Symposium Spotlight: Western Virginia, 1861
In this week’s Emerging Civil War Symposium Spotlight we welcome back Dr. James Broomall. For the 2019 Symposium, Dr. Broomall will be joining our amazing lineup of speakers and presenters, sharing his passion and knowledge of yet another forgotten battle and campaign of the war, Romney and Philippi.
Long before they were fabled generals and famous foes, Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan met in western Virginia. Although the region today languishes in relative obscurity even among Civil War specialists, it was a vital seat of war between the spring and fall of 1861. Confederate authorities in Richmond anxiously sought to maintain control over western Virginia because the area had long been estranged from its eastern neighbors over questions of labor, economy, and politics. Thus, in the late spring of 1861, raw Southern volunteers streamed west into the Allegheny Mountains to secure rail lines and vital lands. McClellan ordered Loyal Virginia regiments, who spearheaded the invasion south, to move toward Grafton, Virginia, against the growing concentration of Confederates. Their mission, McClellan proclaimed, was “to restore peace and confidence, to protect the majesty of the law, and to rescue our brethren from the grasp of armed traitors.” Federal troops, moreover, were tasked with seizing the critical transportation line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. By early June, Federal forces had achieved victory at the battle of Philippi and deprived Confederates of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
By late July 1861, once bright Confederate prospects had darkened and the fate of western Virginia hung in the balance. Lee soon journeyed to northwestern Virginia to oversee operations. Confederate forces had been bested by their foes, and Lee, now a full general, had been tasked by President Jefferson Davis to coordinate a campaign and realize victory. Would Lee achieve battlefield victory or could McClellan continue to realize success and secure western Virginia for the North?
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