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In the context of the American Civil War, the border states were slave states that had not declared a secession from the Union (the ones that did so later joined the Confederacy). Four slave states had never declared a secession: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. Four others did not declare secession until after the Battle of Fort Sumter: Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia—after which, they were less frequently called "border states". Also included as a border state during the war is West Virginia, which broke away from Virginia and became a new state in the Union in 1863.
In all the border states there was a wide consensus against military coercion of the Confederacy. When Abraham Lincoln called for troops to march south to recapture Fort Sumter and other national possessions, southern Unionists were dismayed, and secessionists in Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia were successful in getting those states to also declare independence from the U.S. and to join the Confederate States of America.
In Kentucky and Missouri, there were both pro-Confederate and pro-Union governments. West Virginia was formed in 1862-63 from those northwestern counties of Virginia which had remained loyal to the Union and set up a loyalist ("restored") state government of Virginia. Though every slave state except South Carolina contributed some white troops to the Union as well as the Confederate side, the split was most severe in these border states, with men from the same family often fighting on opposite sides. About 170,000 Border state men fought in the Union army and 86,000 in the Confederate army
Besides formal combat between regular armies, the border region witnessed large-scale guerrilla warfare and violent raids, feuds and assassinations. Violence was especially severe in eastern Kentucky and western Missouri. The single bloodiest episode was the Lawrence Massacre in Kansas in 1863.
With geographic, social, political, and economic connection to both the North and the South, the border states were critical to the outcome of the war, and still delineate the cultural border that separates the North from the South. Reconstruction, as directed by Congress, did not apply to the border states because they never seceded from the Union. They did undergo their own process of readjustment and political realignment, which somewhat resembled the reconstruction of the ex-Confederate states. After 1880 most adopted the Jim Crow system of segregation and second-class citizenship for blacks, although they were still legally allowed to vote.
Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to the border states. Of the states that were exempted from the Proclamation, Maryland (1864), Missouri (1865), Tennessee (1865), and West Virginia (1865) prohibited slavery before the war ended. However, in Delaware and Kentucky, slavery continued to be legal (affecting about 40,000 slaves) until December 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified.
In the Border states, slavery was systematically dying out in the urban areas and the regions without cotton, especially in cities that were rapidly industrializing, such as Baltimore, Louisville, and St. Louis. However, there was still profit to be made by selling slaves to the cotton plantations in the deep South, as cotton was very profitable and the price of prime field hands kept rising. In contrast to the unanimity of the seven cotton states in the lower South, the border slave states were bitterly divided about secession and were not eager to leave the Union. Border Unionists hoped that some compromise would be reached and they assumed that Lincoln would not send an army. Border secessionists paid less attention to the slavery issue in 1861; their states' economies were based more on trade with the North than on cotton and they lacked the South Carolinian dream of a slave-based empire oriented south toward the Caribbean. Rather their main focus in 1861 was on coercion: Lincoln's call to arms seemed a repudiation of the American traditions of states rights, democracy, liberty, and a republican form of government. The disunionists insisted that Washington had usurped illegitimate powers in defiance of the Constitution, and thereby had lost its legitimacy. After Lincoln called for troops, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina promptly declared their secessions and joined the Confederacy, but a secession movement began in western Virginia to break away and remain in the Union.
Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland, having many areas with much stronger cultural and economic ties to the South than to the North, were deeply divided; Kentucky tried to proclaim itself neutral. Union military forces were used to guarantee these states remained in the Union. The western counties of Virginia rejected secession, set up a loyal government of Virginia (with representation in the U.S. Congress), and created the new state of West Virginia.
By 1860 Delaware was integrated into the Northern economy and slavery was rare except in the southern districts of the state; less than 2 percent of the population was enslaved. Both houses of the state General Assembly rejected secession overwhelmingly; the House of Representatives was unanimous. There was quiet sympathy for the Confederacy by some state leaders, but it was tempered by distance; Delaware was bordered by Union territory. Munroe concluded that the average citizen of Delaware opposed secession and was "strongly Unionist" for Delaware, but hoped for a peaceful solution even if it meant Confederate independence.
