Disorder on the Border
Civil Warfare in Cabell and Wayne Counties, West Virginia, 1856-1870
by Joe Geiger, Jr.
In the last half of the 1850s, the Virginia counties of Cabell and Wayne became immersed in the national debate over slavery. Located only a stone’s throw away from the free state of Ohio, some western Virginians practiced and defended slavery, and the contentiousness between supporters and those who opposed the institution increased dramatically as the nation moved closer to civil war. When the conflict erupted in 1861, disorder was the order of the day.
Although the overwhelming majority of voters in Cabell and Wayne counties opposed the Ordinance of Secession, the most prominent and influential citizens in the area favored leaving the Union. When the state seceded, some who had opposed this step now cast their loyalty with Virginia rather than the Union. During and after the Civil War, dozens of skirmishes, raids, and armed encounters occurred in this border area, and the lengthy struggle only ended with the statewide Democratic victory in the 1870 election.
Federal supporters in Cabell and Wayne counties lived through years of terror. Their efforts to save the Union and create the new state of West Virginia, and their willingness to die on behalf of the country ensured its survival from the greatest conflict in the history of the United States.
About the Author
Joe Geiger, Jr. has worked at West Virginia Archives and History since 1998 and is West Virginia’s state historian and state archivist. A graduate of Marshall University, he formerly served as an adjunct instructor in the history departments at Marshall University and West Virginia State University. He is the author of Civil War in Cabell County, West Virginia 1861-1865 and Holding the Line: The Battle of Allegheny Mountain.