The Civil War – West Virginia Becomes Union and 35th State

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

When Virginia’s state constitution was passed in 1776, differences
between eastern and western parts of the states were already evident
– typically large land owners in the east against the new smaller
landholders of the western part of Virginia.

Although through the end of the 18th century and during the early
19th century, concessions were made to eliminate some of the
differences, the eastern population still held the upper hand. In
1829, a new state constitution was created, but it still favored the
east. The western part of the state overwhelmingly voted against
the new constitution. Almost instantly, there were calls for the
western section of the state of Virginia to break away.

By early 1861, it was clear that the State of Virginia would secede
from the Union, while there was strong pro-Union support in the
western areas. Many of the western delegates walked out of the
Secession Convention, when Virginia made the decision to leave the
Union.

According to the West Virginia Statehood website of the West
Virginia Archives and History, “Following a Union victory at the
Battle of Philippi and the subsequent occupation of northwestern
Virginia by General George B. McClellan, the Second Wheeling
Convention met between June 11 and June 25, 1861.

Delegates formed the Restored, or Reorganized, Government of
Virginia, and chose Francis H. Pierpont as governor. President
Lincoln recognized the Restored Government as the legitimate
government of Virginia. John Carlile and Waitman T. Willey became
United States Senators and Jacob B. Blair, William G. Brown, and
Kellian V. Whaley became Congressmen representing pro-Union
Virginia. On October 24, 1861, residents of thirty-nine counties in
western Virginia approved the formation of a new Unionist state.
The United States Constitution says a new state must gain approval
from the original state, which never occurred in the case of West
Virginia. Since the Restored Government was considered the legal
government of Virginia, it granted permission to itself on May 13,
1862, to form the state of West Virginia.”

On the last day of 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the bill that
approved the creation of the state of West Virginia as a Union state,
without having to abolish slavery. The citizens of the new state
approved the statehood legislation on March 26, 1863. On June 20,
1863, the State of West Virginia was created officially and legally.

But gaining status as a Union state did not settle differences, since
families of the newly formed state sent men to war for both the
Yankee and Rebel forces.