Union troops had to go through Maryland to reach the national capital at Washington, D.C. Had Maryland also joined the Confederacy, Washington, D.C. would have been surrounded, and there was popular support for the Confederacy in Baltimore, Southern Maryland, and the Eastern Shore. The Maryland Legislature rejected secession in the spring of 1861, though it refused to reopen rail links with the North and requested that Union troops be removed from Maryland. The state legislature did not want to secede, but it also did not want to aid in killing southern neighbors in order to force them back into the Union. Maryland's wish for neutrality within the Union was a major obstacle given Lincoln's desire to force the South back into the Union militarily, and so Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, imprisoning without charges or trials one sitting U.S. Congressman from the opposing party, as well the mayor, police chief, entire Board of Police, and the city council of Baltimore. The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who was also a native of Maryland, ruled on June 4, 1861 in ex parte Merryman that Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus was unconstitutional, but Lincoln, perhaps unlawfully, ignored this federal court ruling. Indeed, when Lincoln was criticized for ignoring the Chief Justice's ruling in an editorial by Francis Scott Key's grandson, Baltimore newspaper editor Frank Key Howard, Howard was himself imprisoned without trial. (Ironically, federal troops imprisoned the young newspaper editor in Fort McHenry, which, as he noted, was the same fort where the Star Spangled Banner had been waving "o'er the land of the free" in his grandfather's poem.) On September 17, 1861, the day the legislature reconvened to discuss Maryland's response to these possibly unconstitutional actions, twenty-seven state legislators (one-third of the Maryland General Assembly) were arrested by federal troops without charge. Because a large part of the legislature was now imprisoned, the session was canceled and no further anti-war measures were considered. The Maryland state anthem Maryland, My Maryland still reflects these issues of possible federal overreach, which were also referenced by Maryland resident John Wilkes Booth, who would later assassinate Lincoln while calling him a "tyrant." Maryland contributed troops to both the Union (60,000), and the Confederate (25,000) armies.
Maryland adopted a new state constitution in 1864, which prohibited slavery and thus emancipated all slaves in the state.
Kentucky was strategic to Union victory in the Civil War. Lincoln once said, "I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capital" (Washington, which was surrounded by slave states: Confederate Virginia and Union-controlled Maryland). He is further reported to have said that he hoped to have God on his side, but he had to have Kentucky.
Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin proposed that slave states like Kentucky should conform to the US Constitution, and remain in the Union. When Lincoln requested 1,000,000 men to serve in the Union army, however, Magoffin, a Southern sympathizer, countered that Kentucky would "furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states."
The Kentucky legislature did not vote on any bill to secede, but passed two resolutions of neutrality, issuing a neutrality proclamation May 20, 1861, asking both sides to keep out. In elections on June 20 and August 5, 1861, Unionists won enough additional seats in the legislature to overcome any veto by the governor. After the elections, the strongest supporters of neutrality were the Southern sympathizers. While both sides had already been openly enlisting troops from the state, after the elections the Union army established recruitment camps within Kentucky itself.
Neutrality was broken when Confederate General Leonidas Polk occupied Columbus, Kentucky, in the summer of 1861. In response, the Kentucky Legislature passed a resolution on September 7 directing the governor to demand the evacuation of only the Confederate forces from Kentucky soil. Magoffin vetoed the proclamation, but the legislature overrode his veto, and Magoffin issued the proclamation. The legislature further decided to back General Ulysses S. Grant, and his Union troops stationed in Paducah, Kentucky, on the grounds that the Confederacy voided the original pledge by entering Kentucky first. The General Assembly soon also ordered the Union flag be raised over the state capitol in Frankfort, declaring its allegiance with the Union.
Southern sympathizers were outraged at the legislature's decisions, citing that Polk's troops in Kentucky were only en route to countering Grant's forces. Later legislative resolutions—such as inviting Union General Robert Anderson to enroll volunteers to expel the Confederate forces, requesting the governor to call out the militia, and appointing Union General Thomas L. Crittenden in command of Kentucky forces—only incensed the Southerners further. (Magoffin vetoed the resolutions but all were overridden.) In 1862, the legislature passed an act to disenfranchise citizens who enlisted in the Confederate States Army. Thus Kentucky's neutral status evolved into backing the Union. Most of those who originally sought neutrality turned to the Union cause.
During the war, a faction known as the Russellville Convention did form a Confederate government of Kentucky, which was recognized by the Confederate States of America as a member state. Kentucky was represented by the central star on the Confederate battle flag.
When Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston occupied Bowling Green, Kentucky in the summer of 1861, the pro-Confederates in western and central Kentucky moved to establish a Confederate state government. The Russellville Convention met in Logan County on November 18, 1861. One hundred sixteen delegates from 68 counties elected to depose the current government, and create a provisional government loyal to Kentucky's new unofficial Confederate Governor George W. Johnson. On December 10, 1861, Kentucky became the 13th state admitted to the Confederacy. Kentucky, along with Missouri, was a state with representatives in both Congresses, and with regiments in both Union and Confederate armies.
