The Rattle of Sabers and the Sting of Gunpowder: Virginia's Role in the Civil War

Manassas. Fredericksburg. Chancellorsville. Richmond. Appomattox.

In these places and dozens of others, some too far away from civilization to be remembered, the sound of rifles and the drumming of hoofbeats echoed through the valleys and tore apart towns as the armies of North and South engaged in the terrible conflict that was the Civil War.

Confederate soldiers in campOn April 4, 1861, representatives from the counties of Virginia met to decide whether or not their state should stay in the Union. By a strong majority, the men voted not to secede. On April 17, 1861, five days after Confederate troops took Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and two days after President Lincoln called for 75,000 militiamen to fight-- including Virginians, the no became a definite yes.

However, a later vote by individuals made it clear that some western counties were still against secession. They would be brought together to form West Virginia, though not without bloodshed. This reluctant beginning to war was mirrored in the minds of such Virginia leaders as Robert E. Lee, but once Virginians decided to fight, they did not hold back.

The Union had more people than the Confederacy and a much stronger industrial base. Yet they were at times overconfident, and many experienced U.S. Army officers had gone South. That July, during the First Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run as it is sometimes called, Confederate troops in Virginia chased the Union soldiers back to Washington, D.C., showing that this would be a long, hard fight indeed.

Many of the beautiful parks and rivers throughout the Old Dominion were the sites of incredible destruction during the Civil War. Virginia has preserved its heritage and remembered those fallen in its wars. National parks can be an excellent source of information about specific battles. The libraries of the Central Rappahannock Regional system have a wealth of material about the Civil War in Virginia. Stop by your library branch or e-mail us your questions. These sources may be useful for research:

On the Web

American National Biography Online and Biography Resource Center via the CRRL's Electronic Databases
A good source for the life stories of the Civil War's leaders.

Civil War Traveler: Virginia
Under Northern Virginia, click Alpha Index to find information on the Battle of Manassas. Also includes information on Richmond and Fredericksburg.

The U.S. Civil War: Timeline
A clear document tracing the Civil War from the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 to the ratification of the 13th amendment in December of 1865. Some photos and links for more information are included.

Virginia History and Culture Resources on the Internet 
Research sources from the Library of Virginia. Includes links to some original source materials.

In the Library

America the Beautiful. Virginia. McNair, Sylvia.
Introduces the geography, history, government, economy, culture, famous people, and historic sites of the Old Dominion.

The Battle of Chancellorsville. Kent, Zachary.
This battle is often considered Lee's greatest victory and led the way for his invasion of Pennsylvania. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson died in this engagement. Part of the Cornerstones of Freedom series. 32 pages.

Battle of the Ironclads: The Monitor and the Merrimack. Carter, Alden R.
Examines the construction, battles, and technological and historical impact of the Civil War battleships, the Monitor and the Merrimac.

Cadets at War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market. Beller, Susan Provost.
Discusses the role of the Virginia Military Institute cadets in the Battle of New Market in 1864.

Civil War Sites in Virginia: A Tour Guide. Robertson, James I.
Read about important Virginia sites in the Civil War. Gives directions so you can tour them.

Jeb Stuart: Confederate Cavalry General. Pflueger, Lynda. 
Traces the life of the famous Confederate general from his childhood in Virginia through his West Point education and brilliant military career to his death following the Battle of Yellow Tavern.

Mosby and His Rangers: Adventures of the Gray Ghost. Beller, Susan Provost.
Describes how Colonel John Mosby and his partisan soldiers conducted successful guerrilla warfare on Northern troops during the Civil War.

Robert E. Lee. Aaseng, Nathan.
Biography of the brilliant and daring commander of Confederate forces during the Civil War. Reviews his campaigns and strategies, and his strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

Stonewall Jackson: Confederate General. Pflueger, Lynda.
A biography of the Confederate general who gained the nickname Stonewall for his stand at the first battle of Bull Run during the Civil War.

Virginia. Portrait of America series. Thompson, Kathleen.
Discusses the history, economy, culture, and future of Virginia.