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WVU Libraries Present West Virginia Day Celebration

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
June 14th, 2011

Broadsides tacked on buildings and telegraph poles spoke to the fierce debate swirling around western Virginia at the start of the Civil War in 1861. While one poster rallied citizens to follow their brothers in Richmond and join the Confederacy, another called for people to remain loyal to the United States and stand firm against their treasonous eastern brethren.

“When Virginia’s Richmond leaders decided to join the Confederacy, citizens who were loyal to the United States were faced with a dilemma,” said John Cuthbert, Curator of the West Virginia and Regional History Collection. “They didn’t want to be part of a Virginia that was not going to be part of the United States.”

A broadside posted in Morgantown by Gen. James Evans at the start of the Civil War.

What transpired between the start of the Civil War and two years later when President Abraham Lincoln welcomed the 35th state, West Virginia, into the Union will be the focus of the annual West Virginia Day Celebration presented by the West Virginia University Libraries and the WVRHC on June 20.

Activities begin at 9:30 a.m. with a reception in the Wise Library’s Milano Room. At 10 a.m., distinguished historian and author Dr. John E. Stealey, III will talk about the political developments that took place in western Virginia in 1861 in response to the Richmond government’s secession.

Stealey, a history professor at Shepherd University, is an authority regarding the conventions and events that led to the establishment of the Reorganized Government of Virginia and the new state of West Virginia. He has written or contributed to several books and articles that pertain to this critical period of West Virginia history. His article, “West Virginia’s Constitutional Critique of Virginia: The Revolution of 1861-1863,” appears in the current issue of the journal Civil War History.

Following his talk, the WVRHC will open its exhibit. On display will be artifacts and documents concerning the Civil War and the birth of West Virginia including:

  • An array of weapons – rifles, revolvers and swords – used in battle by Union and Confederate soldiers. Collection staff have traced many of the implements to the people who used them and where they used them.
  • Bullets excavated at Shepherdstown, site of an important battle.
  • Items relating to Gen. Stonewall Jackson, including a family photo album containing carte de viste photographs of him and his sister, Laura Arnold; Jackson’s pen knife; and the lap secretary he used to write letters and dispatches during the Civil War.
  • The Virginia Governor Francis H. Pierpont’s copies of actual telegrams exchanged between Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. Robert E. Lee outlining the South’s surrender at Appomattox.
  • Personal items, including diaries and a flute of a soldier who played in his regiment’s military band.
  • A selection of broadsides heralding messages from the Union and Confederacy. One printed by Col. James Evans, whose family owned property covering the area now known as Evansdale, announced that he had been authorized to raise an army of 1,010 men. Complementing the poster is a photograph of hundreds of men lining High Street to enlist.
  • Music of the Civil War. In addition to sheet music, audio recordings from the 1930s will be played. “The sounds of this music will be very authentic,” Cuthbert said. “When you hear this, you’re actually hearing the music of the Civil War.”

The WVRHC will also use the event to launch its online version of the Francis H. Pierpont Civil War Telegram Series. Pierpont served as governor of the Reorganized Government of Virginia. The collection consists mostly of telegrams received by Pierpont between 1861 and May 1863. A majority of the communications concern military matters, including one from Gen. George McClellan requesting Pierpont to appoint military officers.

Along with viewing actual telegrams, visitors can learn how to use the new website dedicated to Pierpont’s correspondence.

“The telegrams are incredible,” Cuthbert said. “They provide nearly a daily record of the progress of the war in western Virginia for the first two years.”

At noon, attendees can enjoy a piece of birthday cake in the Atrium and receive a complimentary copy of the colorful 2011 West Virginia Day Poster. The poster features a map of “East and West Virginia” issued 150 years ago when no one knew what lay ahead for the two states of Virginia.

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