CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the most heroic yet least chronicled chapters in the American Civil War is the admittance of West Virginia into Union statehood.
Conventional history often marks the event in passing, what with the tumultuous backdrop of a rapidly escalating war in 1863, or even neglect as was the case with Ken Burn's PBS documentary The Civil War.
But the epic struggle of the loyal mountain people of western Virginia and the extremes to which they sought to be repatriated with the United States is one of the finest accounts in all of American history.
What is little recognized is the signal bravery of West Virginia's founders who literally risked their lives and families' fortune for their role in secession from the Confederate States of America.
This is especially true when taking into account the fact that the South was actually winning the war right up to June 20, 1863, as statehood predated the Battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
In fact, Gen. Robert E. Lee's decisive victory at Chancellorsville just weeks before statehood left the entire state vulnerable to the Army of Northern Virginia -- the Confederacy's most powerful and arguably most motivated for retribution.
The rout of Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley mere days before statehood created widespread panic in the eastern counties especially after federal troops retreated eastwardly away from what would become the new state.
Western Virginians knew full well the great damage that could be inflicted as smaller raiding parties had already wreaked havoc from Stonewall Jackson's Great Train Raid in 1861 and Romney Expedition in 1862 to the Jones-Imboden Raid in the early months of 1863 right before secession.
Fears were compounded with rumors of Lee's northern invasion route on the very day of statehood when the Army of Northern Virginia stood poised on the doorstep of the northern population centers making the timing of West Virginia's birth even more audacious.
Equally intrepid was the fact that Virginia was the geopolitical center of the very Confederacy itself with Richmond the capital city of the entire C.S.A.
The repatriation of the western Virginia counties back into the Union was a bitter watershed event for the Southern cause and long-remembered.
The military significance of losing western Virginia was a huge blow, too, as control of the Staunton-Parkersburg Pike was key to protecting the Shenandoah Valley -- the breadbasket of the Confederacy.
Further, the strategic importance of the B&O railroad to the Union effort earned it the nickname "Lincoln's Lifeline" to the west while Lee stated that the destruction of just the one massive Cheat River railroad bridge would be "worth to me an army."