Source: WV History Film Project
INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD CURRY
CURRY INTERVIEW, TAKE 1, CAMERA 257, SOUND 99
Q: Dick, let's lead up to these events. Give me a
sense in a very general picture of what forces started
brewing in West Virginia in the first half of the,
western Virginia, in the first half of the 19th century
that led to conflict?
RC: Basically, I think it was sectional conflict, the fact that Virginia was settled from the east and you have smaller counties. And those counties averaged, say in 1830, 1500 people. Each one had two representatives in the General Assembly in the House of Burgesses. However, west of the mountains which is now West Virginia, your population came not primarily from the east, but they came down the Shenandoah Valley, the Cumberland Gap, across the Alleghenies, the counties they were much larger. 7500 people, two representatives, so you have this tremendous disproportionate representation.
Eastern Virginia, the Piedmont and the tidewater dominated the politics throughout Virginia's history down into the Civil War to create a tremendous resentment in western Virginia. The first governor from west of the Blue Ridge was not elected until 1850, for example and the difference I say over representation had practical consequences over how much money is going to be allocated for internal improvements for public education. How much money for Indian defense? And the answer is very little; comparatively speaking the east always controlled the west we see paid high taxes higher taxes and received fewer benefits.
So early on, as early as say the Staunton Convention in 1815, perhaps even before the Convention of 1788, you have some western Virginians talking about the possibility of -- well, agitating for reform but ultimately by 1830 forming separate state. Now, what happened between 1830 and 1860 is critical if you have the convention of 1830; I forget who it was when eastern Virginia politician referred to West Virginia as "hewers of wood and drawers of water," the peasantry of the west which didn't go across too well, still doesn't. And there were demands for change in the Convention of 1830 for universal Negro suffrage that didn't happen for reform in the number of representatives that western Virginia had in Richmond -- that didn't occur.
Q: Let me interrupt you.
Q: Just take a cut. If a first whirl we always kind of slow.
CURRY INTERVIEW - TAKE 2 CAMERA 257
Q: Tell me about that statement from that eastern
RC: Well, it was during the Virginia Convention of 1830 which was called to bring about political reform in the state. And this Virginia politician from the east stated that western Virginians were "hewers of wood and drawers of water" that they were really the peasantry of the west and that they weren't really entitled to equal representation in the Legislature. Of course, what the Virginia politicians in eastern Virginia were attempting to do was protect their slaveholding, their slave property. And the west was a non-slaveholding area; oh, and the southern part of what is now West Virginia had 18,000 slaves, but, for the most part, we were very sparsely, very few slaves and this, of course, was a factor which caused, generated resentment too. Not only because of resentment of slavery, but what slavery did to whites, quite frankly.
Just because you were anti- eastern Virginia doesn't necessarily mean you were enlightened in your racial attitudes, but what it meant was domination of the east meant higher taxes for the west and very little money for transportation for tug canals??, for turnpikes. Very little money for Indian defense, very little money for public education and so the resentment of western Virginians against the east, against the "tidewater aristocrats" as they were referred to goes away back into the nineteenth century, goes all the way back to the Staunton Convention of 1815 and, perhaps, as early as the Convention of 1788. But, really the eastern part of the state refused to make any concessions to the west, and in 1861 when the Virginia Convention of 1861 which became known as the Succession Convention of '61, now. Then, of course, the western counties, particularly the northwest, united against secession, I mean the vote in the Convention was 88 to 55, and most of those votes came from the northwestern counties of Virginia. I think one point that needs to be made is the changing nature of sectional conflict in Virginia after 1830.
In 1830, the whole west, that is west of the Blue Ridge, you have almost universal resentment of the domination of the state by the east. But, between 1830 and 1860, the southwestern part of the state (by that I mean counties such as Greenbrier, Monroe, Kanawha, Cabell, Mason and others), their resentment against the east lessened to some degree because of the construction of the, on the James River and Kanawha Turnpike upon the railroad that came through the Tennessee and ??? (I forget the exact name of the railroad), buy that tended to link eastern and southwestern Virginia together. It is the northwestern part of the state that becomes increasingly isolated from the rest of the state. Industrialization is part of that, but the other part, too, is that the northwestern counties had more in common with the Middle West and the east than they did with eastern Virginia. At the same time, they are isolated, underrepresented, and were scorned.
The House of Burgesses in 1861 tried to bribe (I can't think of a better word) tried to bribe the northwestern counties which lead the [tech difficulty, muffled] ?? by saying "Well, if you will go along with us, we will succeed from the Union, then we will give you the changes that you want, then we will give you equal representation. We will give you tax breaks, we will give you more money for schools, etc." And the northwestern counties at the Wheeling Convention lived by John Carlile and Archibald Campbell and others, told the east, in effect, a resounding "No!" is the most polite way I can phrase it. I was going to use something more colorful, but by this time the northwest was determined to have separate statehood and it was the Civil War which gave the northwestern counties their opportunity; had there been no Civil War, there would, of course, had been no West Virginia.
PAUSE. [Tech difficulties, speaker difficulty]
RC: I think that's true of north and south, in general, were non slave-holding.
Q: Would you start with the complete sentence.
I think the view of slavery is true throughout
RC: Well, when I talk about the so-called causes of the Civil War, one of the points I [tech difficulty, lost sound] ?? The attitudes that I find in the north and, indeed, in western Virginia as opposed to eastern Virginia wherein in east Tennessee as opposed to the rest of the state of Tennessee, is their opposition not so much to slavery, but to southern domination or to planter domination of the state or the south. In short, to say that the north was anti-southern is more accurate, it seems to me than to say that they were anti-slavery. You say that they were anti-slavery this may imply a degree of sympathy for black people or for African-Americans, which is not the case in the nineteenth century. Most nineteenth century Americans were race conscience, including northerners. However, they resented southern domination in the Congress or the Supreme Court. In the case of the [tech difficulty, muffled sound, can't hear, pause]
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY PROJECT ROLL 100 CAMERA ROLL 258 RICHARD CURRY INTERVIEW, APRIL 30. CURRY INTERVIEW TAKE 3, CAMERA 258, SOUND 100.
RC: Well, the lower south is, O, I'm sorry.
Q: OK. Position us for the struggle for Virginia.
Tell me about what that was.
