Secession

From the beginning of our nation there have always been State governments and a Federal government and an argument as to which should be dominant. Although the argument has supposedly been settled many times over the years, always in favor of the Federal government, vestiges of the argument still remain today. The Civil War was the most costly effort to settle the argument which again resulted in favor of the Federal government.

When Abraham Lincoln, who was very unpopular in the South, was elected President in November 1860 with less than 40 percent of the popular vote and with less than 2,000 votes in Virginia many Southern states began to take the position that they had joined the Union voluntarily and that they had the right to withdraw from the Union at any time they chose to do so. Acting on this position seven Southern states seceded from the Union before Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861 and while the lame duck President Buchanan was taking no action regarding the seceding states. These states and the dates of their secession were: South Carolina, December 20, 1860; Mississippi, January 9, 1861; Florida, January 10, 1861; Alabama, January 11, 1861; Georgia, January 19, 1861; Louisiana, January 26, 1861; and Texas, February 1, 1861. These seven states met at Montgomery, Alabama from February 4 through March 11, 1861 during which time they organized a provisional government with Montgomery as its Capital, announced the establishment of the Confederate States of America, elected and inaugurated Jefferson Davis as its President and adopted a Constitution for the new government.

Virginia was very reluctant to secede from the Union. It called a special session of the General Assembly on January 7, 1861 to consider convening a convention on the question of session. On January 14, 1861 the General Assembly approved calling the convention. On January 19, 1861 Virginia called for a peace conference which met in Washington, D. C. as the Washington Peace Convention without any substantial results. On February 4, 1861 an election in Virginia created a pro-union secessionist convention which held its first meeting on February 13. A “test vote” on April 3 showed a 2 to 1 opposition to secession. Delegates from Pittsylvania County to the convention were William T. Sutherlin from Danville and William Marshall Treadway from Chatham. On April 13, 1861 Fort Sumter in South Carolina fell and was evacuated by Union forces after heavy bombardment by secessionist forces. Then on April 15, 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to suppress the secession with Virginia’s quota being 8,000. This action by Lincoln quickly changed the tenor of Virginia’s convention and on April 17 they approved wording of a referendum which resulted in the Virginia Order of Secession. On April 23 the convention recommended temporary union with the Confederacy and on May 23 the General Assembly ratified a Confederate Order of Secession and Virginia became a part of the Confederate States of America. Other states which joined the Confederacy during May 1961 were Arkansas on May 6, Tennessee on May 7, and North Carolina on May 20, bringing the total of the Confederate States to eleven. Later a part of Missouri joined on October 31, 1861 and a part of Kentucky joined on November 20, 1861, bringing the total number of states claimed by the Confederacy to thirteen. The number of states claimed by the Confederacy was reflected in the number of stars contained in its national flag, the Stars and Bars, as states were added. Because of confusion of the Stars and Bars with the Union Stars and Stripes in battle, the Confederate battle flag was adopted for use in battle after the Battle of First Manassas, and was incorporated into the second (Stainless Banner) national flag and the third (Blood Stained Banner) and is the flag most often associated with the Confederacy today.

On May 6, 1861 the Confederate legislature voted to move the Capital from Montgomery to Richmond, Virginia, and the move was actually accomplished by May 29 setting the stage for the many bloody conflicts which would take place in Virginia until the end of the Confederacy.

Without repeating all of the information contained in them, clicking on the following links and some of the links contained within them will provide details and a timeline on the events which took place in Virginia leading up to its secession from the Union and its joining the Confederacy: