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1861 Western Virginia Campaign--1861 Civil War West Virginia

Created by Kathleen Thompson on September 4th 2020, 5:13:32 pm.

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This 1861 Civil War campaign is the first land campaign of the war and largely secured the counties in western Virginia for the Union, helping the secession movement of the west into a new Union State in 1863. The 1861 Western Virginia campaign occurred when that region was still part of Virginia, but was already thinking about breaking away due to their closer ties with Pennsylvania and Ohio. Within the western portion of the state lay mineral deposits useful for the production of arms and ammunition and transportation networks between Virginia and the mid-west. To secure these for the Union, George B. McClellan invaded western Virginia as commander of the Department of the Ohio against the three Confederate forces there. Philippi was not of great military importance, but the juncture of the Parkersburg-Grafton Railroad and the Baltimore & Ohio lay 25 miles north at Grafton, connecting the eastern states and the mid-west. Robert E. Lee, then in command of all military forces in Virginia, ordered Colonel George Porterfield to recruit a Confederate force in the western counties to hold the rail lines at Grafton. Porterfield was largely unsuccessful due to the Union loyalties and resentment against the Richmond government, only pulling together a small force of poorly trained and ill-equipped men. To help defend his position, Porterfield burned several bridges in order to slow enemy movements. With Virginia's definitive vote for secession and Porterfield's destruction of roadways, McClellan received the green light to move troops and supplies into western Virginia to occupy the area and protect Unionist civilians. The entire campaign consisted of eight small engagements that secured western Virginia for the Union and prevented the Confederates from occupying the area for the rest of the war. This military occupation by Union forces assisted in the political process to split the western counties from Virginia and create a new state in 1863. The success of the campaign also placed McClellan in the view of army superiors and after the July defeat at Manassas, McClellan rose to command the Army of the Potomac.