RC: Well, after the lower south had succeeded between November and January of 1861, then every other southern state goes into Convention, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia. Virginia was the big question because it was after all the "Mother" of the Union, if you will. It had helped to establish the United States and played a major role. Most of the early presidents were from Virginia and so there were ties to Union here; they were to be broken very begrudgingly and reluctantly. And president-elect Lincoln thought that Virginia would, basically, be a Union state. But, what Lincoln perceived the situation somewhat wrongly, because Virginians were, what they called, conditionally in this.
I mean, you have basically in the Virginia Convention of 1861, you have basically three divisions of people. You have the immediate secessionists who want to succeed right now, yesterday, about 20%. About 20% of the delegates, mostly western Virginians who became West Virginians, 20% who opposed secession at all costs. The key here was the other 60% who wanted to preserve the Union, but they were conditional Unionists. They want the north to guarantee what they considered to be the sovereign rights of sovereign states. In other words, they did not want Federal interference in slavery or any other issue involving the "The Rights of the South." So what Lincoln didn't understand, and other northerners didn't understand, that when the vote was announced for election of delegates to the Richmond Convention, that this was a victory for Unionism. It was conditionally Unionism.
So finally, after the attack on Fort Sumter, when Lincoln issued his famous call for 75,000 volunteers, this is what produced the vote in the Virginia Convention and the vote turned out 85, no 88 to 55, in favor of secession. Where did most of the 55 votes in opposition come from? Some of them came from the Valley, the Valley of Virginia knew that they would be caught in the War, but most of them came from the northwestern counties of Virginia which became part of West Virginia. The population of the state say from the Blue Ridge, west, the white population was much greater west of the Blue Ridge than east of the Blue Ridge, but they were underrepresented. So what you have is a reflection here of most of the counties, not all, in the northwestern part of the state voted against secession and would do so at all costs. The rest of the state voted for it.
Q: OK. Let me ask you about those people west
of the Blue Ridge. You can feel comfortable referring
to these people in this area as western Virginia. We
have established that as a way of referring to it, rather
than West Virginia at this point. What did the farmer
in Greenbrier County, the farmer outside of
Clarksburg in his fields, what did he think about the
idea of leaving the Union over slavery?
RC: Again, I think it's not so much a question of status or occupation as it is of sectional and regional difference. Not that all western Virginians from Greenbrier favored secession, most of them did. Or in the northwest, let's say up in Monongalia County, or Harrison or Marion; again, you have a Confederate minority in all these counties. About 85% of the citizens of Monongalia County, for example, favored the preservation of the Union, rejected secession. The overwhelming sentiment of counties in the lower part of West Virginia -- Cabell, Greenbrier, Monroe, McDowell and others -- and even in the central part of the state, you have maybe, you can see the divisions, I mean it is a 60/40 split in terms of population. The forty being in favor of the Confederacy, the sixty in favor of the Union, but in terms of territory it's the other way around.
In terms of territory, most of West Virginia favored the confederacy. It is, if you draw a line, and take the upper third of West Virginia in the northwest, that is where union sentiment exists, and that's where the centers of population are because the northwestern counties are far more populace, far more prosperous than the southern counties and even the Valley counties.
Q: Just briefly tell me again why was a
Mountaineer in the southern Congress philosophically
aligned with the cause of the south in
RC: Well, you do; the only part of the state where slaves exist is in the southern part of the state, most of them, not that you don't have household servants here and there. But, there were 18,000 slaves in all of West Virginia -- 2,000 of those were in Greenbrier. But, and these people were sensitive to northern attacks of northern abolitionists on slavery. But, not only on slavery, but on southern honor, on southern conceptions of morality. In other words, you are not talking about twentieth century Americans. Whether slave-holding or non slave-holding, people who were repelled by slavery or by human bondage. That's a relatively recent phenomenon in American society. Most Unionists were also racists, they were anti-southern but, not necessarily anti-slavery would have made concessions, perhaps, to -- I mean even Lincoln for example, once stated that he would guarantee if he could or if the south would stay in the Union the continued existence of slavery in perpetuity would existed;
I don't mean to suggest that Lincoln was pro-southern for slavery; he certainly was not, but the point is that most Americans thought about issues in addition to slavery or in addition to race about, you know, very important were concerned about economic questions. I mean the south were on a low tariff. The northeast wanted a high tariff; the west was divided depending upon what kind of agriculture you are talking at. If you go hemp?? perhaps you favor a tariff, if you grow corn or cotton you oppose the tariff. There are differences over internal improvements, particularly on how the Federal government should spend its funds, or should the Federal government build railroads and canals and turnpikes, or should this be done by private enterprise. Sounds familiar, arguous ?? even today in a similar vein.
Q: Let me interrupt - What role did the pattern of
settlement play when you say that one of them links
between the Greenbrier man and a Richmond man
was the sense of southern honor? Why wasn't there
that link between a Wheeling man and a Richmond
RC: Well, as I, that's a very difficult question to answer. I'll give it a try; but, for example, as I said earlier, in the northwest, you have a much more diverse economy. You do have industrialization. You do have the building of the B & O Railway from Baltimore down to Cincinnati. You do have the Ohio River trade and commerce going into Cincinnati. In these terms, economic interest, northwestern Virginia does not identify economically with eastern Virginia or the south with King Cotton. As John Carlile had said, he would not go along with, become a servant or a slave to King Cotton. It is not in our interest to do so. The influence of the Methodist Church, for example, in northwestern Virginia. Someone once, I forget who it was who argued in effect, that the Methodist missionaries, the Methodist circuit riders probably played as major a role in rallying support for the Union as any other religious group in the whole state.
The southern part is much more traditional, it is much more agrarian. You will begin to see in time the industrialization up in the upper Kanawha, but I find this lack of diversity leads to much more of a traditional type of mentality. A greater concern for tradition, for state's rights. I, well, there's a concept that I like in a non-slave holding area of the south -- why did they support the Confederacy if they had no interest in, direct interest in supporting slavery? The concept --
Q: Hold that thought, we'll just ran out of film.
INTERVIEW 10, April 30
CURRY INTERVIEW, TAPE 4, ROLL 259, SOUND ROLL 101
Q: It is April, 1861. The mobs are in the streets
of Richmond getting all fired-up about secession.
