The early Civil War engagements in the hills of what eventually became West Virginia don't have the notoriety of Manassas, Gettysburg, Antietam or Chancellorsville; but the first campaign between the Union and Confederacy for a hold on the mountains, the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike and the railroads eventually led to the formation of the 35th state.
When succession of the southern states began in early 1861, and by the spring, the vast area that comprised Virginia succeeded, to the sharing of some residents in its western territory. Although no one in Randolph or its surrounding counties had cast a ballot for President Abraham Lincoln in 1860, political leaders in the northern panhandle began discussing how the counties would and could leave the home state of Virginia.
On April 17, 1861, days after Lincoln's order to seize Fort Sumter in South Carolina, a convention of Virginians voted to submit a secession bill to the people. Many western Virginia delegates marched out of the Secession Convention, vowing to form a state government loyal to the Union.
Many of these delegates gathered in Clarksburg on April 22, calling for a pro-Union convention, which met in Wheeling from May 13 to 15. On May 23, a majority of Virginia voters approved the Ordinance of Secession. Because of vote tampering and the destruction of records, it's nearly impossible to determine the vote total from present-day West Virginia.
By June 1861, both armies wanted control of the Staunton-Parkersburg Pike and the railroads in western Virginia, Union troops secured strategic positions and drove the Confederate army from the western Virginia territory after victories between Philippi and Beverly. From the early point in the war, the Union had a strong hold on western Virginia.
At Philippi, the soon-to-be commander of the Army of the Potomac Gen. George McClellan led troops in what is considered to be first organized land battle of the Civil War. Although Philippi was far from being a large battle - in fact, it's referred to as the "Philippi Races" because of the Confederate army's quick retreat - it staged the setting for a series of fights between that city, Beverly and what is now Parsons.
Like many areas, Virginia residents were divided on its support for the northern or southern causes. After the campaign, western Virginia delegates gathered in Wheeling between June 11 and June 25, 1861, for their second convention to form the Restored, or Reorganized, Government of Virginia, and chose Francis H. Pierpont as governor. President Abraham Lincoln recognized the Restored Government as the legitimate government of Virginia.
Meanwhile, McClellan sent Union forces to engage the Confederate camp at Laurel Hill, near Belington, as the Battle of Rich Mountain, outside of Beverly, was nearing.
That first campaign in valleys just west of the Allegheny Mountains squashed southern sympathy in western Virginia, McClellan thought. From Beverly, he sent a telegram to Washington, D.C., saying "Our success is complete and secession is killed in this country."
On Oct. 24, 1861, residents of 39 counties in western Virginia approved the formation of a new Unionist state. Historic accounts question the accuracy of the election results, however, because Union troops were stationed at many of the polls to prevent Confederate sympathizers from voting. At the Constitutional Convention, which met in Wheeling from November 1861 to February 1862, delegates selected the counties for inclusion in the new state of West Virginia. From the initial list, most of the counties in the Shenandoah Valley were excluded because of their control by Confederate troops and a large number of southern sympathizers.
By the end of the convention, 50 counties were selected to form West Virginia. The new state included all of present-day West Virginia's counties except Mineral, Grant, Lincoln, Summers, and Mingo, which were formed after statehood. Most of the eastern and southern counties did not support statehood, but were included for political, economic, and military purposes. The mountain range west of the Blue Ridges became the eastern border of West Virginia to provide a defense against Confederate invasion. One of the most controversial decisions involved the Eastern Panhandle counties, which supported the Confederacy. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which ran through the Eastern Panhandle, was extremely important for the economy and troop movements; and the inclusion of those counties removed all of the state's railroad from the Confederacy.
The United States Constitution says a new state must gain approval from the original state, which never occurred in the case of West Virginia. Since the Restored Government was considered the legal government of Virginia, it granted permission to itself on May 13, 1862, to form the state of West Virginia. On December 31, President Lincoln signed the bill into law, approving the creation of West Virginia as a state loyal to the Union without abolishing slavery; but in order to become a state, residents had the final say with a vote in March 1863.
As the region remembers the first western Virginia campaign of the Civil War's sesquicentennial, it must remember that if not for the conflict, the state's 150th year of statehood may not be celebrated June 20, 2013.