This weekend marks the anniversary of an unusual chapter in the Civil War, not a battle but the radical step taken by delegates from 38 northwestern Virginia counties loyal to the Union after the state secession convention voted to join the Confederacy. They met between June 10 and 25 in Wheeling, named themselves the Restored Government of Virginia and promptly elected a governor.
In effect, they had seceded from a state that had seceded from the Union. While the rest of Virginia got ready for war with Washington, the tentatively named, new state of Kanawha declared the Richmond government illegal, signed the "Declaration of the Rights of the People of Virginia" and elected Francis H. Pierpont as governor.
On June 10, re-enactors will honor the anniversary of that meeting in Wheeling with “West Virginia Day Celebration!” and again on June 18 with “For Liberty and Union: The Restored Government of West Virginia.” Programs include a presentation of the Declaration, the election of Pierpont and his inaugural address.
The separation had a lot to do with a long history of acrimony between the politically unimportant mountainous part of Virginia and the richer and politically more powerful eastern section of the state. The convention’s vote to join the Confederate States of America must have been seen as the ultimate snub.
On Oct. 24, residents of 39--one more than the 38 attending the Wheeling convention--voted overwhelmingly to approve the formation of a new state but the election tallies may well have been rigged because Union troops by then occupied the entire area and were present at the polls. Also several disinterested counties, including Jefferson and Berkeley, were dragged into the new coalition because they included important railroad lines.
Eventually, the new state renamed itself West Virginia was admitted to the union on June 20, 1863. It survived a legal challenge to the inclusion of Jefferson and Berkeley counties in the new state when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of West Virginia.