Delegates are meeting inside the Capitol talking
about secession. In marches a man from
RC: Well, this obscure politician from western Virginia in John Carlile makes any number of dramatic statements that I forget the exact quotation, but he denounces King Cotton and the Confederacy in no uncertain terms. He will not accept secession and it's Carlile who not only votes against it, but as soon as that vote is cast, he leaves for Washington, DC. It is Carlile that informs President Lincoln that Virginia has voted to succeed. It is Carlile then who rushes to Clarksburg and starts a new statehood movement, but they want to call the new state, not West Virginia, but New Virginia and Carlile and others, Archibald Campbell, John J. Davis and others are calling for elections and delegates. There will be many of these delegates, when elected, they just arrived.
Q: OK. Would you set your picture? Tell me,
what was the reaction of the more staid and polished
eastern Virginia politicians to John Carlile at the
Convention? What was the reaction in
RC: Well, I would assume that they, essentially, treated western Virginians with contempt. They did try to woo them with promises of change, of greater representation, of more money for general improvements.
Q: Would you mind starting that again, and
instead of the pronoun "they" saying "eastern
RC: I think eastern Virginians still, in 1861, held western Virginians, more or less, in contempt. However, they understood that there was strong Union sentiment in the northwest. Eastern Virginians, in an effort to overcome that, made promises of giving them greater representation, of more money for internal improvements, of more money for education or for canals and turnpikes. But still, they had not made concessions, meaningful concessions, for the past hundred years and western Virginians, at this point in time, had had it. They were not going along for domestic reform within Virginia in exchange for secession. They saw this as their golden opportunity to seek what many politicians, including Carlile and Davis and Campbell and others and Waitman T. Willey saw it as an opportunity to create a state of New Virginia, and it was Carlile who was the hero of the masses.
It was Carlile who, after all, became Senator, United States Senator from the Wheeling government when it was organized in 1861, who led this movement and they took this as the our opportunity to realize this, it's not only what do eastern Virginians think of us -- they hate our guts, they look upon us with contempt, but, what do we think of them? Here is our chance to get the hell out, here's our chance to become New Virginians.
Q: Sorry, we have a battery out, Oh.
CURRY INTERVIEW, TAKE 5, ROLL 259
Q: OK. In April, Richmond Convention votes
for Virginia to succeed.
Q: John Carlile goes to Washington tells
Lincoln. Comes west of the mountains.
RC: Rushes to Clarksburg.
Q: Tell me what he did, tell me what the reaction
was, tell me what the atmosphere was.
RC: Well, one can only imagine what it was in the sense that you know that the population reacted with, in the northwestern part of the state, with almost unanimously against secession. Carlile is calling for, I think the Clarksburg resolutions are issued and distributed by horseback to all regions, all sections, of the northwest. The Wheeling Intelligencer, edited by Carlile, I mean, by Campbell Archibald Campbell, of course, is writing fiery editorials to calling the population to resist. Carlile is the "Man of the Hour" in the sense that he is the politician who is out front imploring the masses to resist treason and secession and he is rewarded, ultimately, for his leadership and his eloquence, he is a very eloquent speaker, by being appointed United States Senator from the restored government of Virginia.
Archibald Campbell is, of course, a very powerful figure, but Campbell operates more behind the scenes than up front. I mean Carlile is out imploring, motivating the masses at rallies, the torchlight rallies and parades. While Campbell is very eloquent in voice calling for resistance. Campbell certainly is as important figure as Carlile, but he is just not as visible to the public. In time, of course, Campbell perhaps becomes the most powerful unionist. That's a judgment call, but in the sense that the Intelligencer, the Wheeling Intelligencer is disseminated throughout the northwestern part and its Campbell's voice, more than any other; but then again, of course, you have Senator Wade Ben Willey as well as Carlile and you have Sheriff Clemmons and John Davisson and Senator Van Winkle, all these people are important, but, really, its Carlile is the "Darling of the Masses" if you will. He is the single, most important politician in 1861.
Q: Describe, if you can, try to make the leap
back and describe what you mentioned to me that
western Virginia was charged with excitement during
this secession, these months surrounding April.
RC: Well, West Virginia, western Virginians were charged with excitement here in April and May of 1861 because Virginia has succeeded and, but not only are they opposed to secession and to treason, but they view this as an opportunity that they have been waiting 30 years for. Here is our opportunity to create a new state, the state of New Virginia; some wanted to call it the State of Kanawha, but it was ultimately called the state of West Virginia, but here is our opportunity. These people have, these eastern Virginians have dealt with us as the peasantry of the west, long enough. They have called us disdainfully, "Hewers of Wood, Drawers of Water." They have discriminated against us in representation and taxation. They look upon us as sub-humans. Here is our chance to strike back. Here is our chance to assert our individuality, our independence -- a new state.
We West Virginians, this is, our time has come, and it's the secession crisis which allows all these pent-up emotions and feelings and frustrations that had been building for 30-40 years. Now we can do something. Our day has come. We will create a new state loyal to the Union and we will --. In other words, their enthusiasm was as much for creating the new state as it was to defeat the Confederacy and defeat treason. On local terms, and regional terms, here is our chance, let's take it, let's not blow it, you know and Carlile is in the forefront calling for the new state of New Virginia in the Clarksburg Resolutions and in the two Wheeling Conventions they take dramatic action in forming the reorganized government of Virginia with Francis Pierpont being declared Governor. Pierpont being recognized by Lincoln as the legal governor, the de jure governor of the state of Virginia.
Which he had a right to do, by the way, constitutionally because in the Door Rebellion in Rhode Island in the 1840's the Supreme Court had decided that, in Luther versus Gordon, that when there were two rival governments, where administrations claiming to be the legal government of a state, the President of the United States had the right to determine which one was de jure. This is how the Wheeling government under the leadership of Francis Pierpont became recognized as the legal government of the state of all of Virginia and Pierpont remained governor of Virginia throughout the War and he was the reconstruction governor of Virginia, as well.
Q: Let me stop you for a second. He's an
unlikely lead role. Pierpont -- he's not even there at
the Richmond Convention. He's not even there
playing an out-front role like John Carlile. Where
does he come from? What's your paragraph on
RC: Well, Pierpont. All I can say about Pierpont is that he was like a -- I don't have any personal empathy say for Waitman Willey or Francis Pierpont or ??? Van -- Senator -- ... but I really don't have sense of them people. I do have a sense of Carlile.