Magoffin, still functioning as official governor in Frankfort, would not recognize the Kentucky Confederates, nor their attempts to establish a government in his state. He continued to declare Kentucky's official status in the war was as a neutral state—even though the legislature backed the Union. Magoffin, fed up with the party divisions within the population and legislature, announced a special session of the legislature, and then resigned his office in 1862.
Bowling Green remained occupied by the Confederates until February 1862, when General Grant moved from Missouri, through Kentucky, along the Tennessee line. Confederate Governor Johnson fled Bowling Green with the Confederate state records, headed south, and joined Confederate forces in Tennessee. After Johnson was killed fighting in the Battle of Shiloh, Richard Hawes was named Confederate governor. Shortly afterwards, the Provisional Confederate Congress was adjourned on February 17, 1862, on the eve of inauguration of a permanent Congress. However, as Union occupation henceforth dominated the state, the Kentucky Confederate government, as of 1863, existed only on paper, and its representation in the permanent congress was minimal. It was dissolved when the Civil War ended in the spring of 1865.
After the secession of Southern states began, the newly elected governor of Missouri called upon the legislature to authorize a state constitutional convention on secession. A special election approved of the convention, and delegates to it. This Missouri Constitutional Convention voted to remain within the Union, but rejected coercion of the Southern States by the United States. Pro-Southern Governor Claiborne F. Jackson was disappointed with the outcome. He called up the state militia to their districts for annual training. Jackson had designs on the St. Louis Arsenal, and had been in secret correspondence with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, to obtain artillery for the militia in St. Louis. Aware of these developments, Union Captain Nathaniel Lyon struck first, encircling the camp, and forcing the state militia to surrender. While marching the prisoners to the arsenal, a deadly riot erupted (the Camp Jackson Affair.)
These events caused greater Confederate support within the state. The already pro-Southern legislature passed the governor's military bill creating the Missouri State Guard. Governor Jackson appointed Sterling Price, who had been president of the convention, as major general of this reformed and expanded militia. Price, and Union district commander Harney, came to an agreement known as the Price-Harney Truce, that calmed tensions in the state for several weeks. After Harney was removed, and Lyon placed in charge, a meeting was held in St. Louis at the Planters' House between Lyon, his political ally Francis P. Blair, Jr., Price, and Jackson. The negotiations went nowhere, and after a few fruitless hours Lyon made his famous declaration, "this means war!" Price and Jackson rapidly departed for the capital.
Jackson, Price, and the pro-Confederate portions of the state legislature, were forced to flee the state capital of Jefferson City on June 14, 1861, in the face of Lyon's rapid advance against the state government. In the absence of most of the now exiled state government, the Missouri Constitutional Convention reconvened in late July. On July 30, the convention declared the state offices vacant, and appointed a new provisional government with Hamilton Gamble as governor. President Lincoln's Administration immediately recognized the legitimacy of Gamble's government, which provided both pro-Union militia forces for service within the state, and volunteer regiments for the Union Army.
Fighting ensued between Union forces, and a combined army of General Price's Missouri State Guard and Confederate troops from Arkansas and Texas, under General Ben McCulloch. After winning victories at the battle of Wilson's Creek, and the siege of Lexington, Missouri, the secessionist forces had little choice but to retreat again to Southwestern Missouri, as Union reinforcements arrived. There, on October 30, 1861 in the town of Neosho, Jackson called the supporting parts of the exiled state legislature into session, where they enacted a secession ordinance. It was recognized by the Confederate congress, and Missouri was admitted into the Confederacy on November 28.
The exiled state government was forced to withdraw into Arkansas. For the rest of the war, it consisted of several wagon loads of civilian politicians attached to various Confederate armies. In 1865, it vanished.
Regular Confederate troops staged several large-scale raids into Missouri, but most of the fighting in the state for the next three years consisted of guerrilla warfare. The guerrillas were primarily Southern partisans, including William Quantrill, Frank and Jesse James, the Younger brothers, and William T. Anderson. Such small unit tactics pioneered by the Missouri Partisan Rangers were seen in other occupied portions of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The James' brothers outlawry after the war has been seen as a continuation of guerrilla warfare. Stiles (2002) argues that Jesse James was an intensely political postwar neo-Confederate terrorist rather than a social bandit or just a plain bank robber with a hair-trigger temper.
