By Garry Gallagher, Ph.D., University of Virginia
In 1861, Merriman, a lieutenant in a company in Maryland, was arrested and held at Fort McHenry in Maryland. He was released and transferred to civil authority and an indictment for treason was filed against him in the U.S. Circuit Court in Baltimore. He was then set free on bail. Why was the case dropped, and what was the message being sent to the state of Maryland?
Lincoln’s Strategy for Maryland
Dropping a case was common to get potential problems off the street, and to send a message that pro-Southern or pro-Confederate activity would not be countenanced in the state of Maryland.
During the fall of 1861, Maryland had a gubernatorial election. Lincoln thought it was vital that a Unionist be elected Governor of Maryland. So he took extraordinary steps such as arresting 19 members of the Maryland legislature, arbitrarily. Maryland soldiers in the Union army who were known to be Unionists were given three-day furloughs to go home and vote, and federal troops were sent to the polling places to discourage anti-Unionist voters from casting ballots, which encouraged Unionist voters to cast their ballots.
Marylanders Continue to Resist
The Unionist candidate, Augustus Bradford, won in Maryland and Lincoln’s firm response to secessionist sentiment in Maryland kept the state in the Union. However, many Maryland residents deeply resented some of the measures used to keep Maryland in the Union, and many in the Confederacy assumed that the state was held in the Union at the point of a bayonet without understanding that most Marylanders were actually loyal to the Union. Nevertheless, some pro-Confederate Marylanders felt that they were living under military occupation and the state remained divided in loyalty.
Learn more about the early Union triumphs in the West.
Delaware Remains Loyal
Delaware was the fourth border state, never in doubt and overwhelmingly loyal to the Union. Delaware’s commerce was tied to North Pennsylvania, rather than to the South. Southern sympathizers were a tiny minority in the state. There was really no chance that Delaware was not going to remain loyal to the Union. It sent about 11,000 men into the Union army and a handful of men to the Confederate army.
Tale of West Virginia
West Virginia, a border state, was created in 1861 from the counties of western Virginia which didn’t have many slaves. It had strong economic and cultural ties to Pennsylvania and Ohio, and very little in common with the eastern parts of the state of Virginia.
That state of West Virginia, what was then Virginia, goes way north, up to Pittsburgh. Political power was concentrated in the east, and there were long-standing grievances in western Virginia against the eastern part of the state who believed that they were underrepresented and overtaxed. When Virginia voted to secede on April 17, 1861, the delegates to that secession convention from west of the Alleghenies decided to secede from Virginia or from the Confederacy.
Learn more about the First Manassas or Bull Run.
Small Wins in West Virginia by the Union
There were a series of small victories in West Virginia at Philippi, at Cheat Mountain, at Corrick’s Ford, and elsewhere by the Union armies that effectively removed major Confederate military presence from the area and opened the way for Union control. Two conventions representing 34 trans-Allegheny counties were held at Wheeling, the second of which voted on August 2, 1861, to set itself up as the legitimate government of the state of Virginia. The convention next called for a constitutional convention to meet again for creating a new state to be called Kanawha after a river in the area. It was later decided to change the name to West Virginia. The boundaries of the new state-to-be were drawn arbitrarily to include 48 counties.
No State Within a State
Half the potential population of that proposed state was entirely unrepresented at Wheeling, a popular referendum in which only those who took a loyalty oath to the Union could vote. In May 1862, a Unionist legislature that theoretically represented all of the state of Virginia but, in fact, represented only part of the trans-Allegheny region, approved the creation of a new state. This technically satisfied the clause in the U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 3, that said no state could be formed within the boundaries of an existing state without the consent of the existing state’s legislature.
50 Counties in West Virginia
The United States Congress admitted West Virginia to the Union in 1863, which consisted of 50 counties. Two more were added so that the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which dipped down into Virginia just a little bit, would be entirely in loyal United States territory. About half of the people in that new state were pro-Confederacy and preferred to stay in the Confederacy. West Virginia sent 25,000 men to the Union army and 15,000 to the Confederate army. The most important among those 15,000 was Stonewall Jackson, who was born in West Virginia.
This is a transcript from the video series The American Civil War. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Retaining the Border States
Through different processes, the border states were kept out of the Confederacy. Though there remained tensions in Kentucky and Missouri, with open guerrilla warfare after the decisions were made to stay in the Union, there was no realistic chance after the autumn of 1861 that any of those border states would cast their lot officially with the Confederacy. By retaining those states, the Union achieved an enormous amount. It held strategic access to the major rivers in the west.
The Union also controlled military resources greater than those of the Upper South states that had seceded after Lincoln’s call for volunteers. Retention of the border states was counted as a major Union strategic success that overshadowed results on battlefields such as First Manassas or Wilson’s Creek or the other smaller engagements in 1861. Lincoln’s government had achieved strategic victory and enhanced the Northern efforts to defeat the Confederacy.
Common Questions about Creation of West Virginia
West Virginia, a border state was created in 1861. There were long-standing grievances in western Virginia against the eastern part of the state who believed they were underrepresented and overtaxed. When Virginia voted to secede on April 17, 1861, the delegates from west of the Alleghenies decided to secede from Virginia or from the Confederacy.
West Virginia had very few slaves, but a rich economy.
West Virginia was admitted to the union in 1863, and the new state consisted of 50 counties.
Delaware was the fourth border state, overwhelmingly loyal to the Union. Delaware’s commerce was tied to the North, to Pennsylvania, rather than to the South. Southern sympathizers were a tiny minority in the state.