In the last column we discussed the constant guerilla raids in the area and the constant threat of an invasion of Parkersburg. In fact, Parkersburg citizens developed paranoia about an attack.
We have a soldier's letter in the files of our Civil War collection related to this, dated September 1862, speaking of Parkersburg: "This is a hard place as I think is not a fit one for such soldiers as we are. It contains about 6,000 of a population and some of the very worst kind of Secesh. They have been anticipating a battle here for three months. There are about 1600 soldiers here at present. On last eve there was a great excitement arose in camp. The report came that a Cavalry of 15,000 were within 28 miles of Camp coming full speed. The Regiment was called up in line of battle and their arms were inspected and they had order to be ready to fall in line of battle in three minutes without lighting candles or even whispering There are about 100 paroled prsoners (sic) here - snake hunters (author's note: we believe these are Rathbone's troops on their way to Wheeling after being paroled by Gen. Jenkins) 100 Secesh widows at this place and it is not safe to buy anything of them for fear of their having put poisen (sic) in it. There has been several instances where they have tried to poisen our troops but "wo unto that one" who tryes (sic) to poisen one of our men" J.M. Westfall, 126 Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Regiment.
Again, in November 1862, another soldier writes home: "We can't eat any cakes or pies here. The officers won't allow any to be brought inside the guard lines. A woman sold a pie to a soldier belonging to a Virginia regiment that is here. He eat (sic) it and was dead in one hour. He was poisoned." J.M. Whitman, 110 Reg. OVI (Ohio Volunteer Infantry).
On the political front, the new constitution had been reviewed by the local residents. Future Sen. P.G. VanWinkle, longtime resident of Parkersburg, had chaired the meeting to discuss its major provisions. He had been responsible for writing most of it and was given plaudits for his contributions. The proposed constitution had been sent to Washington and had passed the Senate by a vote of 23 to 17 in July, after being saved by Sen. Waitman T. Willey of Morgantown and Congressman Jacob Beeson Blair from Parkersburg. This was when Sen. John Carlile attempted to derail the bill, becoming traitor to the statehood cause, and was ask to resign. After approval, it was sent to the House. The new constitution, as submitted, did not include a free slave provision. Willey inserted an amendment, which included a provision to gradually free slaves over time, and this gradual emancipation was accepted by the Senate and was now being considered by the House of Representatives, where Jacob B. Blair was managing the progress of the bill. The outlook was promising for passage, which then put it in the president's hands for passage, and that was not assured, for they knew he and his cabinet had questions about creating a new state out of another. The president was fighting a war to keep the country together, and he was being asked to approve dividing one of its states.
In the last column, we referenced the anniversary of the famous battle of Antietam, a result of Gen. Lee moving north, and being cut off by Gen. McClellan. In preparation for this battle, Gen. Lee sent Gen. T.J. Jackson and his cavalry to Harpers Ferry to contain more than 12,000 troops there so they could not reinforce McClellan's forces at Antietam. Jackson moved in a sweeping movement to Harpers Ferry, attacked the garrison at Maryland Heights and forced it to surrender, causing the surrender of more than 12,000 troops and huge amounts of supplies and provisions. His brilliant movement on Harpers Ferry was typical of his service for the Confederacy. He then met Lee at Antietam and participated in that action. This surrender was one of the largest of the war. However, Lee lost to McClellan, but when McClellan did not pursue Lee after the battle, he was severely criticized by President Lincoln, who eventually replaced him. His report about this stated: "The early and disgraceful surrender of Harpers Ferry deprived my operations of results which would have formed a brilliant sequence to the substantial and gratifying successes already related. Had the garrison held out twenty-four hours longer, I should in all probability have captured that part of the enemy's force engaged in the attack (Stonewall's cavalry) on the Maryland Heights, while the whole garrison, some 12,000 strong, could have been drawn to re-enforce me on the day of the decisive battle - certainly on the morning of the 18th, I would thus have been in position to have destroyed the rebel army." Obviously, Lee had sent Jackson in anticipation of such a move by McClellan.
Can you imagine the interest Parkersburg residents would have had about such news, coming from an area to be included in the new state as well as being on the main line of the local and critical railroad?
While all this is going on, remember the hopeful oil barons are trying to operate the oilfields at Burning Springs and at California, on the Staunton to Parkersburg Turnpike while at the same time having to fend off constant harassments from hostile guerrillas.
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. He is the author of the book "Northwestern Virginia and the Civil War."