The Union response was to suppress the guerrillas. It did that in western Missouri, as Brigadier General Thomas Ewing issued General Order No. 11 on 25 August 1863 in response to Quantrill's raid on Lawrence, Kansas. The order forced the total evacuation of four counties that fall within the area of modern-day Kansas City, Missouri. Lincoln approved Ewing's plan beforehand. About 20,000 civilians (chiefly women, children and old men) had to leave their homes. Many never returned, and the counties were economically devastated for years. According to Glatthaar (2001) Union forces established "free-fire zones." Union cavalry units would identify and track down scattered Confederate remnants, who had no places to hide and no secret supply bases. To gain recruits, and to threaten St. Louis, Confederate General Sterling Price raided Missouri with 12,000 men in September/October 1864. Price coordinated his moves with the guerrillas, but was nearly trapped, escaping back to Arkansas with only half his force after a decisive Union victory at the Battle of Westport. The battle, which took place in the modern-day Westport neighborhood of Kansas City, is identified as the "Gettysburg of the West" due to the fact that it marked a definitive end to organized Confederate incursions inside Missouri's borders. The Republicans made major gains in the fall 1864 elections on the basis of Union victories and Confederate ineptness. Quantrill's Raiders, after raiding Kansas in the Lawrence Massacre on August 21, 1863, killing 150 civilians, broke up in confusion; Quantrill himself with a handful of followers moved on to Kentucky, where he was ambushed and killed.
The serious divisions between the western and eastern sections of Virginia had been simmering for decades. The western areas were growing, and had few slaves or plantations while the plantation dominated east controlled state government. By December 1860 secession was being publicly debated throughout Virginia. Leading eastern spokesmen called for secession, while westerners warned they would not be legislated into treason. A statewide convention first met on February 13 and after Fort Sumter it voted for secession on April 17, 1861. The decision was dependent on ratification by a statewide referendum. Western leaders held mass rallies and prepared to separate, so it could remain in the Union. Unionists met at the Wheeling Convention with four hundred delegates from twenty-seven counties. The statewide vote in favor of secession was 132,201 to 37,451. An estimated vote on Virginia's ordinance of secession for the 50 counties that became West Virginia is 34,677 to 19,121 against secession, with 24 of the 50 counties favoring secession and 26 favoring the Union. The Second Wheeling Convention opened on June 11 with more than 100 delegates from 32 western counties representing nearly one-third of Virginia’s total voting population. It announced that state officers were vacant and chose Francis H. Pierpont as governor of Virginia (not West Virginia) on June 20. Pierpont headed the Restored Government of Virginia, which granted permission for the formation of a new state on August 20, 1861. The new West Virginia state constitution was passed by the Unionist counties in the spring of 1862 and this was approved by the restored Virginia government in May 1862. The statehood bill for West Virginia was passed by Congress in December and signed by President Lincoln on December 31, 1862. The ultimate decision about West Virginia was made by the armies in the field; the Confederates were defeated, the Union was triumphant, so West Virginia was born. In late spring 1861 Union troops from Ohio moved into western Virginia with the primary strategic goal of protecting the B & O Railroad. General George B. McClellan destroyed Confederate defenses in western Virginia. Raids and recruitment by the Confederacy took place throughout the war. Current estimates of soldiers from West Virginia are 20,000-22,000 men each to the Union and the Confederacy.
The unique conditions attendant to the creation of the state led the Federal government to sometimes regard West Virginia as differing from the other border states in the post-war and Reconstruction era. The terms of surrender granted to the Confederate army at Appomattox applied to the soldiers of the 11 Confederate states and West Virginia only. Returning Confederate soldiers from the other border states were required to obtain special permits from the War Department. Similarly, the Southern Claims Commission was originally designed to apply only to the 11 Confederate states and West Virginia, though claims from other states were sometimes honored.
Though Tennessee had officially seceded, East Tennessee was pro-Union and had mostly voted against secession. Attempts to secede from Tennessee were suppressed by the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis arrested over 3,000 men suspected of being loyal to the Union and held them without trial. Tennessee came under control of Union forces in 1862 and was omitted from the Emancipation Proclamation. After the war, Tennessee was the first state to have its elected members readmitted to the US Congress.
In the Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma), most Indian Tribes owned black slaves, and sided with the Confederacy. However, some tribes sided with the Union, and a bloody civil war resulted in the territory, with severe hardships for all residents.
After years of small-scale civil war, Kansas was admitted into the Union as a free state under the "Wyandotte Constitution" on January 29, 1861. Most people gave strong support for the Union cause. However, guerrilla warfare and raids from pro-slavery forces, many spilling over from Missouri, occurred during the Civil War. Apart from one small battle, there were 29 Confederate raids into Kansas during the war. Lawrence, Kansas came under attack on August 21, 1863, by guerrillas led by William Clarke Quantrill. It was in part retaliation for "Jayhawker" raids against pro-Confederate settlements in Missouri.