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150 Years Ago: Wednesday, December 10, 1862

West Virginia division from Confederate Virginia. 1862Source: Library of Congress

West Virginia division from Confederate Virginia. 1862
Source: Library of Congress

The reality of West Virginia becoming a state in the U.S. is one step closer today. The U.S. House of Representatives passes a bill that allows the creation of the state of West Virginia; it had already been approved by the Senate in the summer. There had been a lot of discussion surrounding the issue of slavery and whether it would be allowed in this new state. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner had demanded an emancipation clause, while restored West Virginia Senator John S. Carlile wanted his people to decide by holding a statewide election. A compromise had been reached by West Virginia’s other Senator, Waitman Willey, and Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade, who is the Chairman of the Committee on Territories. The “Willey Amendment” reads:

“The children of slaves born within the limits of this State after the fourth day of July, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, shall be free; and all slaves within the said State who shall, at the time aforesaid, be under the age of ten years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of twenty-one years; and all slaves over ten and under twenty-one years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of twenty-five years; and no slave shall be permitted to come into the State for permanent residence therein.”

Senator Carlile had voted against the bill; many West Virginians now view him as a traitor, but he was unfortunately not up for reelection this year so he continues to hold office. Now that both the Senate and House have passed the bill, it will be sent to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln for his review and approval.

U.S. Major General John F. Reynolds marches his corp down close to the Rappahannock River to a place south of Fredericksburg called Hamilton’s Crossing, just across from C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s men. He’s joined by U.S. Major General George Meade, and both are entrusted to pick men for a midnight mission. They select the trusted Pennsylvania Reserves to cover engineers while they assemble pontoon bridges across the river. They are overseen by Sergeant Tom Dick, who sees no point in sleeping and instead begins preparations for the nighttime march. As he speaks with his men, the talk around the campfire turns serious. Everyone smells battle; they realize that some of them around that fire will not be with them the next time. But at midnight all the men fall into line and enthusiastically march off.

They can see the Rebels lights on the other side in the darkness, but there is no resistance to their presence as they guard the engineers as the pontoon boats are assembled piece by piece. Even as the sun comes up, fog continues to cover their actions as everyone works quickly and quietly to finish the job. But the fog eventually lifts and several engineers are immediately hit by Confederate fire. A Union battery begins to shell the Confederates in a counter-attack so the engineers can continue their work. By 1pm the bridge is complete. A brigade from the 6th Corps crosses the bridge and sets up guard for the night.

Daily Civil War Calendar

December 2012

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