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Civil War Border States: HOMEPAGE

During the American Civil War (1861-1865) there were five Border States: DelawareKentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and West Virginia. In the Border States, slavery was systematically dying out in the urban areas and the regions without cotton, especially in cities that were rapidly industrializing, such as Baltimore, Louisville, and St. Louis. However, there was still profit to be made by selling slaves to the cotton plantations in the deep South, as cotton was very profitable and the price of prime field hands kept rising. In contrast to the unanimity of the seven cotton states in the lower South, the border slave states were bitterly divided about secession and were not eager to leave the Union. Border Unionists hoped that some compromise would be reached and they assumed that Lincoln would not send an army. Border secessionists paid less attention to the slavery issue in 1861; their states' economies were based more on trade with the North than on cotton and they lacked the South Carolinian dream of a slave-based empire oriented south toward the Caribbean. Rather their main focus in 1861 was on coercion: Lincoln's call to arms seemed a repudiation of the American traditions of states’ rights, democracy, liberty, and a republican form of government. The disunionists, or pro-secessionists, insisted that Washington had usurped illegitimate powers in defiance of the Constitution, and thereby had lost its legitimacy. After Lincoln called for troops, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina promptly declared their secessions and joined the Confederacy, but a secession movement began in western Virginia to break away and remain in the Union.
Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland, with stronger ties to the North than to the South, were deeply divided; Kentucky tried to proclaim itself neutral. Union military forces were mobilized to guarantee these states remained in the Union. The western counties of Virginia rejected secession, set up a loyal government of Virginia (with representation in the U.S. Congress), and created the new state of West Virginia. See also: Sectionalism and States' Rights.

Civil War Border States Map
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American Civil War Border States Map

Delaware, like most Southern states, was extremely torn on the question posed by the Secession Crisis. Delaware was especially torn because the majority of people from the northern part of the state aligned themselves more with the ideals of the Northeastern states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, whereas the people of the lower counties aligned themselves more with the ideals of its fellow Chesapeake states of Maryland and Virginia. The state largely opposed Lincoln's election in 1860 and had voted for the Southern Democratic candidate John C. Breckinridge. After much debate though, both houses of Delaware's General Assembly rejected secession overwhelmingly. The House of Representatives unanimously. This by no means meant that Delaware was a pro-Republican state and its members of Congress proved to be a thorn in Lincoln's side for the entirety of his presidency. Delaware's legislators decided that they would stay in the Union for at least the beginning of the war and if the Confederacy gained enough ground, they would again hold a convention to decide if Secession was in their best interests. Another reason for Delaware's decision to stay in the Union was that Delaware had been separated from the rest of the Southern States when Maryland's secession convention was thwarted by Federal troops. Lincoln couldn't let the state of Maryland fall because it bordered the Federal capital of Washington, D.C. (named Washington City at the time), which would have been lost to the Confederacy if Maryland was allowed to secede. See also: Delaware Civil War Border State and Border State Civil War History.

Civil War Border States Map
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Civil War Border State Timeline Map

American Civil War Border States History Map
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Union and Confederate Border States Map

Kentucky was strategic to Union victory in the Civil War. Lincoln once said, "I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capital" (Washington, which was surrounded by slave states: Confederate Virginia and Union-controlled Maryland). He is further reported to have said that he hoped to have God on his side, but he had to have Kentucky.

Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin proposed that slave states like Kentucky should conform to the US Constitution, and remain in the Union. When Lincoln requested 75,000 men to serve in the Union army, however, Magoffin, a Southern sympathizer, countered that Kentucky would "furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states."
The Kentucky legislature did not vote on any bill to secede, but passed two resolutions of neutrality, issuing a neutrality proclamation May 20, 1861, asking both sides to keep out. In elections on June 20 and August 5, 1861, Unionists won enough additional seats in the legislature to overcome any veto by the governor. After the elections, the strongest supporters of neutrality were the Southern sympathizers. While both sides had already been openly enlisting troops from the state, after the elections the Union army established recruitment camps within Kentucky itself.

