Civil War 150: West Virginia Secedes from the Confederacy

It is a common belief that when the Confederacy separated from the Union, they did so with the support and loyalty of the general public. But, just as Lincoln was viewed by many in the North as a failing president, many in the South saw the act of secession as hot-headed and wrong. In the western section of Virginia, there was a large group of counties that maintained loyalty to the Union and fought with guerrilla warfare against the Confederates for their Union cause.

Confederate family (unknown name). Library of Congress: LC-DIG-ppmsca-33455

In October of 1861, many of these loyalist came together to conceive a plan to break away from Virginia and return to the Union. Their attempts were halted by pro-Confederates until May 23, 1862, when a sanction was passed to create the new Union state of West Virginia. However, West Virginia’s admittance into the Union was delayed when Congress required that West Virginia enter the Union as an emancipated state.

West Virginia’s slave population was fairly small, so the petitioners complied by passing regulations that all slaves born after July 4, 1863, and all others after their 25th birthday, would be free. With that, West Virginia seceded from the Confederacy and returned to the Union.

Raising flag, National Guard, Harper's Ferry, W.Va. Library of Congress Image: LC-F81- 44361

With the addition of West Virginia, the North was motivated to recruit other rebellious counties in the Southern Border States to rejoin the Union. Eastern Tennessee sought to return to the North and petitioned the state legislature in Nashville, but geography deterred these efforts. When the Union army lost control of Tennessee to the Confederates, hundreds of Unionist leaders and rebels in the eastern part of the state were arrested and suffered at the hands of the southern loyalists who were tasked with preventing secession. With the fall of East Tennessee, the only state to succeed at seceding was West Virginia, an act that had a significant effect on the South in its campaign against the North.

Connie Golding earned a bachelor’s degree in History with a minor in Fine Arts from The George Washington University.