Q: Go into that then. Tell me about Carlile.
RC: Well, Carlile has a flair for the dramatic, he is a very emotional individual; he has very strong opinions about society and politics.
Q: I want that; we're going to do that.
RICHARD CURRY, APRIL 30, SOUND ROLL
102, CAMERA ROLL 260
CURRY INTERVIEW, TAKE 6, CAMERA 260, SOUND 102
Q: ... tell me about John Carlile, tell me about
RC: Well, the sense I have of John Carlile is a very dramatic individual with a flair for histrionic, if you will. A politician, a man with a mission, a man who loves to communicate, a man who likes to hear himself talk, I suppose too. But nevertheless, the man has very passionate feelings about causes, about events. Carlile is able to deliver speeches, very emotional speeches, go on for hours and hold people in the palm of his hand. But Carlile is also believes with such passion I think with such intensity, because he was an ideologue. I mean not only did he favor the new state of Virginia, but he had a view of the world in which he believed, he had a view of reality, a perception of reality, which was to carry over into statehood politics. In this instance, of course, his passion, his enthusiasm serves him well, because John Carlile is in tune with the people of western Virginia or the vast majority of them.
Within a year or two, John Carlile is no longer in step; he's out of tune, but he doesn't lose the passion; he doesn't lose the sense of the dramatic, but he becomes however not a hero anymore, but a man who to be scorned, a man who is looked upon as a trader to the new state movement. But that didn't deter John Carlile from being himself. That didn't deter John Carlile from continuing to hold ideas that were very close to his heart, which were no longer in favor in western Virginia. Sure, in the minority of democrats, of conservative democrats, people like John Jay Davis, the father of John W. Davis, of Congressman ??? Clemmons, and other conservative democrats. But they were becoming increasingly in the minority. Carlile never turned against the idea of a new state in principle; it was no the new state that he turned against, but what he turned against were Republican policies. What he turned against was the Lincoln Administration.
He didn't like Lincoln's suspensions of habeas corpus. He didn't like attacks on newspapers which disagreed with the Republican policies or policies. He didn't like the Willey amendment which stated that West Virginia would have to become a free state before it could enter the union; it wasn't you see that Carlile objected to the new state; he didn't want what he called "congressional dictation." That's what I mean when I say he was an ideologue; he is not a man who will compromise. He is saying: I will do things because I choose to do them, not because I want to be forced by Washington or Congress or anyone else to do it. So what appears to be opposition to the new state, is really, is a world view, a political agenda if you will, which has been very difficult for many people to understand.
They've been puzzled as to why Carlile seemed to turn against the movement. It's not that he turned against the movement, but the fact that as far as he was concerned, he didn't want a new state on the terms on which it was being offered. And he did then take steps to try to defeat the Willey amendment. But if he could have had the new state on his own terms, he would have gladly have chosen it. But he couldn't have a new state on his own terms, and he was not flexible enough to compromise.
Q: Let me stop you there; let me ask you, you
made a statement that Carlile was an ideologue; he
operated on the basis if ideas and principles --
RC: Preconceived ideas and principles, yes.
Q: What was his idea in his mind of this new
state? What would it be, what would it present, what
would it embrace?
RC: Well, it wasn't so much the state itself that concerned him, but the -- true, he wanted an independent state, which could govern itself, no doubt about that, but in this crisis, what concerned him was not so much where the procedures, the processes, by which the state was being created.
Q: I don't mean to interrupt you. Let me ask you
in a different way. When Carlile said we must have a
new state and we will call that state New Virginia,
who was his audience? Who was he talking to?
RC: All right, he was talking to the people of western Virginia.
Q: Would you say John Carlile, would you start
RC: John Carlile agreed with western Virginians in the sense that he resented eastern domination of western Virginia. He resented the fact that western Virginians were underrepresented, which I have said before, and did not get as much money as they deserved for schools or for internal improvements. In that sense he resented being scorned and disparaged by the eastern aristocracy as they called themselves.
Q: Bear with me; tell me the resentments that
John Carlile harbored?
RC: John Carlile, like most western Virginians, resented eastern domination of the state. They resented underrepresentation in the House of Burgesses. They resented the fact that they were taxed at a higher rate, yet received fewer dollars in return for such things as education and internal improvements such as canals and railroads. In that John Carlile was one with the people. He also resented the arrogance of the slaveocracy and their contempt for western Virginia and western Virginians and in characterizing western Virginians as being the "peasantry of the west." However, John Carlile had a view of what government itself should be like however state it should be in, or the United States. He was an extreme states right ideologue. He was like -- someone like John Taylor of Carolina or someone like Patrick Henry. I mean you have states rights advocates, but these people were extreme localists.
They did not even favor someone like John Taylor of Carolina, didn't want the United States of America. He was fearful of centralization of power. He wanted state sovereignty. This was the position Carlile came out of, and extreme states rights advocate, and ideologue who believed almost in state sovereignty. He recognized the need for central government to serve minimal functions to defend us say against foreign intervention, but he did not grant in theory the right of the central government to undertake actions which would undercut what he thought were the sovereign rights of the state. It's what is called. . . "Why do non-slaveholding southerners support secession? Carlile wasn't one of them of course.
But he called a crisis a Republicanism, that some non slaveholding white southerners went along with secession not because they supported slavery, but because they bitterly resented the fact that the central government was going to use force to preserve the union. I mean they would rather have seen the union be dissolved than to see the central government use power and force. I mean Tennessee didn't succeed from the Union after all until after Lincoln called for troops.
Q: Let me interrupt you there. ...
CURRY INTERVIEW TAKE 7
Q: Tell me about the two civil wars.
RC: What is often overlooked in analyses of Civil War politics in the north is the fact that when we talk about the Civil War, we're really talking about two civil wars. One is the military confrontation between the Union states and those who remain loyal to the Confederacy. It's not simply a conflict between slave states and free states because the border slave holding states remain loyal to the Union. The political confrontation I'm talking about in contrast to the military one was a political and ideological contest between northern Republicans and northern Democrats. To determine not only whether the Union should be preserved, or determine whether or not slavery should be destroyed or retained, but determine the whole future nature and course of American history. The type of government, the type of political traditions that would prevail.
