October 24, 1861 — The U.S. state of West Virginia was formed out of western Virginia today, making it one of two American states formed during the American Civil War (1861–1865), along with Nevada.
Of the 46 members of the convention that represented what became West Virginia, 9 voted for the ordinance of secession, 7 were absent, 1 was excused, and 29 were against.
Originally part of the British Virginia Colony (1607–1776), its population became sharply divided over the issue of secession from the Union and in the separation from Virginia. The state’s history was profoundly affected by its mountainous terrain, spectacular river valleys, and rich natural resources. Historians explain that thee were all factors driving its economy and the lifestyles of residents, as well as drawing visitors to the “Mountain State” in the early 21st century.
In 1861, however, guerrilla warfare gripped the new state, especially in the Allegheny Mountain counties to the east. Loyalties were much more divided than in the Unionist northwest part of the state.
In the summer of 1861, Union troops under General George McClellan drove off Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee. This essentially freed Unionists in the northwestern counties of Virginia to form their own government as a result of the Wheeling Convention. After Lee’s departure, western Virginia continued to be a target of Confederate raids, even after the creation of the new state in 1863.
These actions focused both on supplying the Confederate Army with provisions as well as attacking the vital Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that linked the northeast with the midwest, as exemplified in the Jones-Imboden Raid.
Words of Wisdom
“I couldn’t describe the smells of West Virginia, even if I tried. It has something to do with the leaves composting in the woods, the cold trickle of little creeks and waterfalls, the ferns greening up everything. But somewhere deep below, I can smell the rock and the coal this state is built on.”