In elementary and high school, all West Virginians learn about John Brown’s Raid and the Civil War. We were the site of multiple Civil War battles, from the first land battle of the war at Philippi to Droop Mountain. We were also home to 6 Union generals and 17 Confederate, including John McCausland of Mason County. Despite this, West Virginia is usually portrayed as solidly in favor of the Union. This simply isn’t true. We tend to think of the Civil War as brother against brother, and if this is true anywhere, it is West Virginia.
By April of 1861, when Virginia proposed secession, the entire state was debating the issue. Mason County chose a Point Pleasant lawyer, James Henry Couch, to attend the Richmond Convention and voice our opinion. Couch, the son of a slave owner, voted no and refused to sign the Secession Ordinance. It may have shocked his family, but he was welcomed home with even greater respect than he had previously enjoyed.
The next month, when the Ordinance came up for public vote, Mason County voted 1,841 against secession with 116 in favor and 3 abstaining. Public reaction was nearly immediate. Typical of Mason County backlash, the names of all 119 who didn’t support the Union were published in the local newspapers.
On June 14th, the following was anonymously published in the Pomeroy Weekly Telegraph. “You will please to publish the following names in your paper. They are those who voted for the ordinance of secession in Mason Co., Va. We desire that every person should have a chance to know them, now and forever. We think by having them entered upon the columns of your paper they will be well marked. We hope that every Union man in Mason Co. will obtain a copy of your paper with the following names and lay it upon the shelf for future references.”
Among the men were Henry Grimm of New Haven, Dr. A.L. Knight of West Columbia, Thomas Lewis of Point Pleasant, the McCauslands of Southside, and James Madison Hite Beale of Gallipolis Ferry. According to later historians, all 116 joined the Confederate army, though they were welcomed home at the end of the war.
Virtually every community contained someone who had supported secession, even if they didn’t voice it publicly. Henry Chapman of Hartford, who voted for the Union, later named his son Jeff Davis Chapman after the Confederate President.
As you’ve seen, we’ve got a decent record of men’s opinions on the war, but we have very little on the women. The only records I’ve seen are war reports, written by Confederate General Jenkins and Union Captain J.D. Carter, which mention female Confederate sympathizers in Racine and Point Pleasant.
This entire episode tore the community apart, but also forced everybody into local politics, as we’ll see next week in an article on the First Wheeling Convention.
Information from the Pomeroy Weekly Telegraph and writings of Mildred Chapman Gibbs.
Chris Rizer directs the Mason County Historic Preservation Society which can be found on Facebook.
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