Author: Nelson D. Lankford

director of publications and scholarship at the Virginia Historical Society, where he has edited the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography since 1984. He is the author of, most recently, Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 (2007) and Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital (2002)
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Virginia Convention of 1861

The Virginia Convention of 1861, also known later as the Secession Convention, convened on February 13, 1861, on the eve of the American Civil War (1861–1865), to consider whether Virginia should secede from the United States. Its 152 delegates, a majority of whom were Unionist, had been elected at the behest of the Virginia General Assembly, which also directed that their decision be ratified by a statewide referendum. Several states in the Deep South, beginning with South Carolina, had already left the Union in response to the election in November 1860 of Abraham Lincoln as United States president. Virginia, however, hesitated, and debate raged on for months. On April 4, secessionists badly lost a vote but prepared for the possibility of war nevertheless. Former Virginia governor Henry A. Wise worked behind the scenes and outside the legal process to secure the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry by military means, a move that prompted a furious objection from Unionist delegate John Baldwin of Staunton. After the fall of Fort Sumter on April 13 and Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers on April 15, the momentum turned toward secession, and the convention voted on April 17 to leave the Union. Virginians expressed their agreement at the polls on May 23. The state had joined the Confederacy.

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