The Great Schism: The Dividing of Virginia During the American Civil War

 by John A. Cowgill, CreateSpace

In The Great Schism John Cowgill contends that “political rape” resulted in the “illegitimate” birth of the state of West Virginia. “Had it not been for the war itself,” he opines, “radicals….could never have effected the ‘political rape’ that produced the illegitimate state of West Virginia.” In October 1861, citizens in the counties destined to become the state of West Virginia voted overwhelmingly in favor of a statehood referendum under conditions that the author calls questionable. “The pressing question,” he writes,“is how a small group of renegades mustered the power to foist their actions on the whole of Virginia.”This was accomplished, he says, through the efforts of Abraham Lincoln and Congress, with the support of Union troops who “provided the cover needed to effect the deed.”

Sectional disputes were at play relatively early in Virginia’s history, mirroring many of the divisions that would eventually lead to the outbreak of hostilities between North and South. For many years, eastern and western Virginia had quarreled over taxation, politics and slavery. Cowgill argues that slavery was not a primary issue in the Virginia division, however, since the abolitionist movement lacked widespread support throughout the state.

Cowgill uses Levi Pitman’s story to illustrate the turmoil caused by schisms over national issues. As a Republican, Pitman was surrounded by neighbors who mistook him for an abolitionist, while others simply disagreed with his politics. He loved his state, but longed for preservation of the Union. Pitman was a Unionist in an area that would become Confederate territory.

Debate is usually acknowledged as a good thing when it comes to Civil War topics. Cowgill’s many controversial statements should prompt plenty of it.


Originally published in the October 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here