Neutrality was allegedly broken when Confederate General Leonidas Polk occupied Columbus, Kentucky, in the summer of 1861. In response, the Kentucky Legislature passed a resolution on September 7 directing the governor to demand the evacuation of only the Confederate forces from Kentucky soil. Magoffin vetoed the proclamation, but the legislature overrode his veto, and Magoffin issued the proclamation. The legislature further decided to back General Ulysses S. Grant, and his Union troops stationed in Paducah, Kentucky, on the grounds that the Confederacy voided the original pledge by entering Kentucky first. The General Assembly soon also ordered the Union flag be raised over the state capitol in Frankfort, declaring its allegiance with the Union.

Kentucky Civil War Border State Map
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Kentucky Border State Map

Southern sympathizers were outraged at the legislatures' decisions, citing that Polk's troops in Kentucky were only en route to countering Grant's forces. Later legislative resolutions—such as inviting Union General Robert Anderson to enroll volunteers to expel the Confederate forces, requesting the governor to call out the militia, and appointing Union General Thomas L. Crittenden in command of Kentucky forces—only incensed the Southerners further. (Magoffin vetoed the resolutions but all were overridden.) In 1862, the legislature passed an act to disenfranchise citizens who enlisted in the Confederate States Army. Thus Kentucky's neutral status evolved into backing the Union. Most of those who originally sought neutrality turned to the Union cause.

During the war, a faction known as the Russellville Convention did form a Confederate government of Kentucky, which was recognized by the Confederate States of America as a member state. Kentucky was represented by the central star on the Confederate battle flag.

When Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston occupied Bowling Green, Kentucky in the summer of 1861, the pro-Confederates in western and central Kentucky moved to establish a Confederate state government. The Russellville Convention met in Logan County on November 18, 1861. One hundred sixteen delegates from 68 counties elected to depose the current government, and create a provisional government loyal to Kentucky's new unofficial Confederate Governor George W. Johnson. On December 10, 1861, Kentucky became the 13th state admitted to the Confederacy. Kentucky, along with Missouri, was a state with representatives in both Congresses, and with regiments in both Union and Confederate armies.

Civil War Border States President Election Map
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Civil War Border States Election Map of the President

Magoffin, still functioning as official governor in Frankfort, would not recognize the Kentucky Confederates, nor their attempts to establish a government in his state. He continued to declare Kentucky's official status in the war was as a neutral state—even though the legislature backed the Union. Magoffin, fed up with the party divisions within the population and legislature, announced a special session of the legislature, and then resigned his office in 1862.

Bowling Green remained occupied by the Confederates until February 1862, when General Grant moved from Missouri, through Kentucky, along the Tennessee line. Confederate Governor Johnson fled Bowling Green with the Confederate state records, headed south, and joined Confederate forces in Tennessee. After Johnson was killed fighting in the Battle of Shiloh, Richard Hawes was named Confederate governor. Shortly afterwards, the Provisional Confederate Congress was adjourned on February 17, 1862, on the eve of inauguration of a permanent Congress. However, as Union occupation henceforth dominated the state, the Kentucky Confederate government, as of 1863, existed only on paper, and its representation in the permanent congress was minimal. It was dissolved when the Civil War ended in the spring of 1865. See also: Kentucky Civil War Border State and Border State Civil War History.
Union troops had to go through Maryland to reach the national capital at Washington, D.C. Had Maryland also joined the Confederacy, Washington, D.C. would have been totally surrounded. The Maryland Legislature rejected secession in 1861, and Governor Thomas Hicks voted against it. Due to the state's key position, habeas corpus was suspended and a number of Maryland state legislators, as well as officials in Baltimore and other outspoken secessionists, were arrested and imprisoned. Twenty-seven state legislators (one-third of the General Assembly) were arrested and jailed in September 1861. Maryland contributed troops to both the Union and Confederate armies. Maryland adopted a new state constitution in 1864, which prohibited slavery and thus emancipated all slaves in the state. See also: Maryland Civil War Border State and Border State Civil War History.