The democrats had been in power since 1801 with Lincoln's election with the exception of a couple of Whig presidents, this is a democratic period. Now you're coming into the great Republican age, where the Republican party will be in control between 1860 and 1933, with a couple of exceptions, major exceptions. But the Democratic party is fast becoming the party of memory, if you will. And the Republican party, the party of future, of change. And the Republican party represents emancipation and freedom and liberty and expanding freedom to include slaves, blacks.
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY PROJECT, APRIL 30, 1993 CURRY INTERVIEW, TAKE 8, CAMERA 261, SOUND 103
Q: Dick, tell me about the war erupts and in to
northwestern the armies meet. Tell me about the
battle of Rich Mountain. Tell me about William
Rosecrans, old Rosy, and his military genius and then
tell me about the importance of that Union
RC: Well, West Virginia to state briefly ??? critical important strategically to the North, as a buffer between the Confederacy and the North, and also the B & O Railroad was extremely important and as the Lincoln said, the manpower of the state was important too. Also, it was the key to the upper Mississippi. Having control of this area, to be able to go to Kentucky down the Mississippi, but Rich Mountain is the key battle. McClellan gets most of the credit, McClellan to the rescue. McClellan, I don't know if he referred to himself as the "Napoleon of the West" but he must have paid someone to use that title. Very histrionic, very self serving. In fact McClellan thought that God had called him to take over the leadership of the Union forces, the Union armies, to win the War. Unfortunately, I don't know whose voices he was hearing it, it didn't work out the way he had intended, but the Battle of Rich Mountain is a perfect example of this.
McClellan received credit for the victory because he was the, not U. S. general at this point, but he was major general of Ohio volunteers in command of Ohio and Indiana troops that invaded western Virginia, not U. S. troops per se. But McClellan received the credit for victory of Rich Mountain, but it really was Rosecrans who deserves the credit. It's Rosecrans who discovered the path across the mountain to outflank Garnet and the Confederates. Unfortunately, McClellan was very fearful to commit his troops to combat. McClellan wanted to outflank, he wanted to avoid head-on combat. McClellan just does not deserve the credit for the victory for Rich Mountain that he got. Rosecrans did. Yet, it propelled McClellan into the national limelight, and Lincoln, searching for generals, which he did until the end of the war, until he discovered Grant and Sherman and Sheridan and others.
McClellan was because of his victories in western Virginia, was given the command of the army of the Potomac. And he was a marvelous general, to defend him in the sense that he was able to organize an army, to train them, to drill them, to equip them. He just wasn't able to utilize them in battle. Why? Because he fought great, he was a great defensive general, but he could not launch offensive operations. And I mean he should have defeated Lee, the Peninsular Campaign, and taken Richmond. He should have won Antietam; he was --
Q: Let's get back to July. What was the reaction
in northwestern Virginia of the victory in July?
RC: Well, it was a great morale booster for not only northwestern Virginians, but for Americans in general because of the other disasters, like the first battle of Bull Run. This was the first great Union victory of the war. And it also assured the success of the statehood movement, but you have then the occupation, if you will of northwestern Virginia by Union troops and you have protection of the B & O Railroad, which allows the Union army to shift troops to east and west with facility. It also assured order and stability, which was essential for politics to occur, for the political process to occur. However, that victory of McClellan and Rosecrans at Rich Mountain applied or influenced events only in the northwestern. It didn't influence events in the central and southern part of the state, where -- which is dominated primarily by guerrilla warfare.
Union troops controlled the cities and the roadways and the rivers during the day, but not at night. And normal political activity simply couldn't occur in the rest of western Virginia. It's in the northwest where union sentiment is pretty dominant any way. But the influence of the Union government didn't extend far, far south of Parkersburg.
Q: After the victory at Rich Mountain in July,
the South sends up one of its greatest military leaders
to try to resurrect or to try to reverse these loses in
western Virginia. Lee comes in August and struggles
and struggles. What does Lee campaign tell us about
the difficulties of waging warfare in western Virginia
in the Mountains?
RC: It was doomed to defeat. The terrain, itself, was enough to defeat any invading army. I mean this was why the Wheeling government for example couldn't extend its influence very far south, simply because of the terrain. Thirty men well placed in a mountain gorge, could hold off a regiment, an army. Lee didn't have the manpower; he didn't have the equipment; even if he had very little opposition to his attempt to enter Virginia, the terrain and the elements would have bogged him down. I think it would have been very difficult for Lee to conquer the northwest under any circumstances. Lee would have been faced with tremendous odds, not only because of the terrain the weather, but the hostile population. It was a hopeless cause once the Confederates had been driven out of this mountainous terrain.
In the northwestern counties, which were Unionists, this assured statehood, but it would make it impossible for the Confederates to retake that area, but at the same time it made it impossible for the Union forces to dominate the whole state. General Fremont, who was banished to western Virginia after the fiasco in Missouri when he was in command there, back and forth the armies ran without any decisive moment. The decisive moment was Rich Mountain, which guaranteed the success of the statehood movement. It did not guarantee the order, the creation of order and stability in most of West Virginia.
Q: Describe what it was like to have so much of
the state under the atmosphere of the bushwhacker
and the guerrilla raids? What was it like for the
people living here, the civilians? What did it pack on
RC: The fear, of course and the uncertainty. I mean if I'm not mistaken, feuds such as Hatfield and McCoy really got started under these kinds of circumstances, perhaps during the Civil War, where grudges and feuds .... I'll try to phrase it differently. That West Virginia and Missouri, but particularly West Virginia was one of the few places in the United States where there really was a Civil War, brother against brother, this guerrilla warfare in southern West Virginia and central West Virginia, I mean you do have divisions where brother fights brother, uncle against cousin, father against son. This is -- they talk about a brothers' war, but only in the border states, and particularly West Virginia, Missouri is this true. There's one in the bushwhacker's war, those series of letters that I edited with Gerald, Jerry Hann? years ago.
This one account where the brother came across the body of his own brother who had been killed and strung up by "bushwhackers", but the fear and uncertainty of -- I mean, it's nothing like what's going on in say Bosnia and Hersogovenia, I mean that kind of brutality and atrocity, but on a lesser scale, you do have these kinds of atrocities occurring.
