By Ben Crookshanks
If it were not for the Civil War, West Virginia would still be a part of Virginia. Prior to the Civil War, Virginia was truly a house divided. In the eastern portion of the state were the large tobacco plantations and slavery was an integral part of life. Slavery could only be profitable on a large scale. In the western mountains there were small family farms that produced livestock and food crops. Here, slavery was not practical. People of the area had wanted to separate from Virginia even while it was still a colony. After the Revolutionary War the animosity toward the eastern part of the state only got worse. The citizens felt they were unfairly taxed since they got precious little benefit from the money they were sending to Richmond.
After Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Virginia seceded from the Union. The western counties declared their independence from Virginia and formed the Restored Government of Virginia and petitioned Congress to allow them to join the Union.
Technically, the creation of West Virginia was illegal. Article 4, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution says, "...no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State..." Lincoln did not exactly break the law, but he did bend it considerable by sneaking West Virginia into the Union. He reasoned that since Virginia had seceded from the Union it was not actually a part of the United States. Legal or illegal, West Virginia became the 35th state on June 20, 1863.
The battles fought in West Virginia were small compared with the rest of the war. The state was so rugged that it was difficult to move large forces into the region. Nevertheless West Virginia was valuable to both sides during the war. It was a source of food and salt for the South. The coal mines provided coal for the factories and homes in the North. Also the railroads running across the northern part of the state were a link between Washington D.C. and the Midwest.
After the war, Virginia invited West Virginia to reunite with it; West Virginia refused. Virginia then insisted West Virginia owed $15 million as part of the state debt at the time of separation. For years legal battles over this issue were carried on. It was settled in 1915, when the Supreme Court ruled that West Virginia owed Virginia $12,393,929.50. The debt was finally paid off in 1939.
Since West Virginia was a direct product of the Civil War, each year there are several reenactments in cities where important battles took place. A reenactment of the Battle of Lewisburg which occurred on May 23, 1863, took place on Memorial Day weekend-May 24-26. During the battle, Confederate soldiers under General Henry Heth approached Lewisburg from the east and attacked General George Crook's forces camped on a hill just west of the town. Situated almost directly between the two armies was The Old Stone Church. Miraculously the church was untouched. After the battle, it was used as a hospital and temporary morgue. If you would like more information contact Darlene Fife (304) 645-6910 email firstname.lastname@example.org.