West Virginia became the 35th state of the Union on June 20, 1863. Created in the midst of the Civil War, West Virginia provided to the Union Army 31,872 regular army troops, 133 sailors and marines, and 196 United States Colored Troops, during that terrible conflict of 1861-1865. It is also estimated that somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000 men served in the Confederate Army in this war of “brother versus brother.”
This web site is dedicated to the honor and memory of the Civil War soldiers, sailors, and marines of West Virginia.
The history of the First Regiment of Virginia Union Volunteer Infantry antedated the organization and formation of the new State. It was a part of the old Virginia military establishment, Governor Peirpoint having been appointed Provisional Governor of the State of Virginia by President Lincoln, the State government being established at Wheeling, by reason of that portion of the State east of the Alleghanies having joined its fortunes with the Confederacy through the operation of secession.
This regiment of Loyal Virginia Infantry was the first regiment organized on Southern soil for the defense of the nation under the call of President Lincoln. The regiment was organized at Wheeling, the first company being mustered into the service of the United States on May 10, 1861. On May 23, the organization of the regiment was complete, Colonel Benjamin F. Kelley being assigned to the command by the then Provisional Governor of Virginia, Francis H. Peirpoint.
The condition of the public mind in and about the city of Wheeling at the time this regiment was organized was such that grave fears were entertained by very many loyal people that it would be unsafe to send arms and equipments of war with which to equip this regiment, to the city of Wheeling. Several patriotic gentlemen whose loyalty never was questioned, residents of Wellsburg, the county seat of Brooke, the adjoining county on the north, made application to the Secretary of War, and through the kind offices of Governor Andrews, of Massachusetts, arms were secured for this regiment. They were sent to Wellsburg in the care of Messrs. W. H. Carothers and Cambell Tarr. Louis Applegate and Adam Kuhn were associated with them in the receiving and transferring of these arms by steamboat to Wheeling, where they were turned over to the regiment. On May 27, the regiment was placed under marching orders.
The good people of Wheeling had furnished them with a supply of blankets and clothing, but they were without knapsacks, haversacks, cartridge-boxes or any other of the habiliments of regularly organized troops, save that in their hands they clasped an old United States Springfield musket.
Colonel Kelley applied for transportation to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which was refused upon the grounds that the railroad company proposed to remain neutral in the question of war as between the sections, the agent stating that an order had been issued that the road would not carry either troops or munition of war for either side. Colonel Kelley emphasized the following language in reply to the agent: “This is war. Railroad companies cannot be their own masters. They are to serve the government that guarantees to them possession and protection for their property. You have a train of cars in the depot to-morrow morning at four o’clock or I will place you in prison and take possession of your railroad by military authority.” No further argument was needed. The agent communicated with the company and the cars were accordingly furnished and afterwards, throughout the entire war, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad continued to perform any service necessary for the successful transaction of the war. The regiment left Wheeling May 27th on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.They were joined at Benwood by some Ohio troops under Colonel Irvin, and two days afterwards, at Camp Buffalo, the 15th Ohio joined the command. On the 31st, Grafton was occupied by our troops, while the Confederates under Colonel Porterfield retired. On the morning of June 3, the first battle was fought at Philippi, West Virginia, in which the First Virginia participated, Colonel Kelley being wounded in the affray. Here is a notable incident in the history of the regiment. It was not only to bear in history the record of having been the first loyal regiment formed on Southern soil, but the additional historic incident is now given to it by reason of Colonel Kelley being the first officer wounded in the great War of the Rebellion.
It would be impossible to trace out the meanderings of this regiment through the three months’ service that followed. Suffice it to say they participated in all the historic campaign of the early war in the mountains of West Virginia. The regiment completed its service and returned to Wheeling, where it was mustered out of service on the 28th day of August.
