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.
By KATE QUINN
For the Sunday News-Register
Early in December of 1862, The Wheeling Intelligencer carried an editorial saying "Glory to God in the highest West Virginia has been admitted to the Union. The 35th state has been added to the Constitution. All your sacrifices, all your devotions, all your patience and suffering is at last gloriously repaid.
People of Wheeling, you who have gained so much by this success, shall we not have such a demonstration here as will be worthy our ancient name and fame? Throw out your banners this morning. Tonight we suggest let the people assemble at some place suitable where there will be room enough to hear some of the numerous excellent speakers who are in the city and will be present."
But there was not much in the way of celebration in the city, though in Moundsville a 35-gun salute was fired "in honor of this glorious result. We are free, we are free! Glorious news!" they shouted.
By a vote of 96 to 55, West Virginia had become an independent state.
Although the city of Clarksburg had a huge celebration, Wheeling was busy preparing for Christmas and probably citizens decided to wait until June for their commemoration. Though, the newspaper did comment that "Our people are out in crowds congratulating each other on being free from the shackles that for so many years held them fast."
The New York Times commented on our statehood and called the boundaries of our new state "a miracle of crookedness."
Wheeling's people enjoyed "the biting cold air, cold feet, delightful winter sleigh ride parties with its accessories of huge buffalo robes, ringing sleigh bells, foaming steeds, and above all, pretty girls."
In the middle of December, the Battle of Fredericksburg occurred with heavy losses on the Union side. Gen. Burnside did not receive his pontoon bridges in time to transport his forces across the Rappahannock River, so Generals Lee and Jackson prevailed.
The plan to capture Richmond was stalled.
Meanwhile, in Wheeling, the steamer Boston 2 brought 37 prisoners to Wheeling and turned them over to the provost marshal of the Atheneum. Among these prisoners "was the somewhat famous female soldier, Harry Fitsalleu." An interview with the prisoner, who was dressed in a tight-fitting cavalry uniform, was held to determine if there was truth in the charge that he/she was a Southern spy. She said her name was Marian McKinsey from Glasgow, Scotland. Her mother had died when she was an infant and her father had brought her to this country when she was 4.
Since her father died shortly thereafter, she was left alone to "make her living in various ways." She educated herself and began a career on the stage, but found it not to her taste and so traveled and took various jobs. After the war broke out, she enlisted in a Kentucky regiment at Newport and served two months. "Upon her sex being discovered, she had to quit. She enlisted several times after this in various regiments and was several times arrested."
The last time she was arrested in Charleston, in men's apparel. When told she would be detained until her statements could be corroborated, she said, "Very well, I cannot help it. I have violated the law in assuming men's apparel."
The day after Christmas, an editorial in The Wheeling Intelligencer read: "Christmas passed on without any occurrence sufficiently remarkable to require particular notice. The day was dark and cloudy reminding one very unpleasantly of the old saying that a 'green Christmas makes a fat churchyard.'
"There were several little spurts of rain during the day and the sun never once appeared to brighten or heighten the jollities of the occasion. Services were held in most of the churches and most everybody appeared to have an engagement to dine out upon roast turkey, venison and cranberry jelley (sic).
"In the streets there was a great intermingling of small boys, Jackson crackers and torpedoes. Retail dealers in these explosives tell us that they never had such a demand upon them. From morning till night there was a continuous popping, fizzing, and blowing. Exploded fire crackers lay upon the sidewalks as thick as the leaves that now rustle in the woods and the air was pregnant with 'villainous saltpeters.'
"We regret to say that a great many people forgot what was good for themselves and due to the community on the glorious occasion, and took in more ardent spirits than was consistent with good order and sobriety. The consequence was that there were more riotous proceedings, particularly during the night, than usual, though we heard of no serous brawls. The general impression among people of all ages was that Cris Kringle was a pretty good fellar, who only comes once a year and who is always welcome."