Paying tribute to the ‘Sons’

West Virginians may well have played a critical role in saving the Union during the Civil War battle at Gettysburg, Pa.

While we West Virginia residents were celebrating the sesquicentennial of our state’s birth, most history buffs were focusing on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg fight. Re-enactments including thousands of blue- and gray-clad “soldiers” were held recently.

Most Americans probably think of Gettysburg as the battle that turned the tide during the Civil War. Indeed, during a two-week period in 1863, it became clear the Confederacy’s back had been broken.

First, on June 20, West Virginia was born, rending the Old Dominion, the Confederacy’s most powerful state, asunder. Then, on July 3, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee admitted defeat at Gettysburg. Finally, on July 4, the Confederate bastion at Vicksburg, Miss., fell, cutting the rebel nation in two.

Few people really know much about Gettysburg, except for Pickett’s Charge. It certainly was, as some have called it, the high tide of the Confederacy.

But a critical fight occurred the previous night on Cemetery Hill, at the right of the Union army’s line of battle. There, thousands of rebel troops nearly broke through the boys in blue. Had they completed the assault, the entire Union Army might have crumbled.

Screaming the rebel yell, Confederates swarmed up the hill and got as far as the Union artillery, where vicious hand-to-hand fighting occurred. The situation was grim, when Union reinforcements – three small regiments including the 7th West Virginia – were called in.

Let one of the West Virginians tell what happened:

“On arriving there we found the Battery about to be taken charge of by the enemy who were in large force. Whereupon we immediately charged on the enemy and succeeded in completely routing their entire force and driving them beyond our lines.”

With their comrades from Ohio and Indiana, the Mountain State boys prevented a Union defeat on Cemetery Hill. So yes, it may well have been West Virginians – most from this area of the state – who saved the union that night in 1863.

There’s an impressive monument to them at the site of their triumph. The first line of the inscription notes the monument honors “Sons of the Mountains.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via email at