The Tragic Vote in Richmond, April, 1861 – P. Douglas Perks

5082 words

Delegate Logan Osburn

“My lot has been cast. I am a son of Virginia. & Her destiny shall be mine.”1

By P. Douglas Perks

Mr. Perks, a Native of Jefferson County, is Director of the Charles Town Library and Assistant Curator of the Jefferson County Museum. He is a frequent speaker on Jefferson County History, the author of “Mr. Jefferson’s County” in The Guardian, and a contributing author to The Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society-ED.

In 1810 the first census taken in Jefferson County, Virginia recorded 11,851 residents. By 1860 Jefferson County was home to 14,535 inhabitants, a twenty-three percent increase. Of that number roughly seventy percent were free white citizens. Twenty-six percent of the
population was enslaved. There were just over 500 free blacks, about four percent of the total.

Charlestown, the county seat, had finally become the largest town in the county by 1860. Harper’s Ferry was a close second in size followed by Shepherd’s Town. Bolivar with its growing population of armory workers was next. The village of Middleway was the smallest.2

The economic engine of Jefferson County, Virginia was agriculture. In 1860 there were 463 farms in this part of the Lower Valley and they included some of the most productive in the commonwealth. Most were small farms with no more than 500 acres.3 There were only twelve farms that cultivated more than 500 acres. None were larger than 1,000 acres. As testimony to its rich farm land, Jefferson County was the leading wheat producing county in Virginia in 1860.4

The 1860 census report included a demographic snapshot of the United States. One category recorded the number of white men between the ages of 20 and 59, roughly the productive years of a white male in the mid-nineteenth century. In Jefferson County there were 2,125 men in this category.

Jefferson County residents were citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia in November, 1860. In less than five years Jefferson County found itself included in the new state of West Virginia. This is the first in a series of articles that will examine the events that occurred in the transition from Jefferson County, Virginia to Jefferson County, West Virginia.

On Tuesday, November 6th, 1860, 1,857 Jefferson County men went to a polling place to cast their vote. A number of local and statewide political positions needed to be filled, but by far the office that was on everybody’s mind was who would be the next man to reside in the White House.

Reflective of the divergent opinions over what course the nation should set, there were four, not the usual two, presidential candidates. With fifty-two percent of votes cast, John Bell and the Constitutional Union Party won in Jefferson County.

The Southern Democrats and John Breckinridge garnered twenty-five percent of the vote. Surprisingly Stephen Douglas got the support of twenty-three percent of the electorate.5 Although Abraham Lincoln and his Republican party received eleven votes in next door neighbor Loudoun County, he got no support in Jefferson County.

At the end of the day Berkeley, Hardy,6 Loudoun, and Morgan counties joined Jefferson in support of Bell. Clarke, Frederick, and Hampshire threw in with Breckinridge.7 Aside from a respectable show of support in Jefferson, Douglas gained little traction in the Lower Valley. There were no votes cast for Lincoln.8 Virginia followed the lead of Jefferson County, and Bell won her fifteen electoral votes.

Bell’s victory in Virginia was by the slimmest of margins. John Breckinridge came within a whisker of winning in Virginia.9 The presidential election of 1860 made it crystal clear that Virginians were equally divided on the States’ rights issue-roughly one-half of her people supported Bell and his belief in the Constitution and a continued union of the states and one-half supported Breckinridge and his belief in the sovereignty of a state.

The election of Abraham Lincoln as the 15th president added fuel to the fire of the national debate over the issue of States’ rights. The fire eventually burned out of control until it seemed to some that the union of states had failed, and that the proper course was to return to the days when sovereign states were joined voluntarily in a confederation. On December 20, 1860 South Carolina became the first state to repeal its approval of the adoption of the Constitution.

Soon Mississippi, then Florida and Alabama followed South Carolina out of the Union. But, the question on the collective mind of a now divided nation was, “How goes Virginia?”

