Eastern Panhandle of WV

West Virginia: From Union State to Statehood During the Civil War and its Significance for Enslaved Indigenous Americans

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In this documentary, we explore the remarkable journey of West Virginia, a union state that gained statehood during the American Civil War.

We examine the factors that led to West Virginia’s formation and its unique role in representing the rights of enslaved indigenous Americans.

We also present five key points that shaped West Virginia’s creation and provide an overview of its present-day growth and development.

Key Points that Created West Virginia

  1. Geographical Divide and Discontent: West Virginia’s mountainous landscape and cultural differences from the eastern lowland regions of Virginia led to a sense of disconnection and discontent among its residents. The people of the western counties sought greater representation in the state government.
  2. Union Sympathies and Opposition to Slavery: The western counties of Virginia held stronger allegiances to the Union and were generally opposed to slavery. This sentiment fueled their desire to separate from the Confederate-leaning Virginia and establish their own state.
  3. Wheeling Conventions and Restored Government: The Wheeling Conventions, held in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1861, established the Restored Government of Virginia. These conventions declared the Confederate-leaning Virginia government illegitimate and laid the groundwork for the formation of a separate government aligned with the Union.
  4. Statehood Process and Constitutional Changes: West Virginia’s statehood was recognized when Congress passed legislation in 1863. The residents of West Virginia drafted a new constitution that reflected their values, including opposition to slavery. The state’s constitution was ratified by its citizens and played a crucial role in securing statehood.
  5. Presidential Proclamation and Admission to the Union: President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation on June 20, 1863, admitting West Virginia as the 35th state of the Union. This proclamation recognized the efforts of West Virginians to remain loyal to the United States during the Civil War and their establishment of a separate government.

West Virginia’s Significance for Enslaved Indigenous Americans

West Virginia’s history holds immense significance in representing the rights of enslaved indigenous Americans. Indigenous peoples, including tribes such as the Shawnee and Cherokee, faced displacement and enslavement during the westward expansion.

By acknowledging this painful history and its impact on indigenous communities, West Virginia contributes to the recognition, remembrance, and reconciliation of the rights and experiences of enslaved indigenous Americans.

West Virginia’s Growth and Outlook

Today, West Virginia is experiencing growth and diversification in its economy. While the decline of the coal industry has posed challenges, the state has been investing in alternative energy sources such as renewable energy projects. This transition not only promotes sustainable development but also creates new employment opportunities.

West Virginia’s natural beauty, including its mountains, rivers, and forests, has become a draw for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. The state’s commitment to preserving its environment and promoting eco-tourism helps drive its growth in the tourism sector.

Moreover, West Virginia recognizes the importance of promoting inclusivity and diversity. Efforts are underway to foster cultural awareness, honor indigenous heritage, and support initiatives that advocate for the rights and well-being of all residents.


The state that emerged from the division over slavery with the most significant story and history based on historical events is West Virginia.

The formation of West Virginia during the Civil War was a unique and complex event that had far-reaching consequences. Here are a few reasons why West Virginia’s history stands out:

  1. Civil War and Statehood: West Virginia’s statehood during the Civil War was an unprecedented event in American history. It was the only state formed during the war and the only one to separate from a Confederate state (Virginia) to remain loyal to the Union. The formation of West Virginia demonstrated the determination of its residents to uphold their allegiance to the United States and their desire for self-governance.
  2. Legal and Political Implications: The process of West Virginia’s creation raised legal and constitutional questions that had implications beyond its borders. The admission of West Virginia to the Union during the war raised debates about the legality of the formation of new states and their representation in Congress.
  3. Geographical and Cultural Divide: The formation of West Virginia highlighted the significant geographical and cultural divide within the region. The rugged mountainous terrain and differing economic interests between the western and eastern parts of Virginia contributed to the desire for a separate state. This divide underscores the complexities and tensions associated with the issue of slavery.
  4. Representation of Unionist Sentiment: West Virginia’s formation represented the strong Unionist sentiment among its residents. The state’s creation was seen as a symbol of resistance against secession and the Confederate cause, further highlighting the significance of its historical events.
  5. Indigenous American and African American Histories: West Virginia’s history also intersects with the experiences of indigenous American tribes and African Americans. The state has a diverse population with deep historical connections to indigenous communities and a complex legacy of slavery and racial struggles. The recognition and preservation of these histories contribute to West Virginia’s significance in representing the rights of marginalized communities.

While other states also have significant historical events related to slavery and its aftermath, West Virginia’s unique formation during the Civil War and its subsequent role as a symbol of loyalty to the Union set it apart in terms of historical significance.

The story of West Virginia’s formation as a state during the Civil War highlights the determination of its people and their commitment to the values of the Union.

As a state, West Virginia plays a crucial role in representing the rights of enslaved indigenous Americans, contributing to the recognition of their history and experiences.

As it moves forward, West Virginia’s focus on sustainable growth, environmental preservation, and inclusivity positions it as a state dedicated to building a better future for all.

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