May 13, 1861: Political Leaders from Northwestern Virginia Gather in Wheeling

Waitman T. Willey

On May 13, 1861, political leaders, mostly from northwestern Virginia, gathered in Wheeling to address Virginia’s recent secession from the Union. At the start of the Civil War in April, delegates to the Virginia secession convention in Richmond had voted to leave the Union and join the Confederacy. However, the measure wouldn’t become official until voters approved it later in May.

Some delegates at the First Wheeling Convention, as it’s known, pushed to form a pro-Union government of Virginia—separate from the one in Richmond. Others, led by John Carlile of Clarksburg, wanted to press on and create a separate state.

Some of the more moderate delegates were alarmed by how quickly things were moving, particularly since voters hadn’t yet officially approved Virginia’s secession. Delegate Waitman Willey went so far as to charge Carlile with “triple treason”—against Virginia, the United States, and the Confederacy. Calmer heads prevailed, and the First Wheeling Convention adjourned two days later without accomplishing much of anything.

Virginia voters did choose to secede, and the delegates met back a month later at the Second Wheeling Convention to start West Virginia’s path to statehood.