The answer to that question would soon be forthcoming. Governor John Letcher called for a special session of the Virginia General Assembly to be held on Monday, January 14th, 1861. The purpose of the session was to determine Virginia’s position on the issue of secession from the Union. The General Assembly decided that Virginia’s position would be determined at a state-wide convention to be held on Wednesday, February 13th, 1861. Each county would elect delegates to attend the convention. The convention was empowered to debate the issue of secession and make a proposal which then had to be ratified by a statewide referendum.

According to Millard Bushong, “the most important meeting ever held” in Jefferson County occurred on Monday, January 21st, 1861.10 On that date the same men who had just two months earlier cast their votes in the presidential election met at the Jefferson County Court House. They assembled at a public meeting to determine who would represent Jefferson County at the upcoming Virginia Secession Convention.

The results of the meeting were announced in the Alexandria Gazette:

The Southern Rights party in Jefferson Co., Va., has nominated the Hon. Wm. Lucas and Andrew Hunter, esq., as candidates for the State Convention. The Union party in the same county have nominated Col. A. M. Barbour and Logan Osborne, esq. 11

The men who supported States’ rights were represented by two men well known in Jefferson County. William Lucas was a member of one of Jefferson’s oldest families. Born on November 30th, 1800 at Cold Spring just south of Shepherd’s Town, Lucas studied law under Henry Berry of Shepherd’s Town and Judge Henry St. George Tucker in Winchester.

Lucas married Sarah Rion and in 1826 they inherited Rion Hall and oversaw its expansion. Upon Sarah’s death, Lucas married Virginia Bedinger, the daughter of Daniel Bedinger. They were the parents of Judge Daniel Bedinger Lucas. Lucas practiced law first in Shepherd’s
Town then in Charlestown. He was a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly in 1837-1838 and represented Virginia’s 15th Congressional District in 1839-1841. Lucas was a delegate from Jefferson County to the Virginia Constitution Convention held in 1850-1851. 12

Lucas’ running mate was local attorney Andrew Hunter, well known in the county for his role in the prosecution of John Brown. Hunter was born March 22nd, 1804 in Berkeley County the son of Colonel David H. and Elizabeth Pendleton Hunter. Hunter graduated from Hampden-Sydney College and then studied law. In the 1850s, he built Hunter Hill on the east border of Charlestown. Hunter practiced first in Harper’s Ferry then in Charlestown. He was a Whig presidential elector in 1840, a member of the Virginia General Assembly in 1846, and the Virginia Constitution Convention in 1850-1851. 13

Lucas and Hunter were running opposite two men who represented the Union Party. Alfred Madison Barbour was born April 17th, 1829 in Culpeper County, Virginia into one of Virginia’s oldest families. Barbour was a graduate of the University of Virginia and Harvard University School of Law. He began his practice of law in Charlestown. On December 24th, 1858 Barbour was appointed superintendent of the United States Armory at Harper’s Ferry. He was immediately faced with severe budget cuts, but Barbour handled the crisis well and earned good marks from his superiors at the Ordnance Department. In October 1859 at the time of John Brown’s attack on the armory, Barbour was in New England visiting the Springfield Armory and the Ames Manufacturing Company. He learned of the raid while visiting Samuel Colt in Hartford, Connecticut. He hurried home to Jefferson County and arrived back in Harper’s Ferry on October 21st.

Archibald Kitzmiller, the acting superintendent, Master Armorer Benjamin Mills, and Master Machinist Armistead Ball had all had been held hostage by Brown and his men. Barbour was left with the task of restoring calm and order after the three day siege.14

The other pro-Union candidate was Logan Osburn. Osburn was born March 23rd, 1810 in Loudoun County, Virginia. He received his education at the Catoctin Academy located in Loudoun County. In the 1830s after he married Hanna Leslie the Osburn’s moved to Ohio. There he pursued a number of vocations including newspaper editor and hotel operator. After the death of his wife, Osburn returned to Virginia where, in 1840, he married Margaret Chew Osburn. In 1843, the Osburn family moved to Jefferson County. Osburn bought the property in the Kabletown district known as Avon Bend. While the house was being renovated Osburn owned and operated a store in Kabletown. The Osburn family moved to Avon Bend in 1848. From 1851-1852 he co-owned Shannondale Springs. In 1856, Osburn built and moved his family to Avon View. Osburn represented Jefferson County in the Virginia General Assembly from 1857 to 1858.15

