Tuesday, August 20, 1861
For the past two weeks, prominent western Virginians had been meeting in Wheeling to discuss forming their own state. The Second Session of the Second Wheeling Convention had been under way since August 6 and had finally proposed a dismemberment ordinance a week later.
Since then, the delegates had debated everything from when to form the new state to what to call it and how many Virginia counties were to be included.
On this date, a compromise was proposed. The original plan included all of the Shenandoah Valley counties, as well as the counties along the Potomac, near Washington. The compromise included thirty-nine counties with provisions for more. Five adjacent counties would be allowed in if their citizens voted for it. In fact, the same would be true for any adjacent county.
The state’s name was changed again. This time, it was the state of “Kanawha” (though “West Virginia” was proposed and voted down). After a bit more wrangling, the proposal was put to a vote.
Forty-eight delegates were in favor, with twenty-seven opposed. The proposal passed and now the fate of the state of Kanawha was up to the people.
A popular vote was set for the fourth Thursday of October, the 24th.1
Skirmish at Dogwood Gap and a Proclamation to Western Virginia
At the front in western Virginia, nearly 200 miles south of Wheeling, the advance Union troops, under General Cox met the advance Confederate troops, under General Wise. Col. Henry Heth’s 45th Virginia had reached Dogwood Gap along the James River and Kanawha Turnpike [where modern US 19 and US 60 cross] the previous night. In the morning the Virginians pushed the Union troops of the 11th Ohio back through the pass.
The effort was so great that General Cox believed it to be the main Confederate advance and ordered troops from Cross Lanes (near Summersville and Canifex Ferry) to guard against a flank attack at Twenty-mile Creek that never came.
Meanwhile, the Confederate advance moved up the Turnpike, sending the Union pickets scrambling past Hawks Nest [near the modern town of Anstead]. There they met over 500 Union troops, called up by Cox. Unable to push on, the Rebels retired to Dogwood Gap with a handful killed and wounded.2
As the advance guards battled throughout the day, General Floyd’s main body was headed straight for Carnifex Ferry, left unguarded by General Cox, pulling his troops together for a supposed flank attack. 3
Though the previous weeks had been filled with Generals Wise and Floyd complaining to and about each other, this day saw the affair maintain a level of practicality. Some back-and-forth was initiated over Wise needing more wagons and Floyd telling him that there were no more, but aside from that, both Generals were able to put aside their rivalry to do the needful. This allowed them to push back Union pickets and steal a march on the enemy.4
Also on this day, General Rosecrans, commander of all Federal troops in Western Virginia, issued a proclamation to “The Loyal Citizens of Western Virginia” from his headquarters in Clarksburg. Mostly, it urged Western Virginians to maintain law and order. He referenced the warnings given by secessionists in hopes to scare the western counties into voting to leave the Union.
“Their tools and dupes told you you must vote for secession as the only means to insure peace,” remembered Rosecrans, “that unless you did so, hordes of abolitionists would overrun you, plunder your property, steal your slaves, abuse your wives and daughters, seize upon your lands, and hang all those who opposed them.” The Union troops (for the most part) did no such things. Instead, the secessionists “have set neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend; they have introduced a warfare only known among savages.”
“Citizens of Western Virginia, your fate is mainly in your own hands,” concluded the General. “If you allow yourselves to be trampled under foot by hordes of disturbers, plunderers, and murderers, your land will become a desolation. If you stand firm for law and order and maintain your rights, you may dwell together peacefully and happily as in former days.”5
Two More Democratic Newspapers Attacked
A frantic mob in Haverhill, Massachusetts violently kidnapped the editor of the Essex County Democrat from his home. At first, he refused to give his captors whatever information they were asking of him. Soon, “he was covered with a coat of tar and feathers, and ridden on a rail through the town.” He was then forced to swear an oath that he would “never again write or publish articles against the North and in favor of secession.”
The weekly Sentinel, from Easton, Pennsylvania was destroyed in much the same way as other recent attacks. The presses were destroyed and papers, type and anything else that could be handled, was broken or tossed out onto the street.6
Price’s Vicious Proclamation
In Missouri, General Sterling Price made a proclamation of his own. First, the commander of the Missouri State Guard reminded the “People of Missouri” that his army had been legally raised by the state, a true enough statement if General McCulloch’s Confederates from Arkansas and Louisiana were left out. His army, said Price, had “achieved a glorious victory over the foe and scattered far and wide the well-appointed army….”
While Rosecrans’ proclamation urged the Western Virginians to set aside their differences to keep law and order, Price invited “all good citizens to return to their homes and the practice of their ordinary avocations, with the full assurance that they, their families, their homes, and their property shall be carefully protected.”
What he meant by “good citizens” seemed to be slightly askew. “I at the same time warn all evil-disposed persons who may support the usurpations of any one claiming to be provisional or temporary Governor of Missouri,” wrote Price in conclusion, “or who shall in any other way give aid or comfort to the enemy, that they will be held as enemies and treated accordingly.”7
Though both Missouri and West Virginia would devolve into vicious guerrilla warfare, Missouri had a decade head start.
- Proceedings of the Second Session of the Second Wheeling Convention, August 20, 1861. [↩]
- Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox, C. Scribner’s sons, 1900. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1. Vol. 3, p800. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1. Vol. 3, p798. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p575-577. [↩]
- Appletons’ Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events, 1864. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 53, p730. [↩]