West Virginia, born of a nation divided, was the setting for the First Campaign of America’s Civil War. Although still part of Virginia in 1861, many citizens of the western half of the state were loyal to the Union. By late May of 1861, Union Gen. George B. McClellan, commanding the Department of the Ohio, launched the First Campaign – ordering troops to cross the Ohio River and secure western Virginia for the Union. The resulting battles were fought in West Virginia’s mountains, in what is now Barbour, Taylor, Tucker, Randolph and Pocahontas counties.
During June and July of 1861, McClellan’s army won the inaugural Union victories of the Civil War. Federal troops now occupied western Virginia as loyal delegates met in Wheeling to form the Restored Government of Virginia, a Union government to oppose the Confederate one in Richmond. In August, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee tried – and failed – to reclaim that part of Virginia, and by 1862 the conflict had shifted east. The First Campaign proved to be decisive: In 1863, the western counties under Union control became the new state of West Virginia.