Civil War: A tribute to Parkersburg

Since our last column in June, huge Union victories in the Civil War occurred. On July 1-3, 1863, the North had won the significant battle defeating Gen. Lee and decimating his army at Gettysburg. Also, in early July, the battle of Vicksburg was won by the North. Both were recorded as pivotal battles of the war. Locally, Confederate Gen. Morgan conducted his famous raid in Ohio in late June and early July in 1863. Since Wood County ended up being one of the targets of this crazy and fruitless raid, we will cover it in detail in a later column.

I gave a lecture around June 20 this summer to celebrate West Virginia’s birthday, titled: “Parkersburg and West Virginia Statehood,” and in jest, suggested the title should have been “Where it All Began” for truly it was Parkersburg where much of the statehood movement began and then followed and where many of the statehood leaders resided.

Wheeling was the center only because it was safe and was promoted by A.W. Campbell, editor the state’s leading paper, The Wheeling Intelligencer. But by far the location of the major contributors was Parkersburg and Wood County. No other city, county or area provided the quantity and quality of leaders as Parkersburg and Wood County.

Hence, the title of my presentation on Parkersburg and statehood should have been “A tribute to Parkersburg and Wood County.” So let’s review those who deserve the tribute.

First, let’s look at the difficulty the founders had to endure. Many leaders were true Virginians, and leaving Virginia was difficult. Several had served in the Virginia legislature and were proud to be Virginians and were truly wedded to the “Mother State.” Unlike other statehood movements, West Virginia’s stands out as one of the most contentious of them all, except for the first 13. Those who participated endured all types of hardship and threats daily from all regions. The dangers varied from county to county.

Wheeling was chosen for the capital city because it was relatively safe, but threats abounded even in that city. The most respected judge in Wheeling, Judge Thompson, was arrested for not signing the loyalty oath, and eventually released by Gov. Pierpont and banished to Ohio. He later had Gov. Pierpont arrested in Ohio for false arrest.

Every sort of threat and actual damage was done to members and their families. Many members of the legislature had to sneak out of their counties and home towns because of Confederate threats. Many counties, for example, Calhoun, had no effective government to provide even rudimentary protection – hence, havoc reigned and politicians lived dangerous lives.

It is hard here to paint a complete picture. In many areas, military government was the only government, whether Union or Confederate. Members from these areas participating at Wheeling under threat to their lives by Confederate sympathizers at home, often had to stay in Wheeling for their personal safety. For example, Beverly, Buckhannon and many other cities were occupied by Union and Confederate forces numerous times.

The worst case was Romney, which changed hands 52 times during the war period. Can you imagine being a representative from these areas in Wheeling in this turmoil. They were truly courageous patriots and we owe them deep gratitude.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave McKain is director of the Oil and Gas Museum and is chairman of the area Civil War Roundtable which is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Contact him at