CURRY INTERVIEW, TAKE 9
Q: Let's warm up to it by describe to me,
bushwhackers, who they were, what they did, who
RC: I'd like to know where the term bushwhacking came from, but it's another word for guerrilla warfare. And West Virginia I think is almost unique. I mean you have guerrilla warfare in Missouri as well, but no where do you have greater I think in terms of ??? conflict, neighbor against neighbor, and relative against relative, as you do in the southern part of West Virginia where the population is pro-Confederate and is very definitely very hostile to Union army of occupation or who sweep through from time to time where there is general Abe ??? and his victory at Droop Mountain or where it is General ? Cox, conquering the Kanawha. They don't really conquer southern West Virginia; they don't even control it. I mean they control the cities, the rivers, the needs of transportation --
RICHARD CURRY INTERVIEW, APR 30,
SOUND ROLL 104, WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY
CURRY INTERVIEW, TAKE 10
Q: Tell me about bushwhackers as a symbol of
social disintegration of West Virginia?
RC: Bushwhacking occurred primarily in the central counties and the southern counties of the state, those areas that were I would say nominally under Union military control. The Kanawha Valley, the Union armies who occupied the major cities such as Charleston normally controlled the waterways, but they didn't cover the surrounding, did not control the surrounding countryside. And most of the population was loyal to the Confederacy anyway, but the guerrilla warfare simply shows the inability of the union army really to govern or to control western Virginia, northwestern Virginia where the population was already committed to Union, there were no problem, but the rest of the state could not be governed and these roving bands of bushwhackers or the guerrilla warfare, to some extent, reflects -- well, obviously it reflects social instability in the state in the fact that it is ungovernable, to some extent it reflects anti-union sentiment.
I mean that is their major concern is trying to achieve the independence of the Confederacy, but I think what's going on here too is self-serving of processes by roving bands of cut throats who are raiding farms and villages and homes out of either revenge motives or a desire to whatever profit they can derive. And they didn't much care whether their victims were unionists or confederates.
Q: What did they create? What kind of an
atmosphere, what effect did they have on the
RC: I would probably say that the fear of guerrilla warfare of r the fear of bushwhackers was probably greater than their ? because you can find numerous incidents of -- serious atrocities that did occur. But it's not as pervasive. The fear is there. The fear of attack is there, but it's not a mass slaughter on any large scale. It's relatively small scale stuff, small scale warfare. I mean you may be talking about scores, a few scores of people who were kills, not tens of thousands of people who were killed or who were slaughtered. It does, however, create, it contributes, it doesn't create in itself, but it contributes to the bitterness of reconstruction politics after the war because one the war is fought and over and union refugees are coming back to Kanawha county and to Greenbrier and to Monroe and to Cabell and elsewhere.
The state legislature of Virginia dominated by the unionists from the northwest pass laws, punitive laws, designed to punish people for their beliefs, punish not only bushwhackers but to punish people had been confederates, loyal to the Confederacy. To give you specific examples of legislation, laws were passed saying that no one who had supported the confederacy could sue in court, no one, the teachers Test Oath though if you had, a sign up saying that in order to be a teacher or a minister or a lawyer, you had to be Test Oath saying that you had supported the Union. In other words, the Union minority in these northern and southern counties were able to exact their pound of flesh or revenge out against friends or former friends or relatives or neighbors who had exploited them or who had contributed to their suffering during the war. But it also allowed the Republican party to remain in control of politics of the state.
Because what happens in reconstruction is because so many counties were pro-confederate, but 1870 West Virginia is under control of the Democratic party once again and the conservative democrats, union democrats and the confederate democrats got together and by 1870 the state-makers, the unconditional unionists, the Willeys, the Boremans, they're out of office, and never again will they control during the nineteenth century the politics of the state. So one of the bitter inheritances of including confederate counties in the new state -- and that is John Carlile's heritage to West Virginia -- he concluded so many confederate counties in the state, it didn't destroy the statehood movement, but it did result in turning the state over to the conservative union democrats and to the ex-confederates who join forces after the war during reconstruction.
And so, the era of the oath kept the Republicans in power or the state-makers for five years, but finally by 1870, as Horace Greely said to Archibald Campbell I believe it was, or to some West Virginia politician, "Every year," he said, "one thousand of your rebels die." Now you disenfranchise them and the question is: Will they disenfranchise you? So there is an attempt in 1872, the so-called liberal Republican movement, to try to liberalize the political situation, to reform it. There's the hope that ex-Whigs, people that had been Whigs might join the republican party. [Tech difficulties] Because ? had come together on the basis of common economic interests, but actually it was the north-south broken federate, pro-union hatreds that predominated. This didn't work. By 1870, West Virginia was now back under the control, ironically, of ex-confederates who had been included in the new state against their will. And that is one of the great ironies of West Virginia history, is that people who made it, lost it, and lost it within five years, and again as I said Senator Carlile contributed mightily to that reality.
Q: That's very good. Let's go in. We've got a
little stage. It's nearing the end of 1862, we've got a
proposal for a new state in Congress, drafted by John
Carlile, who is now starting to turn against the
northwesterners headed by Campbell, represented in
part by Willey ? [tech difficulties...can't hear]
RC: If Carlile were sitting here, I suspect he would say to us is: I wasn't against West Virginia; I wasn't against the new state movement. What I objected to was Congressional dictation. What I objected to was centralization power, in the hands of the ? government in an ideologue we could have had statehood on my terms, without having congress dictate to us that we had to abolish slavery before we could become a state, I would have voted for it. On the other hand, Senator Willey might well have looked at Carlile and said: But despite your protestations, that you weren't against the new-state movement, but were against congressional dictation, your strategy would have led to the destruction of the new state. The new state never could have been created.
In fact, Senator Carlile, let's stop kidding ourselves. The strategy that you adopted would have destroyed the new state because you wanted to include 72 counties; one of your bills called for the inclusion of most of the valley counties of Virginia, which if it wouldn't have stopped the new state movement, it certainly would have turned it over to the control of the conservative union democrats and the confederates almost immediately after the war. So, don't tell me in effect that you were, that your objection was basically ideological congressional dictation. In practical terms, who attempted to destroy the heart and soul of what the new state movement was all about and that was eastern domination.
