By the middle of April 1862, the guerillas in Wirt, Calhoun and Roane counties were making their presence known, not to just at military targets but at civilian homes as well. You were a target if you believed in preserving the Union or were a Yankee. After the skirmish at Arnoldsburg, Col. Perry Hays took his 200 guerillas to Camp Big Bend in Calhoun County. Col. J.C. Rathbone was already headquartered at Spencer and had a company at Burning Springs and Elizabeth.
From a diary of one of the rebel participants, a soldier by the name of Capt. Harris, we have a report of the wanderings of one of Hay's guerilla squads around Wirt and Calhoun counties. He wrote of visiting the "California House" on the Stanton to Parkersburg Turnpike and hiding at various homes in the neighborhood. However, there are two very important comments in the diary of note. One is about "a squad burnt the fort at Burning Springs" on May 9, 1862. This is an important report in that previously we knew only of the major attack by Gen. Jones in 1863, ironically, on May 9! Note they only reported a squad of men burned the fort, and that no other buildings or production assets were destroyed. The next day Harris reported again "the squad returned to Big Bend from burning the fort at Burning Springs."
We reported in our column at the beginning of the war in June, we had a firsthand account of the "Battle of Burning Springs" where 140 Union troops drove the Confederate guerillas out of Burning Springs. This was on June, 26, 1861, making it second only to the skirmish at Phillipi as the first land battle of the Civil War. These items are first reports as they have not been picked up locally or nationally as important historic events, as they were. First, the June 26 skirmish was one of the earliest skirmishes of the war and second, it became the first oilfield attack in any war.
In the political arena, the Constitutional Convention, with representatives from 42 counties, had finished its work in Wheeling and had submitted it for a statewide vote. Those voting were mainly Unionists, as you had to sign a loyalty oath in most places to vote. Those in favor were 18,862 and opposed 514. The approved constitution was then sent on May 4, 1862, to Washington for review and ratification of the House and Senate and approval by the president. The process was filled with potholes, as we shall see.
Also meeting in Wheeling was the Virginia legislature. It had given the new state permission to leave the State of Virginia. It would now be a long and interesting slog through the politics of Washington before approval would be gained and the president would finally sign the bill Dec. 31, 1862.
A news article in the Parkersburg Gazette discussed a meeting here on the new constitution "P.G. Van Winkle - Sat 15th 1862. Of The Constitution. One of the largest meetings ever held in Parkersburg was held at the Court House on Saturday last, in favor of the new Constitution of the new State of West Virginia. The people of the country poured in freely and there seemed to be a perfect unanimity of sentiment The meeting was first addressed by P.G. Van Winkle Esq., in one of the most clear and graphic explanations of the various provisions of the Constitution that could be made. He is familiar with every word and letter in it. What his hand did not prepare went through a close revision under his eye. It is admitted on all hands that our talented townsmen is the father of that instrument, and to him more than on other are we totally indebted for one of the best constitutions that has ever been before the people of the country, the national one prepared by our inspired fathers, excepted. If we as a people are enabled to have a new state under it in a very few years we shall find it one of our finest treasures and greatest blessings.
W.E. Stevenson Esq. spoke eloquently and well, with evidences of the clear sound judgement for which he has been noted by those who have known him. He is a progressive man, a true patriot and a laboring, practical man. He became known to many persons here to whom he had been a stranger and all expressed the highest satisfaction. He, too, was among the most earnest and arduous members of the convention, laboring constantly, speaking rarely; but when he did, with sense and effect."
And so it was in Wood County - 150 years ago!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave McKain is director of the Oil and Gas Museum and is chairman of the area Civil War Roundtable which is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.