CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Clarksburgers Beg For Guns" reads a headline in a Clarksburg newspaper in May of 1861. And so it was. A growing, massive call for arms by locals as well as others throughout the Union. All as prelude to our bloody Civil War.
About a month earlier, Fort Sumter surrendered to the Confederates in South Carolina. On April 17, five days after Sumter fell, the Virginia Assembly voted to secede from the Union, in spite of vigorous protests from western delegates. This Ordinance of Secession read in part: "All connection between Virginia and the federal government is dissolved."
The public reactions in western Virginia were spontaneous. The Ordinance was vigorously opposed throughout the north central region. There was a slim hope in the West. There was yet a popular vote to come in Virginia on May 23. Many hoped the citizens would strike down the rebellious ordinance, as is noted in one diary passage from that time.
On May 6, 1861, F.A. Cather wrote in his diary "Father and I attended court in Fairmont. Hon Francis Pierpont, John Burdette (sic) ... spoke and the question of secession and its fearful results to the 2 sections of Virginia if the measure is adopted."
Cather and others learned the hateful, fearful Ordinance of Secession was adopted by popular vote on May 23.
Not waiting for the public vote, swift action was taken by pro-union western delegates. They had met earlier in Wheeling on May 13. There, it was decided by Francis Pierpont and others to report to their constituents in each county in western Virginia with plans to support the nation and restore Virginia to the Union. Talk and support were everywhere about forming a new state, and many wanted it immediately.
Some cool heads did prevail. Led by Francis H. Pierpont, the second Wheeling convention was called and held June 13 to 15, 1861. Pierpont was unanimously chosen as governor of the Restored State of Virginia, a most daring, unique move it was. (There was no similar action by other Northerners to restore any other Confederate state.)
Actually, Virginia's illegal departure from the Union was a blessing down the road, an unforeseen political window of opportunity for western Virginians. The Ordinance of Secession provided a Confederate vacuum, filled almost at once by the opportunistic Pierpont and other patriots who became a part of his administration. From day one, Gov. Pierpont planned and dealt out strategy, milestones to statehood for West Virginia.
On May 13, 1862, just about one year later, Pierpont got the Restored Virginia Assembly to agree to let western counties select and erect their own state territory out of the jurisdiction of Virginia. This was not yet anywhere near the finish line for West Virginia statehood, but, a great leap in that direction.
One has to ask: What if Virginia remained Confederate, like all the other states that left the Union? What chance would there have been that any Confederate Virginia Assembly would have even considered it, let alone cast the same vote for a separate West Virginia?
Anderson, of Bridgeport, is author of several books on local history, including "Eyewitness to Hellfire."