Maryland Civil War Border State Map
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Maryland American Civil War Border State Map

After the secession of Southern states began, the newly elected governor of Missouri called upon the legislature to authorize a state constitutional convention on secession. A special election approved of the convention, and delegates to it. This Missouri Constitutional Convention voted to remain within the Union, but rejected coercion of the Southern States by the United States. Pro-Southern Governor Claiborne F. Jackson was disappointed with the outcome. He called up the state militia to their districts for annual training. Jackson had designs on the St. Louis Arsenal, and had been in secret correspondence with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, to obtain artillery for the militia in St. Louis. Aware of these developments, Union Captain Nathaniel Lyon struck first, encircling the camp, and forcing the state militia to surrender. While marching the prisoners to the arsenal, a deadly riot erupted.
These events caused greater Confederate support within the state. The already pro-Southern legislature passed the governor's military bill creating the Missouri State Guard. Governor Jackson appointed Sterling Price, who had been president of the convention, as major general of this reformed and expanded militia. Price, and Union district commander Harney, came to an agreement known as the Price-Harney Truce, that calmed tensions in the state for several weeks. After Harney was removed, and Lyon placed in charge, a meeting was held in St. Louis at the Planters' House between Lyon, his political ally Francis P. Blair, Jr., Price, and Jackson. The negotiations went nowhere, and after a few fruitless hours Lyon made his famous declaration, "this means war!" Price and Jackson rapidly departed for the capital.
Jackson, Price, and the pro-Confederate portions of the state legislature, were forced to flee the state capital of Jefferson City on June 14, 1861, in the face of Lyon's rapid advance against the state government. In the absence of most of the now exiled state government, the Missouri Constitutional Convention reconvened in late July. On July 30, the convention declared the state offices vacant, and appointed a new provisional government with Hamilton Gamble as governor. President Lincoln's Administration immediately recognized the legitimacy of Gamble's government, which provided both pro-Union militia forces for service within the state, and volunteer regiments for the Union Army.

Missouri Border State Map
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Missouri Civil War Border State Map

Fighting ensued between Union forces, and a combined army of General Price's Missouri State Guard and Confederate troops from Arkansas and Texas, under General Ben McCulloch. After winning victories at the battle of Wilson's Creek, and the siege of Lexington, Missouri, the secessionist forces had little choice but to retreat again to Southwestern Missouri, as Union reinforcements arrived. There, on October 30, 1861, in the town of Neosho, Jackson called the supporting parts of the exiled state legislature into session, where they enacted a secession ordinance. It was recognized by the Confederate congress, and Missouri was admitted into the Confederacy on November 28. The elected government in Jefferson City remained loyal to the Union.
The exiled state government was forced to withdraw into Arkansas. For the rest of the war, it consisted of several wagon loads of civilian politicians attached to various Confederate armies. In 1865, it vanished.
Confederate troops staged several large-scale raids into Missouri, but most of the fighting in the state for the next three years consisted of guerrilla warfare. The guerrillas were primarily Southern partisans, including William Quantrill, Frank and Jesse James, the Younger brothers, and William T. Anderson. Such small unit tactics pioneered by the Missouri Partisan Rangers were seen in other occupied portions of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The James' brothers outlawry after the war has been seen as a continuation of guerrilla warfare. Stiles (2002) argues that Jesse James was an intensely political postwar neo-Confederate terrorist rather than a social bandit or just a plain bank robber with a hair-trigger temper.

The Union response was to suppress the guerrillas. It did that in western Missouri, as Brigadier General Thomas Ewing issued General Order No. 11 on 25 August 1863, ordering the immediate evacuation of all persons living in four western counties. Lincoln approved Ewing's plan beforehand. About 20,000 civilians (chiefly women, children and old men) had to leave their homes. Many never returned, and the counties were economically devastated for years. According to Glatthaar (2001) Union forces established "free-fire zones." Union cavalry units would identify and track down scattered Confederate remnants, who had no places to hide and no secret supply bases. To gain recruits, and to threaten St. Louis, Confederate General Sterling Price raided Missouri with 12,000 men in September 1864. Price coordinated his moves with the guerrillas, but was nearly trapped, escaping back to Arkansas with only half his force. The Republicans made major gains in the fall 1864 elections on the basis of Union victories and Confederate ineptness. Quantrill's Raiders, after raiding Kansas in the Lawrence Massacre on August 21, 1863, killing 150 civilians, broke up in confusion; Quantrill himself with a handful of followers moved on to Kentucky, where he was ambushed and killed. See also: Missouri Civil War Border State and Border State Civil War History.
The serious divisions between the western and eastern sections of Virginia had been simmering for decades. The western areas were growing, and had few slaves or plantations; the east survived by selling its slaves to the cotton states further south. But the east controlled state government. By December 1860, secession was being publicly debated throughout Virginia. Leading eastern spokesmen called for secession, while westerners warned they would not be legislated into treason. A statewide convention first met on February 13 and after Fort Sumter it voted for secession on April 17, 1861. The decision was dependent on ratification by a statewide referendum. Western leaders held mass rallies and prepared to separate, so it could remain in the Union. Unionists met at the Wheeling Convention with four hundred delegates from twenty-seven counties.

