This Week in the Civil War

June 17, 2011 - 9:14 AM

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 19: Virginia's pro-Union corner.

First, South Carolina seceded in December 1860, and then six other Southern slave states followed soon thereafter. Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina were the last to secede in 1861, bringing to 11 the number of Southern slave states in the Confederacy. Yet almost every border state in the Confederacy faced difficulties with those in their territories who sided with the Union. In Virginia, the mountainous northwest corner heavily favored the Union. A correspondent for The New York Times writes in a dispatch June 19 that a convention of 40 mostly mountain counties held in Wheeling this week has voted to secede from Virginia. A pro-Union Virginia government in exile is named, headed by lawyer Francis H. Pierpoint. "The Convention now in session ... have, by a formal and unanimous vote, resolved to cut loose from the Old Dominion and form for themselves a new and independent State ... the great State of Virginia is to be dismembered by the voluntary act of over a half million of her late citizens; and a new State formed from the Western part of her territory will claim a place in the Union ..." It will not be until June 1863 that West Virginia is formally admitted as a separate state in the Union.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 26: War jitters, gunboat building.

A dispatch to The Associated Press in late June reports the U.S. Navy has opened bids for the construction of a number of "steam gun-boats" as war preparations continue. There were 100 to 150 bidders, the dispatch states, adding, "the largest portion are from New England Shipyards and manufacturers." War jitters are running high. Dispatches published in the North in late June discuss speculation and rumors of a possible Confederate attack on Arlington Heights just outside the nation's capital or possibly a Confederate push near Washington at Fairfax, northern Virginia. "There are strong reasons to suspect a Confederate advance at Fairfax," one report says of the speculation, adding the Federal forces defending the capital are "deemed impregnable." Accounts late in the month speak of Confederate pickets sporadically ranging up the banks of the Potomac River while firing weapons, raising alarm in the Georgetown section of Washington. Spotters for federal forces command a high hilltop near the capital and scour the surrounding countryside for any signs of Confederate movements.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 3: Girding for battle.

The Associated Press reports as July dawns that the nation appears to be building inexorably for major combat as a contingent of federal troops cross the Potomac River from Maryland into Virginia in sight of Confederate forces: "The reporter from the Associated Press went down yesterday to see the expected move of the (federal) troops across the river ... The stars and stripes were hoisted on the south side of the river to-day by a Marylander named Saunders, in full view of the rebels, who did not fire on him ... The enemy are observed to be busily engaged in erecting outworks ... it is thought they design putting guns in a position to obstruct the march of our troops." Other dispatches in early July report about 5,000 rebels are within an hour's march of Fairfax in northern Virginia including "large bodies of horsemen" and adds that four rebels were killed by the Pennsylvania pickets on July 4, 1861. President Abraham Lincoln, who had called a special session of Congress for July 4, uses the occasion to declare that the war is a struggle for maintaining a form of government whose object is to preserve national unity and "elevate the condition of men." Lincoln tells Congress that 500,000 more men are needed for the Union forces in the war between the states. Congress authorizes the large-scale troop mobilization.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 10: Views on Independence.

As the Union calls up more troops, the 11-state Confederacy is also marshaling its soldiers for war. From farms and cities throughout the South, more units are organizing for the fight, the names of the officers and numbers of rank-and-file troops listed in newspaper accounts of the era. Some of the men are so young, teenagers still, that they must ask their fathers' permission to fight. The Southern Recorder of Milledgeville, Ga., editorialized on July 9, 1861, about what the recently concluded Independence Day meant for many in the South: "Hitherto, when strangers visited Philadelphia their first inclination, and, as they esteemed it, their first duty was to see Independence Hall ... The Day, however, which has been thus consecrated in the annuals of Liberty, does not attach as the exclusive property of the North, like Independence Hall in which the Congress of 1776 framed and signed the immortal Declaration. The people of the Southern Confederacy freely give up the Hall, and wish that the North may carefully preserve it as a hallowed memento of a common struggle and a common triumph; but the principles of the Declaration the South will forever cherish, as they are taught by it that Governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed."