Confederate Military History, Vol. 3: Virginia.
This work spanning fifteen extensive volumes is the result of contributions by many Southern men to the literature of the United States that treats of the eventful years in which occurred the momentous struggle called by Mr. A. H. Stephens “the war between the States.” These contributions were made on a well-considered plan, to be wrought out by able writers of unquestionable Confederate record who were thoroughly united in general sentiment and whose generous labors upon separate topics would, when combined, constitute a library of Confederate military history and biography. According to the great principle in the government of the United States that one may result from and be composed of many – the doctrine of E pluribus unum–it was considered that intelligent men from all parts of the South would so write upon the subjects committed to them as to produce a harmonious work which would truly portray the times and issues of the Confederacy and by illustration in various forms describe the soldiery which fought its battles. Upon this plan two volumes – the first and the last-comprise such subjects as the justification of the Southern States in seceding from the Union and the honorable conduct of the war by the Confederate States government; the history of the actions and concessions of the South in the formation of the Union and its policy in securing the existing magnificent territorial dominion of the United States; the civil history of the Confederate States, supplemented with sketches of the President, Vice-President, cabinet officers and other officials of the government; Confederate naval history; the morale of the armies; the South since the war, and a connected outline of events from the beginning of the struggle to its close. The two volumes containing these general subjects are sustained by the other volumes of Confederate military history of the States of the South involved in the war. Each State being treated in separate history permits of details concerning its peculiar story, its own devotion, its heroes and its battlefields. The authors of the State histories, like those of the volumes of general topics, are men of unchallenged devotion to the Confederate cause and of recognized fitness to perform the task assigned them. It is just to say that this work has been done in hours taken from busy professional life, and it should be further commemorated that devotion to the South and its heroic memories has been their chief incentive. This volume three out of fifteen, covering the Civil War in Virginia.
Confederate Military History, Vol. 3: Virginia.
Excerpt from the text:
Virginia in 1860 — Her Seven grand divisions — Geological characteristics, climate and agricultural products — Her population — Political and Historical importance.
Virginia was, in 1860, in nearly all the particulars of area, resources, productions and population, one of the leading States of the Union, just as she had been from colonial and revolutionary times. Her influence in the councils of the nation was very great, if not even paramount, and she was looked up to, not only as ‘the mother of States and of statesmen,’ but as the ardent defender of the Union, in the formation of which she had taken the leading part. One-sixteenth of the native population of the United States, in 1860, claimed her soil as their birthplace; and it was said that a majority of the members of Congress, at that time, were either natives of Virginia, or the sons or grandsons of those who had been born within her borders.
The geographical position and general relations of Virginia gave her a commanding position. Classed as one of the Middle Atlantic States, situated midway between Maine on the northeast and Florida on the southeast, she was, in reality, the representative mid-coast State of the Union; having, in consequence of her position and variety of land relief, many of the characteristics of the States lying both to the north and south of her. Because of her great extension, of over 500 miles, from the Atlantic across the Atlantic highlands to the Ohio, she had many of the features and adaptations of the States lying to the west as well as of those on the northwest and southwest. She was also the eastern one of the central belt of States, as the latitude of the entrance to Chesapeake bay very nearly corresponds to that of the Golden Gate of California.
In extent of surface Virginia was one of the greatest of the States east of the Mississippi river, her area then being about 68,000 square miles, while New York had 47,000, all of New England 68,348, and Georgia but 59,000. Her greatest breadth from the North Carolina line to the northern end of the ‘panhandle,’ within 900 miles of Lake Erie, was about 430 miles; her greatest length, from east to west along the North Carolina and Tennessee lines, from the Atlantic to Cumberland gap, was 440 miles. Her outline was varied and richly developed. On the east the Virginian sea of the Atlantic and Chesapeake bay—with its many tidal rivers and estuaries, some penetrating her territory fully 150 miles, dividing it into numerous large and small peninsulas and furnishing more than 1,500 miles of tide-washed shore line, with numerous harbors of unsurpassed capacity and depth—permeate over 11,000 square miles of her tidewater country. The navigable Ohio belonged to her all along her northwestern border, receiving numerous navigable tributaries that drained the larger part of her Trans-Appalachian territory.
