Civil War and Virginia

Black and white photo of Robert E. Lee on horseback
Virginia native Robert E. Lee led Confederate forces during the Civil War.

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The Confederate States of America (CSA) was founded in February 1861. The actual Civil War began on April 12, 1861. Just five days later, Virginia became the eighth state to secede from the Union.  The decision to secede was anything but unanimous and resulted in the formation of West Virginia on November 26, 1861. This new border state did not secede from the Union. West Virginia is the sole state that was formed by seceding from a Confederate state. Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution provides that a new state cannot be formed within a state without that state’s consent. However, with Virginia's secession this was not enforced.

Virginia had the largest population in the South and its storied history played an enormous role in the founding of the U.S. It was the birthplace and home of Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In May 1861, Richmond, Virginia became the capital city of the CSA because it had the natural resources that Confederate government so badly needed to effectively wage a war against the Union. Although the city of Richmond is situated only a mere 100 miles from the U.S. capital in Washington, D.C., it was a large industrial city. Richmond was also the home to Tredegar Iron Works, one of the largest foundries in U.S. prior to the onset of the Civil War. During the war, Tredegar produced over 1000 canons for the Confederacy as well as armor plating for warships. In addition to this, Richmond’s industry produced a number of different war materials such as ammunition, guns and swords as well as supplied uniforms, tents and leather goods to the Confederate Army.

Battles in Virginia

The majority of the battles in the Civil War’s Eastern Theater took place in Virginia, mainly due to the need to protect Richmond from being captured by Union forces. These battles include the Battle of Bull Run, which is also known as the First Manassas. This was the first major battle of the Civil War fought on July 21, 1861 and also a major Confederate victory. On August 28, 1862, the Second Battle of Bull Run began. It lasted for three days with over a combined 100,000 soldiers on the battlefield.  This battle also ended with a Confederate victory.

Hampton Roads, Virginia was also the site of the first naval battle between ironclad warships. The USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia fought to a draw in March 1862. Other major land battles that occurred in Virginia include Shenandoah Valley, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

On April 3, 1865, the Confederate forces and government evacuated their capital at Richmond and troops were ordered to burn all of the industrial warehouses and businesses that would be of any value to Union forces. Tredegar Irons Works was one of a few businesses that survived the burning of Richmond, because its owner had it protected through the use of armed guards. The advancing Union Army began to quickly extinguish the fires, saving most of the residential areas from destruction. The business district didn’t fare as well with some estimating at least twenty-five percent of the businesses suffering a total loss. Unlike General Sherman’s destruction of the South during his 'March to the Sea', it was the Confederates themselves who destroyed the city of Richmond.

On April 9, 1865, the Battle of Appomattox Court House proved to be the last significant battle of the Civil Was as well as the final battle for General Robert E. Lee. He would officially surrender there to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 12, 1865.  The war in Virginia was finally over.

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Kelly, Martin. "Civil War and Virginia." ThoughtCo, Dec. 21, 2022, Kelly, Martin. (2022, December 21). Civil War and Virginia. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Civil War and Virginia." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).