Monday, February 4th, 1861 was the day designated by the Virginia General Assembly for each county to select its delegates to the Secession Convention. Jefferson’s electorate once again went to the polls. Consistent with the results of the presidential election, the men of
Jefferson County voiced their support of the Constitution. Barbour and Osburn captured 1,433 votes and 1,350 votes respectively. Hunter’s 467 votes and Lucas’ total of 430 votes confirmed that in early February 1861 Jefferson County wanted to remain in the Union and would send two men to Richmond who would vote in opposition to secession.16

The three-month period from the first of February to the end of April in 1861 is arguably the most important 90 days in our Nation’s history. During those 2,160 hours, men from around the Commonwealth met to debate and to decide Virginia’s fate.

Among the document archives at the Jefferson County Museum is a collection of Logan Osburn’s correspondence. Included in the collection are several letters written by Osburn during this critical time in history. Reading Osburn’s observation of how events transpired during Virginia’s convention affords us a front row seat as history is being made.

The Virginia Secession Convention opened on Wednesday, February 13th, 1861 in Richmond, Virginia. The Mechanics Institute at the foot of Capitol Square was selected to be the convention site. John Janney, delegate from Loudoun County, was elected president of the convention. Janney’s opening remarks set the tone for the convention:

“It is our duty on an occasion like this to elevate ourselves into an atmosphere, in which party passion and prejudice cannot exist-to conduct all our deliberations with calmness and wisdom, and to maintain, with inflexible firmness, whatever position we may find it necessary to assume.”17

From the opening day the debate over Virginia’s future was both passionate and sometimes heated. On February 21st, 1861 Waitman T. Willey, delegate from Monongalia County, spoke to the convention. As the debate progressed the issue of loyalty had been equated with support for secession. Willey asserted the loyalty of the citizens of his part of the state, western Virginia, and invoked the memory of Virginia’s greatest men:

“Sir, there exists not within the broad limits of this great State any people more loyal to its interests than the people of the North-western part of the State – any people readier to defend her rights to the death. When did we not come up to the full demands of justice to the East on all questions? Never; but, sir, we have a record upon this subject – a record written in blood. I stand here representing the sons of sires who fell in your defence in the war of 1812 …. Your soil is consecrated with the memories of the loyalty of the West, because it contains the honored remains of some of her bravest and noblest sons. Why, sir, your honor is her honor; your interest is her interest; your country is her country; your faith shall be her faith; your destiny shall be her destiny.

“But sir, it seems that we love the Union too well. That seems to be the measure of our offence. If it be treason to love the Union, we learned that treason from you, sir – we learned it from your great men – from your Jefferson’s, from your Madison’s, your Monroe’s, and from others of equally illustrious dead; and we have learned it from the living, little less distinguished men who are recognized as leaders at the present day, and who need but the consecration of death to place their names on the same roll of immortality. Above all, we learned it from the Father of his Country, the greatest of Virginia’s sons – the greatest man that ever stood upon the tide of time. As I passed down by his monument the other day, and gazed upon it with the reverence with which every American heart must contemplate his memory, I could almost imagine that I heard falling from his sacred lips the admonitions he gave us in his Farewell Address, bidding us beware of sectional dissensions, bidding us beware of geographical divisions, and instructing and conjuring us to regard the Union as the palladium of our liberties; to look with distrust upon any man that would teach us any other doctrine.” 18

Willey certainly brought out the big gun by admonishing his fellow delegates to recall the words of The General in his “Farewell Address.” Who would argue with that?

