Editor’s note: Paul Ray Blankenship passed away Sept. 30, 2010 after a long illness. He was a retired teacher and college professor, who wrote several books about the history of Oceana and surrounding areas. As a tribute to his achievements, his columns will continue in this newspaper. The following excerpt is reprinted, with his permission, from “From Cabins To Coal Mines, Volume I.”  This is part one of “The Civil War Era 1861-65.”

The Civil War, that most tragic period in all of American history, came to Wyoming County in a tragic fashion just as it did in much of the country.

Though Wyoming County did not become a battlefield of the war, there was sufficient guerilla action arising from the war that the picture of suffering and death were just as evident.

Tradition relates that in the election of 1860 only one vote was cast for Abraham Lincoln in Oceana District. Isaac Edward McDonald (1834-1890), son of Joseph McDonald, won easily Wyoming County’s seat in the Virginia General Assembly as a states' rights candidate. Thus, the 1860 election results seemed to indicate considerable sympathy in Wyoming County for the cause of states’ rights and for possible secession from the Union.

For the most part, Southern sympathy seemed to have been centered in Oceana and Clearfork districts, while Union sympathies seemed to dominate in Center and Barkers Ridge districts.

On April 17, 1861, the Virginia General Assembly voted an Ordinance of Secession, subject to approval of the people. Delegate I. E. McDonald, representing Wyoming County, voted for secession and then continued to work in the legislature without returning home to Wyoming County, unlike many of the western Virginia delegates who returned home almost immediately to campaign for or against the secession referendum.

On April 25, 1861, the news of the action taken by the Virginia General Assembly reached Oceana where Judge David McComas was presiding, in place of Judge Evermont Ward, over the court session. Judge McComas closed the court and left Oceana without signing the court record.

On May 23, 1861, Virginia slated a statewide vote on the question of secession from the Union. The vote totals indicated that 85 percent of Virginians (114,260) wanted to secede from the Union, while 15 percent were against secession (20,352), most of which were votes from western Virginia.

In Wyoming County, 214 votes were cast in the secession referendum. As the vote turned out, Wyoming County may have been the most evenly divided county in the State of Virginia – if not the entire country. Wyoming County cast 109 votes “for” secession (50.9 percent) and 105 votes “against” (49.1 percent).

In June 1861, the county court met at the courthouse to make plans to lay a $2,000 levy, pledging the county’s credit, to raise money to equip Confederate volunteer companies in Wyoming County. Probably because there was sufficient opposition to such an order and to destroy the credit bonds.

The county court never met again for the duration of the war, so, for all practical purposes, the local government closed down and did not function in any manner, including the recording of official documents at the clerk’s office and the holding of elections.

— Note: Only a few copies of “From Cabins To Coal Mines, 1799-1999, Volume I”  remain available. Cost is $45, which includes tax, at the Wyoming County Historical Museum in Oceana, open Tuesday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Saturday from noon until 4 p.m. The book has been reprinted by the Wyoming County Historical Museum Board of Directors.

Additionally, a few copies of Volume II are now available for $55.

Add $5 for postage costs to have either book mailed.

To order, contact Betsy Ross, board treasurer, at 304-732-6995; or write her at P.O. Box 411, Pineville, WV 24874; or by e-mail at


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