Civil War: The competent Gov. Pierpont

Several times I have been asked about the events at Wheeling creating West Virginia. It is confusing there was a “reformed” Virginia government in the Union, with a governor and legislature and members of Congress. There was also a Virginia in the Confederacy. So, what happened to the reformed government after West Virginia was formed in 1863? What happened to Gov. Pierpont? Wasn’t he governor? Wasn’t he governor of West Virginia?

Pierpont was never governor of West Virginia. He was governor of reformed Virginia, which stayed in the Union. It was the restored Virginia government that was accepted by the president and Congress as Virginia and later confirmed by the Supreme Court as legitimate. This legitimacy is important because it was the Union reformed Virginia that, according to the U.S. Constitution, gave approval for the new state to be created.

The Restored Government was administering what in effect were the 34 counties that made up the initial West Virginia. After West Virginia was created in 1863, the Reformed Government with Gov. Pierpont moved to Alexandria and administered control over those areas of Virginia not in the Confederacy and controlled by the Union Army, such as Alexandria, Norfolk and part of the Eastern shore. The building housing Pierpont and the government is still standing in Alexandria, Va., on Prince Street. Pierpont moved many government records about the period from 1861 to June 1863 to Virginia.

After the war, the president (Lincoln) appointed Pierpont governor of Virginia and he held that position until 1868. He was an exception for all other southern states had administrators i.e. “carpetbaggers.” I consider Pierpont as one of the greatest gifts Virginia ever received. Unlike “carpetbaggers,” Pierpont was a Virginian and governed with an even hand, treating Virginians graciously. But until recently, Virginia did not even recognize his government or himself in the histories or official lists of governors.

Again, it is important to understand that Pierpont was never governor of West Virginia, but was governor of the northwestern counties that, by definition, did not go to the Confederacy. After West Virginia was created it was a shell government with very little influence. However, it had a governor, legislature and staff, as well as sitting members of Congress.

As a matter if interest, Francis Pierpont was a highly competent and respected politician. His statue is included in Statuary Hall in the U. S. Congress.

Now, to add to the interest, the representatives in Congress from the reformed Virginia government continued in Congress along with the new members from West Virginia. For example, John Carlile, who had been ask by Pierpont and the reformed Virginia legislature to resign for subverting the statehood process, continued as a paid Virginia senator through the end of the Civil War, but coming from Alexandria, not Wheeling. When ask why he continued as senator, his reply was that he had lost his livelihood in Harrison County and needed the income.

G.W. Henderson, from Wood County, did not go to Alexandria with Pierpont, but retired from politics and returned to his home in Williamstown, as did many others.

The effect of the Civil War in the area had a profound effect on the local oil business. Those who had heavily invested at Burning Springs had seen their oilfield torched and much of the production ruined. The guerillas were still active raiding and plundering in Wirt, Calhoun and Jackson counties. Decisions had to be made and the locals decided to seek other oilfields.

The Marietta Republican newspaper reported in its June 25, 1863, edition: “We note the following leading oil men from the Little Kanawha Oil region who have already commenced operations, or are about to do so, on Cow Run in Ohio: E.S. Llewellyn, C.H. Chattuck, J.B. Blair, J.H. Weare, J.M. Clouston, McFarland Brothers, J.C. Rathbone, J.G. White, A.C. Williams, T.S. Conley and others. They embrace what are considered the most successful of the oil men in that region, all of them having had much experience, and of the class who are not liable to get into any speculation of the kind unless it promises well.”

Also, it was in 1863 that the first wells were started at Volcano, and many of the Burning Springs oilmen moved to that location, led by William Stiles, a Pennsylvania businessman turned oilman. Volcano, the current location of Mountwood Park, became popular because it was just north of the B&O Railroad and there were troops stationed at both Petroleum and Walker Station, offering protection from the guerillas.

Also, at this time 150 years ago, the work building Fort Boreman was progressing under pressure for Army Chief of Staff in Washington, General Halleck. The work was mostly being performed the men of Rathbone’s Company, company who had been surrendered and paroled at Spencer back September 1862. In fact, the original work of the fort was rejected by General Kelly as inadequate and they had to return and redo the defenses.

The Parkersburg Gazette reported at the time: “that two small brass cannon have been placed in position upon the hill on the south side of the Kanawha. They are to be replaced by larger ones, and the hill (the current Quincy hill) on the north, fortified in the same way. The one on the south side is called Fort Boreman, in honor of out new governor.”

The Fort Boreman project was part of the blockhouse building program all along the railroad into Maryland, being pushed by Halleck, mostly as a result of the ease with which Gen. Jones and his raiding party swept across the state back in May, destroying much of the railroad’s bridges and tunnels and culminating in the raid on Burning Springs. There were over 600 troops assigned to this task. Another important protection for Parkersburg was the Fort built at Walker Station, an important station for shipping goods in and out of the area, including oil from Burning Springs.

In all, the railroad was protected by the forces of Gen. Kelly, commander of the 6th West Virginia Infantry, numbering around 30,000 troops, an enormous number. You can see that the guerillas constant attacks forced the Union Army to allocate huge resources to protection of the railroad. It also shows how important the railroad was to Union strategy.

Let us also remember that on Nov. 19,1863, Presaident Lincoln gave his famous, insightful and meaningful “Gettysburg Address”.

Other oil news important to the area was the building of several oil refineries around the town, making the town another important industrial military target.

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