Lincoln on the other hand, people asked would he sign the West Virginia bill, on January 1, 1863? And some people expressed doubts and reservations. And in retrospect there was never really any question about what Lincoln was going to do. He wanted, he favored the Willey amendment, in fact it was Lincoln who I think suggested the Willey amendment, he certainly was very much behind it because it's a symbol, an attack on the institution of slavery. And even though there were only 18,000 slaves in West Virginia and even though the West Virginians say and the conservatives that they would abolish it in time, it's a symbol of our commitment to freedom and emancipation. We must have West Virginia as a 'free' state, not as a slave state. We can admit no new slave states. That's what we would have, West Virginia would have been a slave state if the Willey amendment had not been required. So Lincoln said we must have that requirement and he knew that most western Virginians wanted a new state and they did not agree or sympathize with Senator Carlile.
ROLL 105, WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY
PROJECT, RICHARD CURRY INTERVIEW
CURRY INTERVIEW TAKE 11, CAMERA 263, SOUND 105
Q: Why did he have to sign that bill?
RC: He couldn't afford not to sign the bill for a variety of reasons. One, by requiring the --
Q: Could you start again with Lincoln .... ?
RC: Lincoln could not afford not have done anything else but sign the bill for a variety of reasons. First of all ....
CURRY INTERVIEW, TAKE 12
RC: Lincoln couldn't have done anything else but sign the statehood bill, despite the fears of some of his contemporaries in not being certain in what he might do, but the reason I say couldn't. Here the Willey amendment now has been passed. It's gotten through Congress. West Virginia becomes a free state. This is a symbol of the Union's opposition, the Republican party's opposition to slavery. So in symbolic terms it's terrible important as an attack upon the South in this peculiar ???institution Beyond that, Lincoln is able to -- the manpower question he talks about, too -- the consequences of not signing the West Virginia statehood bill, that we cannot disappoint these loyal Virginians. He said something to the effect that some say that is also secession and what is the difference between secession of West Virginia from Virginia.
He said: Well, if we call it secession, surely there's a difference between secession to the Union than from the Union. But he was fearful that had he not signed the bill this would have created such a unstable situation and such a --what's the word I'm looking for? -- dispirited populous that this might not result in -- can I shut up?
Q: Yes, try it again. Say if he wouldn't have
signed the bill he was fearful that --
RC: What I'm trying to get at is that the shortage of troops in '63, it's the same day he signs he orders the black troops enrolled in the Union army. He signs the emancipation proclamation, the West Virginia statehood bill, and calls for black troops in the Union army the same day. And one of the things he talks about is that we need every West Virginian, every mother's son, to fight in the Union army, to volunteer, we need West Virginia regiments already in the field to re-volunteer. I mean he is very conscious that if he hadn't signed the bill, this would have been so disappointing that he would have lost the support perhaps of the populous. The strategic importance of the state of course was critical, but again to emphasize the need for manpower and support because they started you know subscription, conscription in 1863. ? [BATTERY]
CURRY INTERVIEW TAKE 13
Q: John Carlile?
RC: John Carlile is a fascinating individual who deserved the prominence that he enjoyed in the early months of the War, where he opposed secession or he led the forces that led toward the creation of the new state, which became West Virginia. But in the end Carlile is not a sympathetic figure. Carlile, according to his own likes, did not turn against the new state. He would have liked to have had a new state under his terms. But John Carlile, with his rigid commitment to ideology, with his commitment, with his fierce opposition to what he called congressional dictation, his fear of centralized power, understandable feeling perhaps, certainly not unusual for 19th century democrats to take. But in the end to West Virginians I should say he is not a sympathetic figure because his strategy and tactics, despite his protestations that he favored a new state, would have led to its defeat.
And I don't think John Carlile -- he was a man of principle, his own principles, whether you or I agree with them or anyone else agree with them or not, he was a man of principle. And he was not willing to surrender those principles. But he was not a pragmatist so I think he can be admired for his willingness to adhere to principle, but I don't find him a sympathetic figure because in the end he was an anachronism??; he was looking backward and the actions that he took, despite his own protestations, would have led to the defeat of the new state. However, John Carlile in my view probably never understood why he was defeated; why he was rejected; why he became an object of complete scorn. He moved as you know to Maryland after his term as senator from Virginia, the Pierpont government, after that term was over.
And he unsuccessfully ran for office there. Again, under the same principles, as a conservative, strict-construction, states-rights ideologue, but was defeated. Then he came back to West Virginia and I think became a farmer and then died a very lonely and distraught individual. But he was no more of a contradiction I think than any other politicians. I mean, this was a revolutionary period, a period of transition, and John Carlile's ideas which were perfectly comprehensible in the 1830's and perhaps even representative of Democratic thought and the revolutionary situation that resulted in emancipation and the thirteenth and fourteenth and fifteenth amendments and ultimately led to a greater role by the federal government in American life, he could neither approve of it, nor understand it. And rather than, he could not adjust to change, and being unable to adjust to change, he willingly consigned himself to oblivion.
Q: Great! Let's take a cut.
CURRY INTERVIEW TAKE 14
Q: In 1774 the frontier was a nasty place. Tell
me about it.
RC: Indeed. John Murray, the last royal governor of Virginia who was known as "Lord Dunmore" becomes governor of Virginia. And he leads an expedition from Williamsburg to the Ohio River. He takes one wing of his army north towards Parkersburg, that area and then General Andrew Lewis of Greenbrier, then known I think as West Augusta, General Andrew Lewis takes the army southern wing down to Point Pleasant where an intense battle with Cornstalk and the Shawnee after a very intense battle, which the outcome was uncertain for a time, resulted in Andrew Lewis' triumph over Cornstalk. This pacified the frontier for a period of two years after the Revolution began in 1775.
And certainly this was certainly useful to Virginia, the colony of Virginia in conducting the revolution, when they didn't have to worry about Indian attacks in the frontier. That's getting a bit ahead of the story. Dunmore, after that battle, then negotiated the Treaty of Fort Charlotte, and signed treaties with the Indians and then came back to Williamsburg and Dunmore for a short time was considered to be a very heroic figure by Virginians. The House of Burgesses which Lord Dunmore as royal governor dissolved. They met as the revolutionary government of Virginia and they passed a resolution congratulating Lord Dunmore for leading the attack on the Shawnee. Every town in western Virginia virtually every county, numerous letters or petitions congratulating Dunmore for his enlightened action, were received by the governor.
