CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- We are on the exciting edge of celebrating the 150th anniversary of West Virginia. Many of our state's historic events will be reviewed and retold at public gatherings.
We must remember West Virginia was not simply born out of a rebellion. It didn't happen in a timelapse gasp, not as simply as lowering one flag and raising another. The state was not just a product of the Civil War. It was a rocky, uncertain road to statehood.
While it is true in the 1850s and early 1860s that western Virginia's citizens felt isolated from the government in Richmond, the same was true in other states like New York, where distant rural New Yorkers didn't feel represented by folks in Albany or New York City.
It is true that cultural differences existed between some eastern plantation owners and aristocrats east of the Appalachians and more rugged frontier types of western Virginia. And yet, in much of western Virginia, folks held a strong loyalty to Richmond. And if the war polarized the western Virginians, it did so in a nonproductive way, because many in western Virginia were for the Confederacy. Slavery was not a point of difference either, because many in what became north central West Virginia owned slaves, and slave markets flourished in towns such as Pruntytown in Taylor County. Many western Virginians took up arms for the South during the war.
Many of western Virginia's favorite sons became military leaders and proudly saluted the Stars and Bars. Most famous of these were General "Stonewall" Jackson, General Echols and Colonel George Patton all fought against the Union and were against West Virginia from becoming a separate state. And that sentiment just did not end at war's end.
Even after the war ended, according to Roy Bird Cook, there was a pro-south resolution introduced in the West Virginia statehouse in Charleston to return West Virginia to the state of Virginia.
Thus, there were these southern sympathizers in western Virginia who would oppose and vote against any premature bolting from Confederate Virginia in 1860 and 1861, and yet, there was an opposing pro-union force led by Sen. John Carlile of Clarksburg who threatened the explosive climate by wanting a referendum vote much too early to force separation and West Virginia statehood. Fortunately, cooler, more rational heads, such as Francis Pierpont and Joseph Lightburn, prevailed.
It took more than two years into the Civil War, two years of bargaining, Congressional negotiations, hard work and resolve by Pierpont and others to set up a legal pathway for the 35th state. Every school child in West Virginia should know why Frank Pierpont is known as the "Father of West Virginia" Much credit should also go to President Lincoln and Sen. Waitman T. Willey as catalysts in the legal ratification process that, with Virginia's Commonwealth, approval launched West Virginia as an annexed, independent state of the Union.
Anderson lives in Bridgeport.