West Virginia Border State Map
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West Virginia Civil War Border State Map

The statewide vote in favor of secession was 132,201 to 37,451. An estimated vote on Virginia's ordinance of secession for the 50 counties that became West Virginia is 34,677 to 19,121 against secession, with 24 of the 50 counties favoring secession and 26 favoring the Union. The Second Wheeling Convention opened on June 11 with more than 100 delegates from 32 western counties representing nearly one-third of Virginia’s total voting population. It announced that state officers were vacant and chose Francis H. Pierpont as governor of Virginia (not West Virginia) on June 20. Pierpont headed the Restored Government of Virginia, which granted permission for the formation of a new state on August 20, 1861.
The new West Virginia state constitution was passed by the Unionist counties in the spring of 1862 and this was approved by the restored Virginia government in May 1862. The statehood bill for West Virginia was passed by Congress in December and signed by President Lincoln on December 31, 1862. The ultimate decision about West Virginia was made by the armies in the field; the Confederates were defeated, the Union was triumphant, so West Virginia was born. In late spring 1861 Union troops from Ohio moved into western Virginia with the primary strategic goal of protecting the B & O Railroad. General George B. McClellan destroyed Confederate defenses in western Virginia. Raids and recruitment by the Confederacy took place throughout the war. Current estimates for soldiers from West Virginia (40,000-44,000 total) are 20,000-22,000 men for each side. West Virginia, perhaps more than any other state, epitomized the Brother against Brother War. See also: West Virginia Civil War Border State and Border State Civil War History.

(References and related reading below.)

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References: Ambler, Charles H. "The Cleavage between Eastern and Western Virginia". The American Historical Review Vol. 15, No. 4, (July 1910); Ash. Steven V. Middle Tennessee Transformed, 1860–1870. Louisiana State University Press, 1988; Baker, Jean H. The Politics of Continuity: Maryland Political Parties from 1858 to 1870. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973; Brownlee, Richard S. Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865 (1958); Coulter, E. Merton. The Civil War and Readjustment in Kentucky. University of North Carolina Press, 1926; Crofts, Daniel W. Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis (1989); Curry, Richard O. "A Reappraisal of Statehood Politics in West Virginia". The Journal of Southern History Vol. 28, No. 4. (November, 1962); Fellman, Michael. Inside War. The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri during the American Civil War (1989); Fields, Barbara. Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland During the Nineteenth Century (1987); Gilmore, Donald L. Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border (2005); Hancock Harold. Delaware during the Civil War. Historical Society of Delaware (1961); Harris, William C. Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union. University Press of Kansas, 2011; Harrison, Lowell. The Civil War in Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky, 1975; Josephy, Alvin M. Jr., The Civil War in the American West, 1991; Kerby, Robert L. Kirby Smith's Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South, 1863-1865. Columbia University Press, 1972; Maslowski Peter. Treason Must Be Made Odious: Military Occupation and Wartime Reconstruction in Nashville, Tennessee, 1862-65 (1978); Monaghan, Jay. Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865 (1955); Nevins, Allan. The War for the Union: The Improvised War 1861-1862 (1959); Parrish, William E. Turbulent Partnership: Missouri and the Union, 1861-1865. University of Missouri Press, 1963; Patton, James W. Unionism and Reconstruction in Tennessee, 1860-1867. University of North Carolina Press, 1934; Rampp, Lary C., and Donald L. Rampp. The Civil War in the Indian Territory. Austin: Presidial Press, 1975; Sheeler, J. Reuben. "Secession and The Unionist Revolt," Journal of Negro History, Vol. 29, No. 2 (April 1944); Sutherland, Daniel E. A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

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