Yet, within a short period of time, Dunmore became a very sinister figure in Virginia, considered to be sinister. Because what did he do? He tried to start a slave insurrection in Virginia and said to the slaves: If you will rise up and defend the crown against the revolutionaries, you will get your freedom. Failing in that, he tried to engage General Andrew Lewis, the hero of Point Pleasant, in battle, decisively defeated by Lewis. He saw that his situation was helpless and burned the town of Norfolk and sailed away, where he became royal governor in the Bahamas.
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY PROJECT
SOUND ROLL 106, APR 30,
RICHARD CURRY INTERVIEW, TAKE 15, CAMERA 264, SOUND ROLL 106
Q: Tell me about this guy, complex and
RC: Who was Lord Dunmore? He was a cousin to the queen of England, but he was a poor nobleman, Lord Dunmore with no money. Why else would he come to America to a frontier, to a wilderness? Because he did not have the money to spend it in the salons of Paris or in London, so here he is first governor of New York, he gets a hundred thousand acres, deeded to him, for land speculation purposes. And it's no secret that he wanted a hundred thousand acres more in Virginia. But that's -- so he was trying to enrich himself, make his career as a civil servant, in order to make a success in life because he inherited no wealth, no land, only title.
Q: How was he going to get a hundred thousand
acres in Virginia? Give me his strategy?
RC: Well, the land itself, the speculators, Washington managed to get two hundred thousand acres. The British Foreign Office would grant land grants to land companies or to individuals, but he wanted the British Foreign Office in the name of the king to grant him a hundred thousand acres in partial payment for his services, his salary, and bonuses if you will. The British government would make these grants. For example, every soldier who fought in the French and Indian War was supposed to get a hundred eighty acres if you were I think an enlisted man, so many more acres if you were an officer. And instead of money, they would give you land. This is how Washington acquired two hundred thousand acres in the Kanawha valley area because he bought up these land grants.
The British government however chastised Dunmore. Dunmore said that colonials were entitled to their grants and ordered the grants to be given to them. The British government said no, no. This was not intended for colonials, only for British officers. Dunmore was at odds with British policy. Dunmore was in many ways a very far-sighted governor, not that he wasn't self-interested. Yes, we're all self-interested, we want to be successful. In order to be successful means you can be self-interested, but not unenlightened, necessarily. And I don't think Dunmore was unenlightened; I think he was a terribly enlightened royal governor who understood more clearly than Lord Dartmouth, the British foreign secretary, what was going on in America and particularly what was going on in Virginia.
So Lord Dunmore led this expedition to the Ohio, not only enrich himself but to stop a bitter civil war that had been going on since 1763. The royal proclamation line had been established by the British government after the French & Indian war, and they said: no further settlement until notice; we want to pacify the frontier; we want to sign treaties with the Indians. Well, it was a substitute foreign policy. The British government did nothing. And what happened did the royal proclamation keep Virginians from going into West Virginia? No. Thirty thousand Virginians, including many of my ancestors and that of many other presently West Virginians crossed the mountains into West Virginia and neither the royal proclamation, nor the native Americans, or the Indians, nor Lord Dunmore, nor the British government, could stop it. It was inevitable conflict of cultures between the native American culture, trying to stop European expansion in the frontier, and they couldn't do it.
So Lord Dunmore is thrown into the fray here. And what does he do? Well, he says: Okay, there's a savage guerrilla warfare, internecine warfare going on here. Men, women and children being killed, hundreds, both sides Indians and Whites. He wanted to stop that. But at the same time, he said: Look what's happening. These settlers have gone across the, had defied British policy, they've gone into western Virginia, they're all the way up to the Ohio River. I can't stop them; you can't stop them. Why did I do what I did? He defended himself to Lord Dartmouth? Why did I authorize this expedition and authorize these land grants to individuals? To maintain British authority. Because your policy is bankrupt because I can't stop them, you can't stop them. So, to use his phrase, Lord Dunmore, I extended British authority to the Ohio. This is preferable to a set of democratic governments of their own.
Well, he was acting in his self-interests; he is acting in the interests of the Virginians; he was acting in the interests of the British government as he perceived it. Because as he said, They're going to establish independence from us, so my policy is designed not only to enrich myself or to recognize the claims of the Virginians and to stop this terrible civil war, but to maintain British crown rule in Virginia. Your policy is bankrupt. The British government never understood what they called "Dunmore's insubordination." Had he not been related to the queen of England, he probably would have been removed. In other words I think Dunmore understood from a British point of view much more clearly what was going on, much more clearly what needed to be done than Lord Dartmouth in the British foreign office. And for his troubles he was threatened with dismissal and he was severely chastised.
Q: Now the irony, is it not, that the Battle of
Point Pleasant clears the air along the Ohio -- the
Shawnees are pushed across the Ohio -- and
Virginians can now turn themselves to a new foe, the
British? Tell me about the impact of Lewis' sort of
RC: Right. The irony is as I see it is that Dunmore who actually champions rights of colonials and who pacified the frontier which eventually helped the revolutionaries, the Virginians, they didn't have to worry about attack from their frontier because of Lord Dunmore's war, the irony is that history, that his reputation in history, Lord Dunmore, has come to be looked upon as a sinister figure. I think in popular mythology, even by some historians, and actually Lord Dunmore was a very, I think a very sharp and able perceptive individual who doesn't deserve the bum rap he's gotten in history. Now, but of course this is all taken from a Euro-centric? point of view. We cannot native Americans to share the same view of Lord Dunmore or of the Virginians as others may. But, in context of British policy and of Virginia's desires to expand to the Ohio, Dunmore had a much more realistic conception than anyone else I think.
Q: Let me ask you a final question. And this is ? What's your impression, from a distance, what's your impression about West Virginia in sort of capsule form and its arc from 1863 to the present? I mean in a way West Virginia's still trying to ...
[ABRUPT DEAD AIR, NO MORE CONVERSATION, NO ANNOUNCEMENT]