The Civil War is remembered as an event that tragically demonstrated the deep divisions within American society. A new book from West Virginia University Press will show that BarbourCounty, in the middle of West Virginia, was an amazing microcosm of these national divisions.
John W. Shaffer, author of”Clash of Loyalties: BarbourCounty in the Civil War,”brings a wealth of historic research to his book. Census records, newspaper archives, church and courthouse documents, military records and private diaries and letters all paint a picture of a small county sharply divided on all the social and economic foundations of the war.
During the two decades leading up to the war, for example, land ownership in the county shifted dramatically, from absentee owners in eastern Virginia and elsewhere to local residents. In the 80 years before the war, immigration into the county was almost evenly split between eastern Virginians and immigrants from northern states. At the wars beginning, the wealthiest BarbourCounty citizens were divided 51 percent to 49 percent in favor of secession. These and other revelations, painstakingly recreated from the original documents, show that the nations uncertainty was deeply felt in BarbourCounty.
Having shown the divided nature of the county, Shaffer goes on to explore the tragedies of the war and its aftermath. Besides the obvious military conflict, the war unleashed powerful emotions in the county, with lawlessness and mob action threatening the peace of all the citizens for years after the official close of hostilities.
Shaffer also exposes a few myths along the way. One of these is the image of the rough, uncouth mountaineer, armed, drunk and ready for a fight. In fact, BarbourCounty was a peaceable place, with very few cases of assault and only one murder (later reduced to manslaughter) during the seven years prior to the war. Fewer than a third of the residents owned guns of any kind.
“Clash of Loyalties”will be published in January 2003 and will join a growing number of West Virginia University Press books exploring the history of the state.
For more information, call the WVU Press at 304-293-8400 or visit the Web site atwww.wvupress.com.