Thursday, June 20, 2013

West Virginia Day: A Celebration of Courage and Sacrifice

Today West Virginians mark the 150th anniversary of the creation of the state.  Northern state residents will hoist their pepperoni rolls with as much pride as southerners will much on their brown bean soup and cornbread.

But like other holidays, such as Memorial Day, Veterans' Day, etc., how many will stop to reflect on the courage and sacrifice needed for the state to even exist?

When the Old Dominion seceded, Union supporters from the northwestern counties met to form a Union government at Wheeling.  One of the first proposals was to form a new state, at first called "Kanawha" and only later "West Virginia."

Most of these men remained sensible to the fact that their actions meant treason to the government in Richmond.  And less than two years before, the Commonwealth hanged John Brown for treason against it. Proposing and working towards establishment of a new state only stoked their rage further.

As the day of the new state's birth drew near, Confederate forces tried to disrupt its authority.  In one instance, Colonel Imboden seized the Sheriff of Barbour County.  In response, two Barbour County Confederates were swiftly executed.  Brigadier General Robert Milroy and Imboden then exchanged letters threatening higher numbers of mass reprisals.

This was among the more civil exchanges.  West Virginia's civil war was not the conventional movement of armies.  It was weary and nervous backwoods garrisons, dangerous patrols, deadly ambushes, and assassination.  This state's war resembled America's war in Vietnam and Afghanistan much more than Grant versus Lee.  Every official risked capture and imprisonment.  The gentlemanly treatment of Generals Kelley and Crook by Confederate raiders was an aberration, not the rule.  One of the early leaders of the movement, Reverend Gordon Battelle, died on the battlefield defending his work.

Our state was born in blood and, until late 1864, lived in fear of the consequences of Union defeat or negotiated peace.  Each military and civil official understood the risks and persevered for principle.

On this day, 150 years after those horrible times, it is right to remember their courage, ingenuity, and, sometimes, sacrifice. This is not enough space to truly respect and honor the statemakers and military men involved.  So take a few minutes and look through the stories collected on They are dramatic, interesting, and best of all, true. 

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