Stories about cowboys and the Wild West give the impression that beginning in the mid-19th century, ranching was dominating the United States. While outlaws were battling lawmen in many places, the country continued its expansion and development. Political and industrial advances increased its international influence and Virginia, like all the other states was moving along with the country’s progress.
During the first half of the 1800s Virginia was a divided state, and its growth contributed further to this. The sections which had been first developed, in the eastern part of the state, relied heavily on slave labour. This continued even though large scale farming was moving away from more labour intensive tobacco farming to mixed crops. The farmers had become dependent upon the slaves, and the large fields required many hands to work. This was in direct contrast to the western areas that, even though they were also supported by agriculture, had smaller family farms.
Railways were becoming necessary in all areas of the United States and, as the state expanded into the areas of mining and timber harvesting, Virginia was no exception. During the 1830s several different companies began railway construction. One of the first, The Chesterfield Railroad, was made in order to haul coal from the mines. It originally used gravity and large animals as a power source.
By 1834, the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad had become the first locomotive railway in the state. The manufacturers’ intention was to connect with steamboat lines at Aquia Landing, and run from the state to Washington. Many other companies followed suit and Petersburg became a manufacturing centre, which encouraged the freed slaves to settle here as artisans and craftsmen.
The American Civil War
Voting, during this period, was limited to white males who owned a certain amount of land. This meant that the political influence of the more prosperous eastern section was significantly higher. Even though the legislation attempted to mend the division, they were unsuccessful and at the beginning of the Civil War, Virginia was still separated. This affected both sides of the war, as men from all economic and social backgrounds enlisted.
Richmond, because of its convenient location, became the headquarters of the Confederate Army. Most of the artillery for the war was produced in the city’s Tredegar Iron Works, and many hospitals were formed in the city. The Libby Prison became the main holding area for captured Union officers, and a source of additional conflict as the conditions the officers were kept in was terrible and many died. The main defences for the city were trenches built down towards Petersburg, and Union forces targeted it throughout the war.
The Confederacy’s behavior distressed those in the west of Virginia so much that they broke away to form the first Union of Virginia. A series of unionist conventions began in May 1861, and these resulted in the split of the state and West Virginia officially became America’s 35th state, on June 20, 1863.
In spite of its official recognition the Virginia state government refused to acknowledge West Virginia and confederates were not allowed to vote here. They also began losing more of their areas, and Union forces extended their control from the region west of the Alleghenies as far as the Baltimore and Ohio railroad in the north. There continued to be battles fought in Virginia, including the Seven Day Battle, the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of Brandy Station. In 1864, the Union Army began a planned attack on Richmond and in April 1865, the Confederates retreated from the city burning it on the way out. By November 1865 the Union had gained control over three-quarters of the districts in Virginia.