The relief characteristics of the State were noteworthy and remarkable. These divided it into seven natural grand divisions, each differing from the other in soil, adaptation to production, climate and other characteristics, and each equal in area to some of the States of the Union.
1. The Tidewater, about 11,000 square miles in area, is the great low-lying plain that extends from the Atlantic border westward from 150 to 200 miles, rising from sea level to an elevation of about 200 feet at the head of the tide, where it meets the granitic step, or ‘Coast ridge,’ at the borders of the Midland, at the first falls of the rivers, where are situated the commercial and manufacturing cities of Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Richmond and Petersburg. Many of the most important battles of the war of 1861-65 in Virginia were fought along this ‘Coast ridge,’ generally a sharply-defined line of escarpment.
2. The Midland is the undulating higher plain of the Atlantic slope, somewhat triangular in form, that extends from the eastern rim of the ‘ridge’ westward to the broken range of hills and low mountains called the coast range of the Atlantic. Its area is about 12,500 square miles. It is intersected by many eastwardly flowing rivers; its surface is rolling or uneven, and deeply carved into stream valleys with intervening watershed ridges. It rises from an altitude of from 150 to 200 feet on the east to one of from 300 to 500 on the west.
3. The Piedmont is the greatly diversified region lying between the eastern foot of the Coast range mountains and the eastern foot of the Blue ridge. Its area is nearly 7,000 square miles; in altitude it rises from an average of nearly 400 feet along its Midland border to one of nearly 1,000 feet along its Blue ridge border, while its included mountain ranges and Blue ridge spurs vary in altitude from 1,000 to 4,000 feet. It is a genuine piedmont, or foot-of-mountain country, that extends for a distance of over 300 miles along the eastern side of the Blue ridge from the Potomac to the North Carolina line, with an average breadth of nearly 25 miles. Its greatly varying forms of relief make it one of the most attractive and picturesque portions of the State.
4. The Blue ridge is a many-branched mountain chain, with swelling domes and considerable plateaus, extending for some 300 miles entirely across the State, from the northeast to the southwest, varying in elevation from about 1,000 feet near the Potomac to over 4,000 feet in the plateau in the southwest, on which are the three Blue ridge counties of the State. This is not only a striking feature in the landscape, from both its eastern and its western sides, but is one of the most important military features of the State. It played an important part in the many engagements of the Confederate war that took place in or near the passes that cut or cross it. Its area, as a grand division, is about 2,000 square miles.
5. The Great Valley, or the valley of Virginia, is the elevated plateau-like country lying between the western base of the Blue ridge and the eastern one of the North mountains—Kittatinny as a whole—of the Appalachian system. Its length is over 300 miles and its average breadth about 20 miles, giving it an area of about 7,600 square miles of the most fertile and productive portion of Virginia. It is her part of the great limestone valley that extends, for 1,500 miles, from near the mouth of the St. Lawrence far into Alabama. It is composed of a series of river basins, those of the Shenandoah and parts of those of the James, the Roanoke, the New river and the headwaters of the Tennessee. Its altitude varies from 500 to 2,600 feet. Its surface is diversified by hills and detached mountain chains and ranges that render it one of the most remarkable fields for military operations in all the country, as is attested by the numerous battles that took place within it in Virginia and its extensions into Maryland and Tennessee.