But, argue they did. Vivid proof of the pressure brought to bear on pro-Union delegates is clear in the following letter sent by Logan Osburn to his father-in-law Balaam Osburn who was back home in Kabletown. The letter has been transcribed just as it was written on March 11th, 1861 while Logan was still in Richmond. There are no changes to spelling or grammar:

“Great excitement continues to exist in our councils. The outside purpose is exceedingly offensive. The sensation dispatches repulsive to conservatism. All manner of means resorted to affect our action. Threats have been made to drive our body from the convention hall at the point of the bayonet if we fail to pass an ordinance of secession. We are threatened with civil war, by timultuos uprising of the people, if we hold out much longer in our efforts to preserve the union.

“A delegate of high respectability approached Robt Y. Conrad & myself last night as we walked the hall of the hotel & inquired of Mr. Conrad, if any important vote would be taken today? And assigned as the reason of his inquiry that his constituents were about taking steps to withdraw him from the convention, with a view of defeating its ultimate action, & if it was commenced no one could tell where it would end. He desired of course to go home and arrest it. T J Randolph of Albemarle is here & says the entire county is now for secession. That they do not look to the action of this convention for any relief, but the spring election will secure a great majority of secessionists to the legislature. They will then call an extra session thereof, order an election for another convention, secede &c. &c.
You must therefore lookout for reliable union candidates for the legislature.

“I really think the secession party are seriously damaged. It cannot be possible that sensible men (as I know many of them are) of sane minds could rejoice (as they do publicly) about the hotels at every indication of collision between the federal authorities and those of the seceded states. Rumours have reached here this evening that the authorities at Washington will withdraw Major Anderson from Fort Sumter & (I trust in God it is true) it is regarded as a signal of peace & really the secessionists are gloomy and desponding & regard it as a trick to delude & deceive the people.

“Wm C. Rives delivered an address at the African church in support of the report of the peace congress at Washington on Friday night last, which was characterized by distinguished ability and irresistible arguments. He is an accomplished orator and gentleman. Geo W. Summers commenced his exposition & defence of the report before the convention to day. He looks & talks like Hector, reasons cogently argues with sledge hammer force & clinches it with ten penny wrought nails as he goes. He gave way to a motion to adjourn without finishing will resume in the morning and has already proven to every man open to conviction that better guarantees are provided for the institutions & interests of the South by the support of the peace conference than by Crittendon’s amendments. I spent an evening at I. M. Betts last week, I regretted your absence. His independent manner of speaking, honesty, candor, & frankness almost captivated me. He is possessed of an extra-ordinary mind, unequaled simplicity of manner-and conversational talent. One of Virginia’s noblest sons & one whom she will yet rejoice to honor. I am proud of his acquaintance, for it has entirely removed an ill-founded prejudice I honestly entertained. His views are not ultra, but based upon sound constitutional doctrine, maintained by conclusive argument. Yours &c.”

“Threats have been made to drive our body from the convention hall at the point of the bayonet.” With one sentence Osburn communicates to his family the serious nature of the convention’s proceedings. Surely there was similar sentiment on behalf of pro-Union forces. But, Osburn affords us the opportunity to view the frenzy that swirled around the convention delegates, and he also made it clear that regardless of the pressure the pro-Union contingent was still holding strong.

There is clear evidence that pro-Union delegates dominated the secession convention. After weeks of debate the question of secession was finally put to a vote. On April 4th, 1861 an ordinance of secession was proposed and was soundly rejected. Forty-five delegates voted in favor of the ordinance and eighty-five opposed it. True to their commitment made when elected, both Barbour and Osburn cast votes in opposition to secession. Following Jefferson’s lead, the Berkeley, Clarke, Frederick, Hampshire, Hardy, and Loudoun delegations all voted “NO.” The only “YES” vote from our area was cast by John Orrick from Morgan County. 19

But delegates who assumed that the matter had been decided were in error. The convention did not adjourn. Instead, they continued to debate.

On April 4th, the eyes of the country were focused on Richmond, Virginia. Everyone awaited the answer to the question: “How goes Virginia?” After Virginia’s resounding support of the Union and the Constitution, the hand on the anxiety gauge moved back a few notches. But the respite was to be short-lived.

