West Virginia is the only state born out of the Civil War, and its allegiances were severely divided by the conflict. Many residents served the Confederate cause, a majority of them joining the Virginia forces mobilized by Gov. John Letcher. Many saw their duty as the defense of their homes and soil from a Northern invasion.
Analysis of service records shows that the typical West Virginia Confederate volunteer was a farmer in his early 20s, about five feet, 10 inches tall. Half the soldiers were married when they entered service. As with the Confederate forces from other states, the majority served in the infantry, with the cavalry being the second most popular branch of service. Fewer than 1,000 served in the artillery and a few hundred served in other capacities, such as medical, navy, or marines. Confederate units composed principally of West Virginians included the 22nd, 31st, 36th, and 62nd Virginia infantry regiments; the 26th, 30th, and 45th battalions of Virginia infantry; the 8th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Virginia cavalry regiments; and Bryan’s, Chapman’s, and Lowry’s artillery batteries. West Virginia Confederate soldiers fought in most of the battles east of the Mississippi, including Gettysburg, first and second Manassas, Antietam, and countless lesser skirmishes.
It is difficult to determine the number of Confederate soldiers from West Virginia. Records were destroyed when the Confederate capitol at Richmond burned, and regimental rosters were captured or destroyed in battle. For decades the most often quoted number of West Virginia Confederates was 7,000. More recent research, using sources such as the Compiled Service Records, shows that 16,000 to 18,000 men from West Virginia fought for the Confederacy.
If we accept the generally quoted figure that 32,000 men from West Virginia fought for the Union, the significance of 18,000 Confederates is that the true ratio of Union to Confederate soldiers from West Virginia counties is not five or six to one as historians held for many years. This ratio of 32,000 to 18,000 shows that loyalties of the West Virginia counties were not as unbalanced in favor of the Union as was once thought.
This Article was written by Jack L. Dickinson
Dickinson, Jack L. Tattered Uniforms and Bright Bayonets: West Virginia's Confederate Soldiers. Huntington: Marshall University Foundation, 1995.
Howard, Harold E. The Virginia Regimental Histories Series. Appomattox, VA: H. E. Howard, 1996.
"Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Virginia," Microfilm publication #324. National Archives.