6. Appalachia, or Appalachian Virginia, is the mountain belt, some 350 miles long, that extends west of the Great Valley entirely across the State; wedge-shaped in form, some 60 miles wide in the northeast and narrowing to 20 in the southwest. It is traversed by a large number of parallel ranges that vary in altitude from 2,000 feet to about 5,000, with long and generally narrow valleys between these mountain ranges running parallel with them. Within these mountain ranges and running with their valleys, are the principal tributaries of the Potomac in the northeast, of the James and the Kanawha in the central portions, of the Tennessee in the southwestern portions, and in the northwestern, the easterly branches of the Monongahela; all of which, in finding their way out, break through the successive ranges of the mountains and thus furnish ways through them. In 1860, Virginia’s portion of Appalachia was divided into eighteen counties. The larger portion of this territory was covered with forests. As a whole, it was a most difficult region for the conduct of military operations, of which it was largely the theater during the first year of the war.
7. Trans-Appalachian Virginia, or Trans-Alleghany, as it was often called, is the region beyond the Appalachian or main mountain ranges; it is the inclined tableland that slopes to the northwest from the eastern outcrop of the great conglomerate rock border of the Trans-Appalachian coal-field to the Ohio, descending from an average elevation of nearly 3,000 feet along its eastern border, in the great Flat-top mountain and its extensions, to one of about 600 along the Ohio. The streams have deeply eroded its long westward slope, leaving it in high relief with long and narrow stream valleys separated by intervening ridges, generally rugged in character. The valleys widen and the between ridges sink as they approach the Ohio. This great region was divided into forty-one counties, nearly every one of which is underlaid by coal of highly-useful varieties, making it, intrinsically, one of the most valuable portions of the State; while a large part of its surface was covered with virgin forests.
The waters of Virginia are among the most striking of its characteristics. Its tidal waters are very remarkable and inviting, by their extent and character, to commercial enterprises, in which Virginia took a fair part during all her history up to 1860, and in consequence of which she is now rapidly advancing, in the growth of her commercial ports, to the position she is entitled to from her large facilities for engaging in commerce. Her fluvial waters are numerous and full volumed, draining and watering every portion of the State, and furnishing numerous water powers. In 1860, those in her Trans-Appalachian territory, the Ohio and its tributaries, were the avenues of a large internal commerce. Virginia early embarked in the improvement of many of her fluvial waterways by canals and slack-water navigation, especially patronizing the Chesapeake & Ohio canal, to open a highway to the West by the Potomac and the Monongahela, and the James River & Kanawha canal, for a commercial highway up the James and down the Kanawha to the Ohio farther to the south. The State as a whole is undoubtedly one of the best watered regions in the United States.
Virginia is unique in geological characteristics. She has within her borders, large areas underlaid by the rocks of every geological formation found in North America. This means that she possesses nearly every variety of soil and most kinds of valuable economic rocks and minerals, especially the best of granites, slates, brownstones, sandstones, and other building rocks; great deposits of the ores of iron, zinc, lead and copper; a wide belt of gold-bearing rocks extends through the length of the midland; limestones in the greatest abundance, especially in the valley and throughout Appalachia; and, surpassing all others in value, she had, in 1860, over 17,000 square miles of bituminous and semi-bituminous coals, mostly in Trans-Appalachia, but with a considerable area in the midland near Richmond, that in the number of beds and the variety of adaptation were unsurpassed by those of any State in the Union.
The climate of Virginia presents a great variety in consequence of her position in relation to the ocean, and especially because of the relief of the surface of the State, from the low levels of tidewater, where grow and flourish the long-leaf pine, live-oak, cotton and other warm-temperate productions, to the high levels of the Blue ridge, the Valley, Appalachia and Trans-Appalachia, where are broad areas over 4,000 feet above the sea level, and to the still higher ridges of the southwestern Blue ridge and of western Appalachia, where flourish the pines, the balsams and the larches of the cool-temperate regions of the United States. Her high mountain chains intercept and turn aside the great storm waves of the northwest, but taking from them their moisture, while they intercept the vapor-laden winds from the ocean on the southeast, and from them draw tribute of a larger precipitation. As a whole, it is a State with perennial rains, long growing seasons, and a climate of means rather than of extremes.