VIDEO: Dennis Frye – What Was Virginia’s Opinion of Secession? TRT: 5:27
All right. How did a Virginian react to secession?
How did the Virginian the Virginian react to secession? Virginians are very proud and they have every reason to be. I mean again Virginians all felt that they had some of George Washington in themselves all of them. A Virginian could claim that “I am a Virginian like Washington. I am a Virginian like Jefferson, I am a Virginian like Madison.” So how did they feel with Washington no longer present, Madison and Jefferson long gone? How did a Virginian feel about their state’s departure from the union? Well, it really depends on how you define a Virginian.
Do you define a Virginian like Robert E. Lee who came from a family of military heritage, came of a family that had wealth that was a slave owner, came from a family that was very pro-union, very much in favor of the United States. He himself had spent his entire adulthood serving in the United States military. Yet he, after agonizing hours, made a decision to go with his state rather than the United States.
Or what about the slaveholder? The slaveholder in eastern Virginia, who may have most of his fortune in slave property, was much more valuable than land property – how did that Virginian feel? That Virginian was ecstatic. That Virginian was really represented in many respects by Edmund Ruffin, who depended upon the slave economy, that agricultural economy, the old traditional english economy that Virginia was founded upon? They were absolutely delighted that Virginia, in fact, they asked the question: why did it take us so long to do this? South Carolina left long ago? We should have been first. We should have been the leader. Why are we the follower here? That Virginian was very pleased with it.
2:15 – Now in the Shenandoah Valley, very complex reaction. Most people in the Valley were pro-Union, they were pro-Union up until the time they learned the state had left the Union.
Logan Osburn was one Jefferson County delegate to the Secession Convention . . .
The second delegate:
Alfred Barbour, superintendent of the Harper’s Ferry Armory.-ED
The delegates at the Virginia secession convention were very torn as and ripped apart on which way they should vote. Only after Lincoln had called for Virginians to squash the rebellion. Up until that point, there was unanimity in the Shenandoah Valley against secession. So, in the great valley of Virginia, that was not founded by aristocrats and not not inhabited by large slave owners with large estates that was not a agrarian culture based on tobacco, but on the small farmer growing wheat, there the reaction also was very much: “if my state flag is going with the confederate stars and bars I will follow my state flag. My allegiance will be to my state.” Now this wasn’t universal. You had dunkers and mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley who were totally against any kind of war whatsoever, remained very much in interest of pro-Union. So religion is a factor on which way people make their decisions. Their ethnic background, whether they be german, scot-irish, might be a factor. So you see divided loyalties in the Shenandoah Valley. Jefferson County is a good example. Divided loyalties as is Berkeley County; and then you move into the western counties of the state – the mountainous counties the Appalachian region of western Virginia and you find there almost a unified bloc of opposition against secession. I mean these people were some of the last Virginians to get into that section of Virginia: rugged mountain people, people very independent, very individual people who didn’t depend upon any government whatsoever for their survival or resistance. Yet these people felt strongly about the United States. They still held on to the strong tradition of unity that Washington and Madison and Monroe had projected and so in western Virginia, the people there voted against secession. In fact, almost all the people who represented the counties of western Virginian voted even on April the 17th, even after Lincoln had called for the troops to suppress the rebellion, they voted as a solid block against secession. The vote was 88 for 55 against and most of those 55 came from western Virginia. Hence you have right there the seeds sown for the creation the opportunity for a new state to be born during the civil war: West Virginia.
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Frye, Dennis. “What Was Virginia’s Opinion of Secession?” American Military University Civil War Scholars. 14 April 2011. Web. 2 May 2011.
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osburn.jpg. Private Collection of Don Amoroso.
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