Since 2011, the nation has been commemorating of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. As the only state created out of the Civil War, this commemoration is special for West Virginia and offers an opportunity to learn more about the conflict and the formation of our state.
For West Virginians, the Civil War era began with John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 and accelerated with the commencement of fighting in 1861. As soon as it was apparent that Virginia would abandon the Union, the founders of West Virginia made plans to leave Virginia. President Lincoln called their action “our secession,” and on June 20, 1863, West Virginia became the nation’s 35th state.
The region that became West Virginia saw a great deal of military activity during the four years of conflict. What many consider the first land battle of the war took place at Philippi on June 3, 1861, when about 3,000 federal troops drove about 800 Confederates from the town. The largest military engagements fought within the borders of West Virginia were at Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown in 1862, Droop Mountain in 1863, and Summit Point in 1864.
Numerous smaller actions also were fought at places such as Scary Creek, Cheat Mountain, and Carnifex Ferry in 1861, Lewisburg in 1862, Bulltown in 1863, and Charles Town in 1864. West Virginians fought in both the Union and Confederate armies, and some town changed hands numerous times.
The West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission, created in 2009, is coordinating the state’s commemoration. In 2009, the commission planned events in Harpers Ferry to mark the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid. In the coming months and years, West Virginia will continue to commemorate the sesquicentennial. The events will include a celebration of statehood in 2013, with a special event at West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling. For information about sesquicentennial events around the state, go to www.civilwar150.wv.gov.
The West Virginia Humanities Council began its Sesquicentennial programming with an October 2009 lecture on the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid at the Jefferson County Courthouse where Brown was tried. The event was broadcast nationally on C-Span’s Book TV. The Council offers other commemorative programs, including the Sesquicentennial Speakers Bureau. For more information about the Speakers Bureau, go to www.wvhumanities.org. In addition, a special exhibit called Born of Rebellion is currently touring the state. This exhibit explores the constitutionality of statehood.
e-WV, The West Virginia Encyclopedia, a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council, includes hundreds of articles pertaining to the Civil War and the creation of West Virginia. These will be marked with a special “150” logo.
Search for all sesquicentennial articles.
This Article was written by Becky Calwell
Last Revised on January 17, 2013