The American Civil War was truly a war of brother against brother, and no state experienced that more profoundly than Virginia. As the nation tore apart in the spring of 1861, Virginians were forced to pick a side: stand with their state, or remain loyal to the Union? In the chaos of those formative months, the answer wasn’t always clear.
The goal of this website is to provide Civil War historians, academics, researchers, and enthusiasts a comprehensive and accurate guide to Civil War Virginia prior to the First Battle of Manassas (aka Bull Run). This site will have a “facts first” approach with transparent sourcing and supporting documentation.
The seven months between South Carolina’s secession from the Union on December 20, 1860, the firing on Fort Sumter on Apr 12, 1861, Virginia’s referendum to ratify secession on May 23, 1861, and the First Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861, were filled with high stakes drama and decisive events, yet most of this early Civil War history is glossed over or marginalized in history books and popular accounts.
Most narratives of the war fast-forward from the firing on Fort Sumter, SC to the First Battle of Manassas, but did you know:
- On April 4, 1861, Virginia’s state Secession Convention initially voted against secession?
- On April 23, 1861, Robert E. Lee was appointed commander of Virginia’s militia forces, not the Confederate Army? He was not commissioned a general in the Confederate regular army until May 14th.
- Virginia initially considered itself in “alliance with” (and not formally part of) the Confederate States of America, and the Confederate Congress did not convene in Richmond until July 20, 1861?
- The first shots fired between Virginia militia and Union forces occurred on May 7, 1861, before Virginia voters ratified secession?
- On May 13th, pro-Union delegates met in what was then Wheeling, Virginia to consider a response to secession, which laid the groundwork for creation of West Virginia as a separate state?
- Virginia had two state governments during the war: one pro-Union (based in Wheeling) and one pro-Confederate?
- Many Virginians, including Winfield Scott, George Henry Thomas, David Farragut, Jesse L. Reno, Martin Delany, and over 20,000 others chose to fight for the Union?
- Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, the first Union officer killed in the war, was shot by a hotel proprietor in Alexandria, Virginia?
- Union General George B. McClellan gained fame for a successful military campaign in western Virginia prior to the First Battle of Manassas?