West Virginia Union Soldiers and Sailors Memorial
The Union Soldiers and Sailors monument is a memorial to the West Virginians who fought for the Union in the American Civil War. As West Virginia became a state in response to Virginia's secession from the Union, the new state was predominantly sympathetic to the Union. The memorial was funded by the State of West Virginia and placed on the capitol grounds in 1930. It faces Kanawha Blvd. east of the Governor’s Mansion. The statue depicts a soldier carrying a musket and symbolically marching towards the statue of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, which is also placed on capitol grounds.
Backstory and Context
West Virginia directly and indirectly served during the American Civil War. In fact, some of the first battles of the war occurred in West Virginia, though it remained part of Virginia prior to 1863. On June 3, 1861, Union General George B. McClellan pushed back Confederate Colonel George A. Porterfield’s forces from Phillipi, a major railroad connection to the entire northwest region of the state. This battle was possibly the first land battle of the Civil War and established space for the Wheeling convention to convene and debate the issue of West Virginia’s statehood. On August 18, 1861, there was an attempt to capture a U.S. armory in Harpers Ferry by Confederate forces. In 1862, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson captured the town of Romney, a chokehold on the B&O Railway that ran through the Shenandoah Valley region. Romney would be contested for throughout the war, and captured by both sides over 56 times.
However, a war is more than bullets and blood. When Virginia voted to secede from the Union on April 17, 1861 delegates of the western region of the state voted against the secession. They would later call their part of the state the Restored Government of Virginia and chose Francis H. Pierpont as their leader. On October 24, 1861, there was an election held in western Virginia to see who would officially wish to secede from Virginia to form a pro-Union state. 39 counties chose to secede but these statistics are unclear, since many Union soldiers guarded the polls from Confederate adherents. As the Confederates controlled much territory in the south of Virginia, Mineral, Grant, Lincoln, Summers, and Mingo were not a part of the original formation of West Virginia on June 20, 1863; these counties joined after the Civil War.
The United States Constitution states that in order for a new state to form, the approval of the mother state must be met. But since the Reformed Government of Virginia was legitimized by President Abraham Lincoln himself, the new state was able to appoint itself statehood. West Virginia, though known as a Union state, remained divided amongst itself. The southern part of West Virginia saw over 18,000 troops supporting the Confederate cause, and many towns, homes, and civilians saw the horror of war first hand. 32,000 West Virginians served the Union. This service encompassed the largest battles seen on Mountaineer soil in September 1862 at Harper’s Ferry and Shepherdstown, Droop Mountain in 1863, and Summit Point in 1864.
In 1927, the WV Legislature created a Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Commission. This commission planned the memorial building on the Capitol grounds as a monument in recognition of the estimated 20,000 to 36,000 men of the state who fought for the Union in the Civil War. The memorial was dedicated in 1930 to the memory of the Union soldiers and sailors from the State of West Virginia in the Civil War.
The state set aside funds in the amount of $15,000 for the project. Two other Civil War monuments on the Capitol grounds, the Stonewall Jackson and Mountaineer statues, were both paid for by private funds. A New Martinsville, WV monument firm was awarded the contract. Little is known about the artist of the statue, Roy H. Stewart.
The Union Soldiers and Sailors monument (USSM) depicts a Home Guard soldier carrying a musket and marching east toward the Stonewall Jackson statue in the southeast corner of the capitol grounds. The USSM has four plaques affixed to its base. One commemorates the dedication of the memorial and contains the names of the members of the Union Soldiers and Sailors Commission who erected the memorial. The second plaque contains a transcript of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The third plaque commemorates the admission of the State of West Virginia to the Union on June 20, 1863, as follows: "The Act of Congress admitting West Virginia as a separate state was approved by President Abraham Lincoln. June 20, 1863." The final plaque is inscribed: "In Memory of the thirty-two thousand soldiers, sailors and marines, contributed West Virginia to the service of the Union during the Civil War. 1861 - 1865."
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