January 1861

John Letcher was governor of Virginia, 1860-1864.
John Letcher was governor of Virginia, 1860-1864.

The year 1861 began with Virginia Governor John Letcher calling the state assembly into an extra session on the 7th. Letcher proposed organizing a peace convention and inviting all states to participate. Delegate Crawford Jones of Appomattox County opposed any measure short of outright secession, and introduced a bill to fund weapons and training for the Appomattox County militia. Jones owned a law office at the eastern end of the village of Appomattox Court House, where the Prince Edward Road intersected the Richmond Stagecoach Road.

Governor Letcher also outlined several conditions that Virginia demanded of the Federal Government, including protection of slavery within the District of Columbia, slavery being allowed into the western territories, rigid laws against literature that could incite slave insurrection.

Two days later, on the 9th, the crisis took a turn for the worse. Fort Sumter’s defenders were low on supplies, and a burning question facing Federal commanders was its resupply. President James Buchanan finally authorized a supply ship to journey to the fort, with food only. South Carolina troops on shore fired on the Star of the West, the supply ship destined for Fort Sumter with provisions. The ship turned around, and the fort’s garrison continued to survive on meager rations.

In the meantime other states rushed to join South Carolina in seceding from the Union: Mississippi on the 9th, Florida the next day, and Alabama the day after that. On the 19th Georgia joined them, followed by Louisiana on the 26th. These seceded states joined together forming the Confederate States of America, and now stretched from South Carolina unbroken to Louisiana.

These newer Confederate States began to seize forts and installations as well. The Federal arsenal at Mount Vernon, Alabama and Augusta, Georgia were taken over by local militia. Fort Pulaski, guarding the entrance to Savannah, was also taken by Georgia troops.

Across the North, pro-Union rallies were held in Chicago, New York, Boston, and elsewhere. In Washington, D.C., southern Senators began leaving for home. Congressmen from Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi left to join their new nation. Among them was Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis.

The pace of organizing for war quickened in Virginia as well, although the state had not seceded and Unionism was still strong at this time. The Nottoway Grays formed on January 12th, for example, led by Captain Reps Connally. Later they would become Company G of the 18th Virginia Infantry Regiment.

On the 29th, Kansas became the nation’s 34th state. Kansas had suffered terribly during the last few years of the 1850s. Pro-slavery and Anti-slavery settlers poured into the territory, each determined to see their views upheld. Violence broke out and the territory became known as Bleeding Kansas.

One outspoken Anti-slavery leader, John Brown, was involved in several battles and murders. Satisfied that he could attack slavery more effectively in the east, he moved to Maryland and began to plan his raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal.

John Brown’s Raid in October, 1859 had failed, but it sharpened divisions between North and South. Now, in 1861, it appeared that the violence he had predicted before his execution was imminent. The excitement and tension of these events sparked intense debate and discussion among the residents of Appomattox Court House, Farmville, Lynchburg, and Campbell Court House (Rustburg).

The public is invited to learn about the beginning of the Civil War at the Annual Seminar on Saturday, February 26th, 2011. Sponsored by Appomattox Court House National Historical Park and Longwood University, the program is free and open to the public. For more information contact the park at 434-352-8987 X227
Please send us your questions or comments and look for next month's installment.

Last updated: February 19, 2018

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Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
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Appomattox, VA 24522

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