself. Nevertheless, secession leaders there and elsewhere naturally assumed...

  11. The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia
    (pp. 131-148)
    Michael Mahon

    Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains on the west, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia runs southwestward from Harpers Ferry for more than 160 miles to Lexington, Virginia. Although considerable in length, the Valley is not very wide, averaging thirty miles. A landscape of breathtaking splendor and fertility, the Valley for decades had been recognized as one of the most agriculturally productive regions of the state.

    Yet at the start of 1861, the Valley’s abundant fertility was not the prevailing thought in the minds of most Shenandoah inhabitants. Of greater concern was the secession...

  12. The Tarnished Thirty-fifth Star
    (pp. 149-158)
    C. Stuart McGehee

    “I should like to show those traitors at Richmond . . . that we are not to be transferred like the cattle on the hills or the slaves on their plantations, without our knowledge and consent,” wrote Chester Hubbard, delegate from Ohio County, after news of the Virginia 1861 Secession Ordinance reached the Ohio Valley. Hubbard’s impassioned anti-secession rhetoric perfectly captured the fierce sentiments of those Ohio Valley unionists who created the state of West Virginia during the Civil War.¹

    West Virginia statehood is one of the most fascinating and controversial results of the Civil War, an event of constitutional...

  13. Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War, 1861
    (pp. 159-224)
    Judith Brockenbrough McGuire

    Some of the most revealing chronicles of life during the Civil War came from the busiest people. Moreover, those who preserved records and observations, and wrote about them, tended to be well educated and farsighted. Judith Brockenbrough McGuire was in those relatively small classes.

    HerDiary of a Southern Refugee during the Waris among the first such works published after the Civil War. The book initially appeared in 1867 published in New York by E.J. Hale and Son, and has been reprinted four times subsequently. It is one of the most widely quoted memoirs by a Confederate lady.¹ Yet...

  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 225-230)
  15. Index
    (pp. 231-242)