Editor's Note: This article is part of an occasional series on the Civil War sesquicentennial provided by members of the Wheeling Civil War 150 Committee.
There were lots of skirmishes by both Union and Confederate forces during November 1862, but no major battles. Both sides were recovering from the bruising and frustrating battles of Antietam, Md., and Perryville, Ky.
In the North, important political developments were taking place. The Senate passed legislation in July approving the creation of the state of West Virginia, but the House of Representatives voted to delay taking up the measure until Dec. 10. On Sept. 22, President Lincoln issued a proclamation freeing all slaves in the areas of rebellion.
Wheeling was prosperous and trade was brisk in November 1862. New businesses were opening like George Story's Phoenix Ale Brewery. Key consumer goods could be purchased at the following prices: potatoes at 20 1/2 a peck, carrots 5 1/2 a bunch, beans 20 1/2 a peck, eggs 15 1/2 a dozen, and a live chicken 10 1/2.
But, prices were beginning to rise and workers were demanding higher wages. At the end of November, coal miners, who were receiving $2.50 per 100 bushels of coal mined, were demanding $3. Cart drivers who transported the coal, wanted $8 a week instead of $7. Mine owners, mainly bankers in Wheeling, refused the wage increases, but eventually were forced to give raises.
For entertainment, citizens could watch one of the 11 military companies of the 4th Infantry Regiment of Virginia (Union) carry out frequent drills and marches at the armory and courthouse. Several major banquets were held at Washington Hall to honor the 1st Infantry Regiment of Virginia (Union) where military promotions were awarded.
Newspapers reminded Wheeling citizens of unpleasant aspects of war such as rebel prisoners being escorted through town to the Athenaeum prison, the militia arresting supposedly pro-southern citizens for mocking the patrol and soldiers shooting into the Ohio River from their camp on the island. The Intelligencer twice that month carried information about soldiers who were AWOL from their units and requested citizens help in locating the individuals.
The issues most frequently mentioned in the press and on people's minds during November were Lincoln's proclamation emancipating slaves, the battle between the pro-Union The Intelligencer and the pro-Southern Wheeling Press, and the struggle between the supporters of Sen. Waitman Willey and those of Sen. John Carlile.
After Lincoln issued the proclamation emancipating the slaves in those areas of the country in rebellion, there was intense discussion about the proclamation. For many of the Union soldiers the goals of the war were widened beyond just preserving national unity to making the conflict a moral crusade to defend the freedom and equality of man. The Intelligencer ran stories that had been published throughout the nation defending Lincoln and condemning slavery.
Throughout the Civil War there was a vigorous battle between newspapers in Wheeling. The Intelligencer, founded in 1852 and edited by Archibald Campbell from 1856 to 1868, vigorously supported the Republican party, the Lincoln presidency, the Union cause and the attack on slavery. In almost every issue during November, Campbell found opportunities to attack the editors of rival papers, who answered back with their own nasty articles.
Philip Moore, editor of the Wheeling Union, favored the Democratic party, criticized Lincoln's policies and supported Virginia's secession from the Union. He fled to the Confederacy on May 27, 1861 when public hostility to his position became too intense in Wheeling. The Union was renamed the Wheeling Press.
Edited by Henry Moore, Philip's father, the Press adopted basically the same editorial policy of the Union, but with a more moderate tone. In November 1862, Moore's paper strongly supported Sen. Carlile's position on statehood for West Virginia. Moore faced hostility from both the government and citizenry and the paper closed only to be replaced by the Wheeling Daily Register, which adopted his editorial line.
The most contentious issue covered by Wheeling's newspapers was whether West Virginia would be accepted into the Union as a separate state from Virginia. The issue divided the political leadership of the Restored Government of Virginia, headed by Gov. Francis Pierpoint. The government was represented by its two senators in Washington, D.C., John Carlile and Waitman Willey. Both men were successful lawyers who served as delegates to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1851-52. They opposed Virginia's secession from the Union and helped organize and participate in both Wheeling Conventions that created the Restored Government of Virginia (loyal to the Union) and created the movement for a separate state.
Carlile demanded that statehood be approved by a vote by the people of those counties that would be included in the new state. Most supporters of the separate state movement like Willey thought Carlile's referendum demand misguided and an effort to delay and sabotage the effort to create a separate state. Willey offered a bill that required only the approval of a Constitutional Convention, the approach that was eventually adopted. Carlile continued to serve in the U.S. Senate until 1865 representing the Restored Government of Virginia, but Willey resigned from that position and was chosen as one of the first senators to represent West Virginia. He served from 1863 to 1871.
By the end of November, the Union forces were ready for a new military effort against the South, but these efforts in early December were not successful. Fighting would continue for two and one-half more years.
But, for West Virginians, December proved to be decisive. On Dec. 10, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the legislation creating West Virginia as a new state and sent the bill to Lincoln. Gov. Pierpoint, Sen. Willey and others lobbied the president. Lincoln approved the legislation on New Year's Eve provided West Virginia modify its Constitution to bring an end to slavery. West Virginians made the necessary changes and on April 20, 1863, Lincoln announced that West Virginia would begin its existence on June 20.