Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A State of Convenience

West Virginia, the only state in the Union whose entire geography is composed of the Appalachian Mountains, is turning 143. I remembered this just the other day when I came across an article in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph by Adria Hairston on the thoughts of locals as to why West Virginia was a decent place to live, specifically in reflection on both that anniversary and the the state's tourism motto, "West Virginia, Almost Heaven." All that said, the article pointed out that the West Virginia Division of Culture and History had put together a retrospective on the unusual (to say the least) process by which West Virginia was painfully born from a Virginia being ravaged by civil war.

The documentary (available here) is truly fascinating - documenting the emotion and debates of the era en masse, including a number of great photographs and first-material references. Most interesting is the honesty of the whole thing - not much propaganda here, to say the least - for instance, pains are taken to admit that only 37% of the future residents of West Virginia voted on the secession vote at all (of whom 96% voted for seceeding from Virginia, such a high number that widespread voter fraud of any number of kinds must be suspected) - consider the political implications. It all reminds me of a yelling fight I had with a friend of mine from my old church - she insisted on the public school BS version in which West Virginians, all disgusted with the tyranny of Southern slavery and Virginian aristocracy, united (and apparently more open-minded than any state in the Union today) and holding-hands and skipping into a perfect future. Not a lot of discussion of Lincoln's Machiavellian, unconstitutional proddings and executive orders, nor of the obvious mixed feelings towards leaving the Commonwealth (my home county of Mercer, for instance, was largely pro-Virginia) that many (if not most) West Virginians held - in part explaining why "West Virginia" won out over "Kanawha." This article, however, dispenses with those myths by dealing with the mess of the war years for what they were - a mess. Sadly, not much is written about the military element of the process, more specifically the failure of Confederate forces to reinforce and maintain the region (as they managed to do in East Tennessee).


CactusCorner said...

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