West Virginia Union Soldiers and Sailors Memorial
The statue is a memorial to the Union Soldiers and Sailors from West Virginia who fought in the Civil War. Funded by the State of WV and placed on the Capitol grounds in 1930, it faces Kanawha Blvd. east of the Governor’s Mansion.
Backstory and Context
West Virginia had directly and indirectly served during the American Civil War. In fact, some of the first battles were had in West Virginia; being western Virginia prior 1863, however. On August 18, 1861, there was the attempt to capture a U.S. armory in Harper’s Ferry by the Confederates. On June 3, 1861, The Union General George B. McClellan pushed back Confederate Colonel George A. Porterfield’s forces from Phillip, a major railroad connection to the entire northwest region of the state and later providing home for the Wheeling convention to make West Virginia a state, resulting in Confederate retreat; this is possibly the first land battle of the Civil War. 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, from the Union. 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. Behind the scenes, 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 would be led by the chosen Francis H. Pierpont. 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 succeed but these statistics are ostensibly unclear, since many Union soldiers guarded the polls from Confederate adherents. Since the Confederates controlled much territory in the south, every county except 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 State 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 then could appoint itself its own statehood. West Virginia, though being known as a Union state, was still very divided amongst itself. The southern part of West Virginia would see over 18,000 troops supporting the CSA, and many towns, homes, and civilians would see the horror of war first hand. 32,000 West Virginians would serve the Union, and aid in the largest battles seen on mountaineer soil on September 1862 in 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, which planned the building, on the Capitol grounds, of a monument in memory 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, West Virginia, monument firm was awarded the contract. Little is known about the artist of the statue, Roy H. Stewart.
The monument depicts a Home Guard soldier carrying a musket, and the soldier is marching east toward the Stonewall Jackson statue in the southeast corner of the capitol grounds. It 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 the words from 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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