Virginia was Crucial
Virginia was crucial to possible Confederate success. Major factors were its: strategic position near Washington; the South’s largest and largest military-age populations; industrial capacity almost equal to the original seven seceded states; twenty percent of the South’s railroad mileage; and trained military leadership and manpower gifted in warfare. Richmond, the South’s third largest city, soon became the Confederate capital.
- Virginia also had a disproportionate historic influence on other states. Many Americans traced their roots directly to the earlier “Old Dominion” (i.e., modern Virginia and West Virginia, plus Kentucky and the lower tier of Mid-Western states in the old Northwest Territory of Virginia – southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa). There were also Virginian enclaves in Missouri and most of the Deep South states. These ties had great political significance throughout the war and for decades afterward.
- Virginia, through its Virginia Military Institute (VMI), had aided all of the Southern states in developing their own pre-war military colleges and training increased numbers of their young men. VMI’s faculty and staff played significant roles in Virginia’s strategic planning and war preparations and organization.
- A little understood fact – refuting the mythology that Virginia was “unwillingly driven” to secession by Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers – is that the Old Dominion’s military preparations detectably began in earnest by at least the mid-1850s. The case can be (and has been) made that the run-up to civil war commenced in the 1830s; but, beginning in 1855, accelerated preparatory activities were concretely evident.
- The mid-1850s Virginia Military Institute, led by its superintendent, Francis H. Smith (served 1839-1889), chaired the state’s Defense Council; leading roles were played by presidents of its Board of Visitors, especially William Booth Taliaferro (1854-1855) and James Lawson Kemper (1857-1858). (All three were future Confederate generals.) VMI French language professor (future Confederate general) Raleigh E. Colston received a chair in military strategy and was directed to prepare plans for Virginia to declare a Switzerland-like armed neutrality – essentially declaring to both North and South its intent to be independent of sectional strife – a national defense establishment concept for Virginia similar to that conceived by George Washington for America. This ultimately failed, but those preparations provided the state with more adequate defenses and secret service than would otherwise have been possible. That greatly aided the new Confederacy once merged with Virginia.