This Week in the Civil War

AP News
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Posted: May 13, 2011 3:56 AM
This Week in the Civil War

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, May 15: West Virginia, a state born of war.

In a May 12, 1861, dispatch to The Associated Press from Wheeling, in the future state of West Virginia, a correspondent reports the region is stirring with calls to break away from Virginia and side with the Union. Accounts speak of the region's leaders arriving in Wheeling on trains from pro-Union counties all around, filling up hotels in preparation for a two- or three-week convention to consider breaking with Virginia and siding with the Union.

"The town is alive with delegates to the Convention and they are continually arriving," the correspondent writes to AP of a gathering marked by a flurry of speeches and calls for action. "The speeches took determined grounds and favored immediate separation from the state (of Virginia). They were received with great enthusiasm."

Reports note an overwhelming sentiment in what was then Northwestern Virginia that the "only safety is in the Union." The dispatches add that two companies have already been mustered from the area for the Union fight and more are expected later. It is only a matter of time before West Virginia becomes the only state born of the Civil War.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, May 22: Virginia ratifies secession.

On May 23, 1861, voters in a Virginia convention ratify an ordinance for the state's secession from the Union as a divided nation lurched toward all-out war. South Carolina had been the first state to secede in December 1860, followed soon after by six other Southern slave states. Virginia initially was among states seeking a way out of the crisis and delegates initially opposed secession in February 1861. But the Confederate artillery attack on federal troops at Fort Sumter, S.C., in April joins other developments in shifting the mood on the political landscape. In late May, Richmond replaces Montgomery, Ala., as the capital of the Confederacy and its president, Jefferson Davis, arrived there to great fanfare on May 29, 1861. Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina secede this month, bringing to 11 the number of Southern states forming the Confederacy.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, May 29: Lincoln's troops off Virginia, shots fired.

President Abraham Lincoln, moving to enforce a previously declared blockade on Southern seaports, bolsters Union forces at Fort Monroe near Hampton, Va., one key to his strategy to cut supply lines to secessionists and dominate the coast between Virginia and the Carolinas.

Both sides are on edge. A correspondent for The Associated Press reports from Fort Monroe in late May that the area bristles with Union troops: "A force of 7,500 men, including a few regulars and 4 pieces of artillery, formed to-day ... near the mouth of the James River, about ten miles from Fortress Monroe." The dispatch adds: "The rebel battery fired four shots ... and though over three miles distant, the shot fell but little short, indicating that the guns of the rebel battery are of the heaviest calibre." Other dispatches report a number of runaway slaves are streaming to the fort from the Virginia countryside and Union commanders are holding them as "contraband of war." One escaped slave is quoted in a May 27 dispatch of the Boston Journal as saying: "We heard that if we could get in here we should be free, or, at any rate, we should be among friends."

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 5: The business of war to come.

The New York Tribune, echoing the uncertainty of Northerners and Southerners alike, speculates on the shape and scope of the looming war and the Union strategy as the hot summer approaches: "During the coming Summer our troops will doubtless be chiefly employed in holding the forts, navy yards, and arsenals now in our possession in the seceded States; in fortifying and protecting the national Capital and ... (in) being prepared to protect loyal and punish rebellious citizens." But such newspaper speculation doesn't foresee the grinding July battles on the horizon, nor the length and final cost of the conflict, adding "when autumn shall usher in invigorating breezes, heavy columns will descend into the rebel territories ... till our flag waves in triumph ..."

Other dispatches report Washington is well garrisoned with troops from the North and special provisions have been made for the feeding of such a fighting force. A Washington baker, according to accounts, proposes erecting large ovens to bake bread for Union soldiers defending the capital. The Secretary of War requisitions rail cars from the North to transport troops toward Manassas Junction, northern Virginia, for battles to come.