The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

February 4, 2013

A sesquicentennial moment West Virginia (1863-2013)

Jan. 25-31, 1863

The Restored Government of Virginia agreed on Jan. 31, 1863, to ask voters to decide whether Berkeley County should become part of the new state of West Virginia.

Lawmakers directed that on May 28, 1863, the names of voters in favor of joining West Virginia would be added to the “aye” column and the names of those in favor of remaining part of Virginia would be listed under the “nay” column.

The legislation also gave the governor the power to postpone the election if he felt the polls could not be “safely and properly opened.”

Berkeley County was strategically important to both sides of the war because the main line of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad ran through Martinsburg. While most of Berkeley County’s residents were loyal to the South, the measure passed because many eligible voters were away from home fighting for the Confederacy and could not cast ballots. The Virginia General Assembly in Richmond filed a lawsuit that sought to reclaim Berkeley and Jefferson counties, but lost in a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down in 1871.

Feb. 1-7, 1863

Horses were a valuable commodity during the Civil War, because they carried supplies, weapons, men and messages, but like the men who fought alongside them, they were not immune to the perils of war.

In early February 1863, Assistant Quartermaster Capt. W.R. Downing in Wheeling was assigned the arduous task of nursing back to health more than 40 worn-out, sick and injured horses.

“We never before saw such a melancholy, ghostly looking lot of skeletons,” the Wheeling Intelligencer said in a story published Feb. 4. “The Gothic steed Pegasus ... was a gay and frisky courser in comparison with the best of these forty scare-crows.

“Their sides looked like washboards and their ribs can be counted as far as they can be seen. Their backs were scarred and their limbs and bodies were covered with wounds, sores and running corruptions. They have evidently been beaten, driven, ridden and starved without mercy and ‘regardless of expense.’”

The newspaper said if Downing “succeeds in bringing anything in the shape of a horse out of a single one of the miserable brutes under consideration, he will indeed be a magician.”

 

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