Farmers surrounding Parkersburg were making big money bringing produce and all manner of animals for sale to the Army. In fact, there were military storage buildings around town and along the railroad tracks. In addition to the military units trooping through town throughout this period, it was common for local farmers to herd their horses, cattle, pigs, chicken, goats, sheep through the muddy and rutted streets on their way to the storage areas for further shipment east and west to the war front.
A surprising piece of information for most readers is Parkersburg was once known for boat building. In addition to all the other commercial activity, a surprising number of boats were built here. According to Ways Packet Directory, the following steam packet boats were built here up to December 1862: The Ben Franklin, 260 tons; Lavania Logan, 145 tons; Little Eva, 18 tons; Juolian, 62 tons; Siren, unknown tons; Siren, 32 tons; and the White Rose, 232 tons.
Some of these were converted to gunboats and used to patrol the river with cannon placed on the bow. There was an embargo on trading with the Confederacy and the gunboats were used to intercept those attempting run the embargo. One of our early oil barons from Burning Spring, Samuel D. Karns, took advantage of the opportunity and engaged in the boat building business, since there was a lull in the oil business because of the guerilla activity in Wirt County.
Of most importance was that on Dec. 9, 1862, 150 years ago, the U. S. House of Representatives passed the new West Virginia Statehood bill by an overwhelming vote of 96 to 55. This called for great celebration and The Wheeling Intelligencer had a major headline titled "NEW STATE ADMITTED, Great Rejoicing over the Result." This was unusual for two reasons. First, in those days newspapers did not usually use headlines. Secondly, the new state really had not been admitted because the bill still had to be signed by the president, and there was a question as to whether he would sign the bill.
The following article was posted in The Wheeling Intelligencer on Dec. 11, 1862: "The Grand Result, Glory to God in the highest!" West Virginia has been admitted into the Union of States. The 35th star has been added to the constellation. The consummation so devoutly wished for has at last been reached. At last we are regarded for all our labor, and have reached that happy haven where our works do follow after.
"People of West Virginia, at last your toil is requited. All your sacrifices, all your devotion, all your patience and suffering is at last gloriously repaid. How the heart swells with grateful emotion to that."
In the last column, we reviewed the need to add a free slave provision to the statehood bill because, as submitted, there was no such provision, in effect creating a new slave state. Congress would have none of this, and Senator Willey from Morgantown crafted an amendment that is summarized here by Festus Summers, in his book the 35th State, as follows: "The children of slaves born within the limits of this state after the fourth day of July 1863, shall be free; and all slaves within the said State who shall, at the time aforesaid, be under the age of 10 years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of 21 years; and all slaves over 10 and under 21 years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of 25 years: and no slave shall be permitted to come into the state for permanent residence therein."
Why, you ask, were they so timid about outlawing slavery outright? The answer was that they needed to get approval of the voters for the new constitution. Since those voters had largely come from Virginia, it was feared many would vote against the bill if it freed the slaves immediately. So the answer became "gradual." We are also sure there were also those who still favored slavery or other reasons. For example, P.G. Van Winkle was upset with Congress meddling with "his constitution," because he was an avid states rights advocate and felt this was a prerogative of the state.
Since the president's signature was still required, new lobbying started for his favor. Gov. Pierpont sent a message to the president Dec. 18, 1862, which read as follows: "Apprehension is felt here of the fate of the new state bill. It would be disastrous to the Union cause in Western Virginia. I don't see we can satisfy Union Men. It will be death to our cause. F.H. Pierpont, Gov. Va." Parkersburg Congressman and oilman Jacob Beeson Blair became active in lobbying, with Sen. Willey, to convince the president and his cabinet to support the bill. However, Sen. John Carlile of Harrison County continued his opposition to the bill and did what he could to undermine it.
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." Contact McKain at firstname.lastname@example.org