At 4:30 A.M. on April 12th, 1861 the country’s collective sigh of relief suddenly became a sharp gasp of distress. The Confederate forces at Charleston, South Carolina fired on the Union garrison at Fort Sumter. In response on April 15th President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 three month volunteers, to include 2340 men from Virginia, to put down the “insurrection” in South Carolina.

With this news, the deliberations at the Virginia Secession Convention took a different tack. In a letter written on April 17th to his wife, Logan Osburn reflected both the mood at the convention and also the mood of pro-Union delegates:

“It is now between ten and eleven oclock at night and the convention is still in session. I paired off with a gentle-man of the opposite side for the night to enable me to drop you a few lines and try to get a little sleep. The Convention went into secret session on tuesday, and its injunctions sealed the lips and silenced the pens of the whole body so far as its action is concerned until secrecy is removed. Whilst I will not divulge our actions Ifeel constrained to say that the last three days will form an epoch in my life that I fear I will never be able to refer to with composure. I have often said to you in great seriousness in the last six months that I feared the days of our republic were about numbered, & that the Sun of our National liberty was about to set. It is with me now no longer a matter of doubt. You will see by the papers that the authorities of our State have already inaugurated a revolution by the seizure of public property, vessels in our harbours, Gosport Navy Yard & Ex Gov. Wise told me to day a dispatch had been sent for the seizure of the armory at Harper’s Ferry. Andrew Hunter is here, and told me he left home yesterday and all was quiet there then. The City is full of strangers brought hither I suppose by the circular to which I have Heretofore alluded. All precipitation and Secessionists thrown upon us just as the action was made on Fort Sumpter, evidently made at the suggestion of Roger A. Pryor (who is there) with a view of drawing some rash act out of the President at Washington (like the proclamation) to spend its full force upon this Convention at a critical moment of its deliberations and at the very time of the assemblage of the multitude of secessionists. The whole scheme was evidently matured long ago, and but a small part of it is yet developed, and that the least offensive of it. Lincoln has committed an outrage on the Rights of the great, the gallant, and the conservative Union Party of Virginia, for which posterity must ever hold him responsible, the consequences of which will not only entirely destroy that noble party but rear over it a Red Republican Revolutionary party that will plunge our glorious country and recently happy people into all the horrors of civil war. Had he only evacuated the Forts Sumpter and Pickens (for which he had no use) and given positive assurances to our commissioners that his policy towards the seceded states would be entirely pacific.

“I have no doubt the last card of the secessionists would have been played out and we could then have adjusted all difficulties and thoroughly restored the union of all the states. He cannot be so blind as not to see a strong revolutionary spirit manifesting itself among the people. Why did he not therefore endeavor to cooperate with the conservatism of the Convention & work out the solution of this difficulty? April 17th} In view of all the surroundings, I think I will probably come home in a few days. I am well aware of the intense excitement necessarily existing in your midst. I presume I cannot remain but a few days. I desire an interview with the Governor (Letcher) this morning to ascertain the condition of H. Ferry. I rejoice you that you are at home. If you were here you would be deranged, almost. I am no company either man or beast. I have sought consolation in the solitude of my chamber and in the Gents parlour, in long walks when an opportunity is offered, but without avail. The Solemn, Sad, and desponding countenances that characterize the union men in the hall of the Convention clearly indicates their wounded pride and patriotic devotion to this country’s honour and the people’s liberty. Brave men with stout hearts and trembling voices, with tears rolling down their cheeks, have stood up nobly in defence of the rights of the people, and earnestly appealed to their brother members to save them & theirs from the dim calamities of civil war, but in vain.” 20

Undoubtedly this is what Osburn had been sworn to neither speak, nor write about:

“Ordinance of Secession of Virginia

“AN ORDINANCE to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United State of America by the State of Virginia and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution.

“Now, therefore, we, the people of Virginia, do declare and ordain, That the ordinance adopted by the people of this State in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and all acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying and adopting amendments to said Constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between the State of Virginia and the other States under the Constitution aforesaid is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Virginia is in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.

“And they do further declare, That said Constitution of the United States of America is no longer binding on any of the citizens of this State.

