Civil War: Convention, Jones raid excited city

In the last column we covered the military and political plans centered around Parkersburg and Wood County. On the political front, the nominating convention to choose the governor-elect was approaching. Parkersburg natives Arthur I. Boreman and Peter G. Van Winkle had announced their candidacy.

Boreman, a local attorney and politician, had played a lead role throughout the statehood process, convincing wayward leaders in West Virginia to support the Union and defeat secession in the northwestern part of Virginia. He then played a lead role in the activities of the Reformed Legislature in Wheeling and pushing in Washington to keep the statehood legislation on track.

He became a highly respected negotiator and was a close friend of many in Parkersburg supporting statehood, including financial support. Parkersburg was a center of commerce in the area and the new oilfields had made some very prosperous new oil barons. They were all willing to show their influence, and did. Many of these with newfound wealth were in the 70-person contingent the attended the First Wheeling Convention in 1861. Boreman was one of those.

P.G. Van Winkle, like Boreman, was a local attorney and politician, and, like Boreman, was involved in the local oil boom. However, Van Winkle had a more direct connection. Van Winkle’s wife was the daughter of W.P. Rathbone of Burning Springs and Parkersburg. The elder Rathbone owned Burning Springs. Van Winkle was also the president of the North Western Virginia Railroad (part of the B&O) and owned the P.G. Van Winkle Oil Co. He owned the beautiful mansion still standing on Ann Street.

Van Winkle had put up the money ($10,000) to pay the expenses of the First Wheeling Convention in May 1861. In effect, he wrote the new state constitution and was responsible for creating our eastern panhandle, by drawing the new boundary line so as to include those counties along the railroad. He claimed he wanted the railroad to be in the Union, for Union military protection. Interestingly, he had fought the Willey amendment on slavery, claiming Congress had no right to tell a state what to put in its constitution, particularly one he had written. He finally gave in and reluctantly agreed with the changes made in Washington.

The upcoming convention coming to Parkersburg was scheduled for the weekend of May 9. It was being held under the auspices of the Constitutional Union Party. This is a very interesting fact, since this was one of four parties in the 1860 election and actually supported a division of the union, with each state deciding about slavery on its own. We know of no other political campaign to put up opposing candidates. So, who won the contest in Parkersburg was to become governor of the new State of West Virginia.

There were hundreds of convention participants and a larger building had to be converted to accommodate the large crowd. After many votes it was finally decided A.I. Boreman would be the new governor.

The Wheeling and Cincinnati newspapers covered the Parkersburg convention extensively, pointing out Parkersburg dignitaries were showing off the town with the intent of making Parkersburg the capital of the new state.

Now, back in Wheeling, Gov. Pierpont, governor of the Reformed Government in Wheeling, was making plans to move his office to Alexandria as governor of Virginia, or those areas of Virginia still under Union control – that was Alexandria, Norfolk, part of the eastern shore and minor areas where Union troops had kept control. The Reformed Legislature in Wheeling was also to move to Alexandria as the Virginia Legislature, and member of the reformed government in Congress would continue to serve in Congress, alongside the new members elected to represent West Virginia. Importantly, Sen. Carlile would continue in office even though he had been asked to resign by the governor and legislature.

On the military front, Gen. Grumble Jones and Imboden had started the raid across the state with a successful attack on Buckhannon, capturing a huge amount of supplies. This was a cavalry raid of 1,500 riders ordered by Gen. R.E. Lee. His interest was destruction of the B&O Railroad, but equally important was the collection of cattle and horses, in scarce supply in the south. The effects of the union economic embargo on the south was beginning to cripple the southern economy, hurting Gen. Lee’s ability to bring horses to his army as well as cattle for feeding the troops. He had no problem with ardor of his troops; he had severe problems with feeding and equipping them. By June 6, the raid had gone through Morgantown, Fairmont, Clarksburg, Grafton, Weston, West Union and Cairo. Jones moved like greased lightning and had arrived in Cairo with all expecting an invasion on Parkersburg. The raid brought out Parkersburg’s paranoia about being raided, but in this case, there was a real threat.

This caused all the visitors to the convention to get back on the steamboats and trains to get out of town. Jones had intended to take Parkersburg, which would have been a real plum. Remember, the Jenkins raid in September 1862 raced across the state and he also would have come to Parkersburg, but the town was too heavily protected. Instead, Jenkins turned south and fled back to Virginia. At this point, however, Jones was still aimed at Parkersburg, and the Union was desperately trying to find out what was going on. The question on the telegraph was “where was Jones headed, and how many troops were involved” – 1,000 or 10,000? There was great confusion, and with the new political convention taking place in Parkersburg, the town became both a military and political hotseat. Troops were brought in from all over for protection and when Gen. Jones learned of this protection for the town, he turned south.

That put him in a direct line to Burning Springs and its new oilfield, which will be covered in the next column. And it was an exciting venture unto itself.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave McKain is director of the Oil and Gas Museum and is chairman of the area Civil War Roundtable which is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Contact him at