Virginia at War, 1861

Virginia at War, 1861

Virginia at War, 1861

Virginia at War, 1861

Synopsis

Although nine of the former British colonies joined the United States before Virginia, the fate of the new republic depended heavily on the Commonwealth. With four of the first five American presidents, and many other founding fathers and framers of the Constitution, calling Virginia their home, the roots of American democracy are firmly planted within the borders of the Old Dominion. Similarly, several Southern states preceded Virginia in seceding from the Union, but until Virginia joined them in April 1861, the Confederacy lacked cohesion. Richmond was immediately named the capital of the fledgling nation, and by the end of spring, Virginia had become the primary political and military theater in which the grand tragedy of the Civil War was enacted. Virginia at War, 1861, edited by acclaimed historians William C. Davis and James I. Robertson Jr., vividly portrays the process of secession, the early phases of conflict, and the struggles of Virginians to weather the brutal storms of war. Virginia at War, 1861 is the first in a series of volumes on each of Virginia's five years as a Confederate state. Essays by eight noted Civil War scholars provide a three-dimensional view of Virginians' experiences during the first year of the War Between the States. In addition to recounting the remarkable military events taking place in Virginia in 1861, this collection examines a civilian population braced for war but divided on crucial questions, an economy pressed to cope with the demands of combat, and a culture that strained to reconcile its proud heritage with its uncertain future. In 1861, the outcome of the Civil War was far from determined, but for Virginians there was little doubt that the war experience would alter nearly everything they had known before the outbreak of hostilities. In exacting detail, Virginia at War, 1861 examines the earliest challenges of the Civil War, the changes war wrought, and the ways in which Virginians withstood and adapted to this profound, irrevocable upheaval.

Excerpt

Virginia’s was a troubled course to disunion. As the mother state of independence, home of Washington and Jefferson and Madison, hers was an attachment to the nation unique among the states. As the sectional crisis grew in intensity after 1820, Virginia and its leaders increasingly sought ways to mediate between the antagonistic sections, perhaps knowing instinctively that if ever it came to blows, the Old Dominion could be caught in between, doomed to lose no matter who won. Once the secession juggernaut launched itself on its mad course, Virginians tried mightily to stay out of the coming storm. No other future Confederate state stepped back from the brink repeatedly as did Virginia, before events inevitably propelled her to secession.

Geography and events guaranteed that the state’s history after leaving the Union would be just as difficult. No other state would be the scene of so much fighting. No other state would see so much destruction. By the end of the four-year conflict, Virginia was exhausted. Yet in the process she had done other things to give her a place apart. Here was the fabled Army of Northern Virginia. She gave to Confederate posterity names like Lee, Jackson, Stuart, and more. It was in her own capital city Richmond that the Confederate government lived its brief life and began to die its death. Behind all that lay the story of a common people at war, and that is the story that will be explored in Virginia at War, of which the present volume is the first of a projected five, each to deal with a discrete year of the Old Dominion’s life as a Confederate state.

While each volume will present enough of the story unfolding on the battlefield to provide a backdrop, Virginia at War, 1861 will look at other roads less traveled. It will present the stories of a civilian population struggling to continue life as normal, of industry pressed to the limit to cope with war’s demands, of society strained beyond its usual bounds, of women taking on new roles while continuing the old, and of blacks, free and slave . . .

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