The “battle” for the eastern panhandle of West Virginia

Posted on February 29, 2016 by


I posed a question yesterday, via Facebook, asking if it was only historians who wondered what Berkeley and Jefferson counties would be like if they were returned to Virginia in the years immediately after the Civil War. Of course, I have my doubts that it is only historians that wonder about such things, but I suspect, for the most, thoughts of this have diminished significantly over the last 100 or so years. If you’re unfamiliar with the “battle” for Jefferson and Berkeley counties, I recommend a basic overview of Va. vs. WV, provided in Wikipedia.

So, why even bring this up?

For one, we’re smack in the middle of the Sesquicentennial of that “event”. Additionally, while in Berkeley County yesterday, the question came to me. It’s not that I don’t like Jefferson and Berkeley counties. Far from it. I visit various historic sites in both counties regularly… not to mention, I have ties to ancestors who lived there in both counties, in the 19th and early 20th centuries… and who are buried there. Yet, when one has a chance to consider the entire Shenandoah Valley, it’s difficult, I believe, not to take note of the differences between the Virginia counties and the West Virginia counties. I’m not talking about the difference in paved roads, the strip clubs encountered once entering Berkeley County, or the casino in Charles Town. The question begs consideration in a broader sense. I’m just curious if there would have been a difference in economic growth/development, if Jefferson and Berkeley would have been returned to Virginia. In the end, it’s not a wasted effort considering such a thing because it forces us to look back at the very peculiar manner in which West Virginia obtained the two counties to begin with (which was a very irregular vote, which I argue, is central to the reason why I think Jefferson and Berkeley were not “legally” drawn from Virginia), and the long, strange legal battle that followed after the war (which seems full of ambiguities).

For those who are so inclined, the long story of the fight is well-documented in the Charles Town newspaper, Spirit of Jefferson, from the time it resumed printing (November 07, 1865).

In the end, is this not one of the long-term ripples we can still see (yet, may not be conscious of) from the Civil War?