Of the three months’ organization it is sufficient to say that Henry B. Hubbard, of Wheeling, was lieutenant-colonel; Isaac H. Duval, of Wellsburg, was major; John B. Lukens, of Wheeling, was adjutant; Isaac M. Pumphrey was quartermaster; Dr. Joseph Thoburn was surgeon, and Dr. J. D. M. Carr, assistant-surgeon.
Fifth West Virginia Cavalry, Company D On the first Monday after Pres. Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops for three months service, Thomas Gibson Jr. began to recruit a company in the city of Pittsburgh, Pa.; but not succeeding in securing the full complement of men, the company was not accepted by the Governor. Recruiting was continued, and when the next call for troops came, they again tried to enter the service, but having only fifty men, the company was again refused. But amid the excitement, they determined to mount and equip themselves, and go as an independent organization. While arrangements were being made to that end, word was received from Wheeling, Va., that troops were wanted there, for the protection of the threatened border. The company unanimously decided to go to that city and enter the service there, proceeding by boat, and arriving in Camp Carlisle in May. Captain Gazzam, of Pittsburgh, was there with about the same number of men as Captain Gibson, and by an understanding between the two Captains, the two companies were consolidated. On June 14, 1861 the company was mustered into U.S. service and was mustered out on June 16, 1864. The recruits and veterans were then transferred to the 6th. W.V. Calvary.
With the crack of a rifle and the thundering resound of a cannon, West Virginia cast its lot with the Union and became inextricably linked with the bloodiest war in American history. Western Virginia was at the forefront of the Civil War from the beginning. With John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the southern states became paralyzed with fear. John Brown, a fiery evangelical famous and infamous for his passion for emancipation, attacked the arsenal with the goal of arming slaves in the southern states to start their own rebellion. The Harpers Ferry National Historic Park has managed to keep the armory’s engine house, Brown’ headquarters during the fight, exactly as it appeared over 140 years ago. Wheeling, Wv is a area rich in history. From the beginning of the settlement to the break away from Virginia in forming West Virginia. West Virginians played a important part in the Civil War, and Wheeling’s young men were their for our countries call.
The Birth of West Virginia
Following Brown’s trial and subsequent hanging, the nation hoped and prayed for a diplomatic solution, but that fateful day when southern forces fired on Fort Sumter marked the end of the debate over the role of slavery in the United States. While the majority of Virginia’s state delegates voted to secede, 32 of the 47 delegates who voted to stay in the Union were from western Virginia. Western Virginians were evenly split between those favoring union and emancipation and others favoring the rights of states and slavery. It was even rumored that the vote for western Virginia to form a new and free state had to be rigged, as allegiance to the South was so strong in many areas. In Wheeling, West Virginia Independence Hall served as the home of the Restored Government of Virginia in what became the original capitol city of West Virginia. Now a museum, visitors can see Civil War artifacts as well as listen to costumed guides tell the story of the birth of the Mountain State on June 20, 1863.
With the North and South realizing that allegiances in western Virginia were mixed, they both struggled for dominance and moved in immediately to take over strategic areas. Unknown to many, Parkersburg was once home to thousands of Union troops and placed under martial law due to its Confederate sympathies and its new status as a major river port for oil shipping. The Parkersburg Oil and Gas Museum looks at the role oil played in early western Virginia and how many of the statesmen pushing for western Virginia’s independence were actually newly rich oilmen from the nearby oilfields at Burning Springs. As thousands of troops poured in from both sides, western Virginia divided, brother against brother at times, to join the Civil War.
Organ Cave is the second largest commercial cave on the east coast and a National Historic Landmark. The walls of the cave glitter with salt petre, a primary ingredient in black powder, used by Robert E. Lee’ s troops during the Civil War. Within the depths of Organ Cave is the Hopper Room, a well-preserved refinery and one of the largest selections of Civil War Hoppers in the U.S. Visitors can walk the trails used by the troops and enjoy the acoustics of the “Chapel Room,” that once housed 1,100 confederate soldiers.