Chapter XVII - Schemes that Failed

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 1 State History
Pages 195-199

The confederate government, and the state of Virginia as a member of that government, had an object in view when they sent their forces into West Virginia at the commencement of the civil war. Virginia as a state was interested in retaining the territory between the Alleghany mountains and the Ohio river and did not believe she could do so without force and arms, because her long neglect and oppression had alienated the western counties. Virginia correctly judged that they would seize the first opportunity and organize a separate state. To prevent them from doing so, and to retain that large part of her domain lying west of the Alleghanies, were the chief motives which prompted Virginia, as a state, to invade the western part of her own territory, even before open war was acknowledged to exist between the Southern Confederacy and the general government. The purpose which prompted the Southern Confederacy to push troops across the Alleghanies in such haste was to obtain possession of the country to the borders of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and to fortify the frontiers against invasion from the north and west. It was well understood at the headquarters of the Southern Confederacy that the thousands of soldiers already mustering beyond the Ohio river, and the tens of thousands who would no doubt soon take the field in the same quarter, would speedily cross the Ohio, unless prevented. The bold move which the south undertook was to make the borders of Ohio and Pennsylvania the battle ground. The southern leaders did not at that time appreciate the magnitude of the war which was at hand. If they had understood it, and had had a military man in the place of Jeff Davis, it is probable that the battle ground would have been different from what it was. Nevertheless, to rightly understand the early movements of the confederates in West Virginia, it is necessary to consider that their purpose was to hold the country to the Ohio river. Their effort was weak, to be sure, bat that was partly due to their miscalculation as to the assistance they would receive from the people of West Virginia. If they could have organized an army of forty thousand West Virginians and reinforced them with as many more men from the south, it can be readily seen that McClellan could not have crossed the Ohio as he did. But the scheme failed. The West Virginians not only would not enlist in the confederate army, but they enlisted in the opposing force; and when Garnett made his report from Laurel Hill he told General Lee that, for all the help he received from the people, he might as well carry on a campaign in a foreign country. From that time it was regarded by the rebels as the enemy's country; and when, later in the war, Jones, Jackson, Imboden and others made raids into West Virginia they acted toward persons and property in the same way as when raids were made in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The Baltimore and Ohio railroad, crossing West Virginia from Harper's Ferry to Wheeling, and from Grafton to Parkersburg, was considered of the utmost importance by both the north and the south. It was so near the boundary between what was regarded as the Southern Confederacy and the north that during the early part of the war neither the one side nor the other felt sure of holding it. The management of the road was strongly in sympathy with the north, but an effort was made to so manage the property as not to give cause for hostility on the part of the south. At one time the trains were run in accordance with a time table prepared by Stonewall Jackson, even as far as Baltimore and Washington. This fact is detailed more fully in another part of this book. It is mentioned here only to show that the road attempted to avoid the hostility of the south. But the road did all in its power to assist the federal government. It was a part of the confederate scheme in West Virginia to obtain possession and control, in a friendly way if possible, of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. The possession of it would not only help the confederacy in a direct way, but it would cripple the federal government and help the south in an indirect way Within six days after General Lee was appointed commander-in-chief of the Virginia armies he instructed Major Loring, at Wheeling, to direct his military operations for the protection of the terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad on the Ohio river, and also to protect the road elsewhere. Major Boykin was ordered to give protection to the road in the vicinity of Grafton. General Lee insisted that the peaceful business of the road must not be interfered with. The branch to Parkersburg was also to be protected. Major Boykin was told to "hold the road for the benefit of Maryland and Virginia." He was advised to obtain the co-operation of the officers of the road and afford them every assistance. When Colonel Porterfield was ordered to Grafton, on May 4, 1861, among the duties marked out for him by General Lee was the holding of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and to prevent its being used to the injury of Virginia.

No one has ever supposed that the Southern Confederacy wanted the Baltimore and Ohio road protected because of any desire to befriend that company. The leaders of the confederacy knew that the officers of the road were not friendly to secession. As soon as Western Virginia had slipped out of the grasp of the confederacy, and when the railroad could no longer help the south to realize its ambition of fortifying the banks of the Ohio, the confederacy threw off the mask and came out in open hostility. George Deas, inspector general of the confederate army, urged that the railroad be destroyed, bridges burned along the line, and the tunnels west of the Alleghanies blown up so that no troops could be carried east from the Ohio river to the Potomac. This advice was partly carried out on June 13, 1861, after Colonel Porterfield had retreated from Grafton and had been driven from Philippi. But the damage to the road had not been so great but that repairs were speedily made. Governor Letcher of Virginia had recommended to the legislature a short time before that, the Baltimore and Ohio road ought to be destroyed. He said: "The Baltimore and Ohio railroad has been a positive nuisance to this state, from the opening of the war till the present time. And, unless the management shall hereafter be in friendly hands, and the government under which it exists be a part of our confederacy, it must be abated. If it should be permanently destroyed, we must assure our people of some other communication with the seaboard." From that time till the close of the war the confederacy indicted every damage possible upon the road, and in many instances the damage was enormous. When the raids under Jones, Imboden and Jackson were made into West Virginia, the officers had special orders to strike that road wherever possible. The high trestles on the face of Laurel hill between Rowlesburg and Grafton were named for destruction, but for some reason they escaped, although the rebels were within a mile of them.

It is proper to state here that an effort was made, after fighting had commenced, to win the West Virginians over to the cause of the south by promising them larger privileges than they had ever before enjoyed. On June 14, 1861, Governor Letcher issued a proclamation, which was published at Huttonsville, in Randolph county, and addressed to the people of Northwestern Virginia. In this proclamation he promised them that the injustice from unequal taxation of which they had complained in the past, should exist no longer, He said that the eastern part of the state had expressed a willingness to relinquish exemptions from taxation, which it had been enjoying", and was willing to share all the burdens of government. The governor promised that in state affairs, the majority should rule; and he called upon the people beyond the Alleghanies, in the name of past friendship and of historic memories, to espouse the cause of the Southern Confederacy. It. is needless to state that this proclamation fell flat. The people of Western Virginia would have hailed with delight a prospect of redress of grievances, had it come earlier. But its coming was so long delayed that they doubted both the sincerity of these who made the promise and their ability to fulfill. Twenty thousand soldiers had already crossed the Ohio, and had penetrated more than half way from the river to the Alleghanies, and they had been joined by thousands of Virginians. It was a poor time for governor Letcher to appeal to past memories, or to promise justice in the future which had been denied in the past. Coming as the promise did at that time, it looked like a death bed repentance. The Southern Confederacy had postponed fortifying the bank of the Ohio until too late; and Virginia had held out the olive branch to her neglected and long suffering people beyond the mountains when it was too late. They had already cast their lot with the north; and already a powerful army had crossed the Ohio to their assistance. Virginia's day of dominion west of the Alleghanies was nearing its close; and the Southern Confederacy's hope of empire there was already doomed.

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