“This ordinance shall take effect and be an act of this day, when ratified by a majority of the votes of the people of this State cast at a poll to be taken thereon on the fourth Thursday in May next, in pursuance of a schedule hereafter to be enacted.” 21

In a fortnight the winds of fate changed direction. This time when the question was called the support for secession was there. On April 17th the delegates cast eighty-eight votes in favor of secession and fifty-five votes in opposition. The caveat was that the convention’s vote must be ratified by a popular referendum to be held on May 23rd, 1861. 22

The Lower Valley delegates held firm their belief that Virginia should remain in the union. With two exceptions they each cast a “NO” vote. Alfred Barbour had left the convention and had returned to Harper’s Ferry -he would play an important role in the disposition of the U. S. Armory at Harper’s Ferry.23 Johnson Orrick again cast a “YES” vote. 24 By the time of the referendum on May 23rd, Virginia had left the Union and was preparing for war. Militia companies from the Valley were on the march for Harper’s Ferry where they were mustered into the Provisional Army of Virginia. The vote on the 23rd became a mere formality as 132,201 Virginians confirmed their support of secession. Just 37,451 votes, many from the western counties of Virginia, were cast in support of remaining in the union.25

Only a total of 1,178 votes were cast in Jefferson County on May 23rd. Many of the men who had voted in November and again in February were now on the drill field. Of that total 813 men supported the secession resolution. There were only 365 “NO” votes.26

What caused men who so fervently supported remaining in the Union in February to change their mind in May? At the risk of oversimplifying I will offer one opinion. On June 6th, 1861 Logan Osburn was at his home Avon Bend. He wrote a letter to his good friend and fellow convention delegate Robert Y. Conrad who lived in Winchester. At first Osburn talks about his wheat crop. Then prophetically he explains his change of heart:

“I have earnestly (and perhaps obstinately) opposed the secession of Virginia for I voted against its ratification. I have regarded it as mischievous in its tendency, and destructive in its consequences to our best interests. Socially, politically and commercially. My opposition was based upon what I honestly believed to be my conscientious conviction of duty. But my opinions have been overruled by a large majority of the freemen of my state. My opposition is ended. My lot has been cast. I am a son of Virginia. ‘& Her destiny shall be mine.”


1 Letter from Logan Osburn to Robert Conrad, June 6th, 1861. Logan Osburn was a successful farmer and owned approximately 1,300 acres in the Kabletown area that included the farms Avon Bend, Avon Hill, and Avon Wood.

2 1810 and 1860 population figures from existing United States census records.

3 1860 census records for Jefferson County indicate that 356 farms (seventy-seven percent) had between 100-500 acres.

4 Jefferson County farms produced 422,514 bushels of wheat in 1860.

5 Most of these votes came from the Harper’s Perry precinct-a long-time Democratic stronghold.

6 Included present day Grant County.

7 Included present day Mineral County.

8 Abraham Lincoln received a total of 1,887 votes in Virginia.

9 In the 1860 presidential election, Bell won Virginia with 74,481 votes to Breckinridge’s 74,325 a margin of 156 votes.

10 Millard Bushong, Historic Jefferson County, Jefferson Publishing Company, Charles Town, West Virginia, 1972, P. 144.

11 Alexandria Gazette, Friday, January 25th, 1861 Page 2, column 2.

12 Bushong P. 431.

13 Bushong P. 423.

14 Merritt Roe Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology, Cornell University

15 Adeline Osburn Palmer’s hand-written biography of her uncle Logan Osburn. In the document collection of the Jefferson County Museum, Charles Town, West Virginia.

16 Bushong P. 144.

17 West Virginia Archlves & History. September 2nd, 2010.

18 Ibid.

19 Encyclopedia Virginia. September 2nd, 2010.

20 Logan Osburn to Margaret Chew Osburn, April 17th, 1861, Richmond, Virginia. In the document collection of the Jefferson County Museum, Charles Town, WV.

21 West Virginia Archives & History

22 Encyclopedia Virginia

23 Smith, P 314.

24 West Virginia Archives & History.

25 Bushong P. 145.

26 Ibid.