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Virginia Politics and Government

Photograph of View of Capitol, Richmond, Va., April 1865On April 17, 1861, delegates to the Virginia Convention of 1861 voted to ratify the Ordinance of Secession and secede from the Union. The convention created a three-member advisory council to serve Governor John Letcher and prepare for war. An ordinance to provide for the organization of staff departments for the military forces of the State was passed by the Virginia Convention on April 21, 1861, and amended and reenacted on April 24, 1861. This ordinance organized the adjutant general's department, quartermaster's department, subsistence department, medical department, pay department, and engineer corps.

How to Search the Catalogs:

Conduct a keyword or subject search heading in the catalog using the following examples of Library of Congress subject headings.

Virginia Engineer Dept.
Virginia Governor (1860-1864: Letcher)
Virginia Governor (1864-1865: Smith)
Virginia Medical Dept.
Virginia Politics and government 1861-1865

Selected Published Resources

Blair, William A. Virginia’s Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy, 1861–1865. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Boney, F. N. John Letcher of Virginia: the Story of Virginia's Civil War Governor. University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1966.

Curry, Richard Orr. A House Divided: A Study of Statehood Politics and the Copperhead Movement in West Virginia. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1964.

Farner, Alvin Arthur. The Public Career of William "Extra Billy" Smith. University of North Carolina, 1953.

Freehling, William W. The South vs. the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Neely, Mark E. Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999.

Rice, Harvey Mitchell. The Life of Jonathan M. Bennett: A Study of the Virginias in Transition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1943.

Robertson, John I., Jr., ed. Proceedings of the Advisory Council of the State of Virginia. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1977.

Thomas, Emory M. The Confederate State of Richmond: A Biography of the Capital. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971.

Selected Manuscript Collections

Letter of John Jones, 1861 May 23. Accession 43329 Letter of John Jones, 1861 May 23. Accession 43329, page 2 Letter of John Jones, 1861 May 23. Accession 43329, page 3 Letter of John Jones, 1861 May 23. Accession 43329, page 4 John Jones. Letter, 1861 May 23. Accession 43329.
Letter, 23 May 1861, from John Jones, Richmond, to William Massie (1795–1862), Nelson County, Virginia, concerning politics and contributing factors surrounding the Civil War. He discusses politicians, such as Winfield Scott (1786–1866), who remained loyal to the North and did not support the Southern cause. He also discusses some financial arrangements with Massie.

William McLaughlin. Letters, 1862–1863. Accession 29883.
Letters, 1862–1863, to Major William McLaughlin (1828–1898) of Lexington, Virginia, regarding politics and military news. Includes a letter, 27 February 1863, from William Dold (1825–1881) of Lexington to McLaughlin containing political and military news, information on William "Extra Billy" Smith's (1797–1887) political chances, and a discussion of the war and its political ramifications North and South. Also includes a letter, 7 April 1863, from C. J. Harris (1828–1896) of Lexington to McLaughlin discussing Harris's interest in the professorship of Latin at the University of Virginia, and McLaughlin's possible campaign for the state senate.

Robert E. Lee. Letters, 1862–1865. Accession 23458, 25786. Miscellaneous Microfilm Reel 403.
Letters, 1862-1865, written by General Robert E. Lee to President Jefferson Davis, contain a wealth of information regarding the progress of the Civil War and battle strategies. Included are detailed reports to President Davis on battles, troop movements, issues confronting Lee and his army, and strategic movements of the army. Many items were included in Douglas S. Freeman's Lee’s Confidential Dispatches to Davis, 1862-1865, and/or Clifford Dowdey and Louis H. Manarin's The Wartime Papers of R.E. Lee. Several letters are from Lee to individuals other than Davis.

Virginia. Auditing Board. Journals, 1861–1865. Accession 23467, 23468, and 23469.
Journals, 1861–1865, of the Virginia Auditing Board consisting of minutes and accounts of financial transactions for expenses and claims incurred in the defense of the state. This included assembling, arming, equipping, and maintaining troops and the navy, transporting munitions, and paying for damages.

Virginia. Engineer Department. Records of the Engineer Department, 1861–1865. Accession 36887.(Click Here for Finding Aid)
Records, 1861–1865, of the Virginia Engineer Department including an account book, correspondence, indexes, invoices, letters received, letters sent, payrolls, property returns, slave rolls, vouchers, and other sundry items. The correspondence contains both incoming and outgoing letters belonging to Colonel Andrew Talcott (1797–1883) Chief Engineer, between 1861 and 1864. Talcott corresponded with Walter Gwynn (1802–1882), Major General of the Commanding Forces in Norfolk Harbor; T. M. R. Talcott (b. 1838), Capt. of Engineers, CSA, Engineer Bureau; James Maurice, First Lieutenant, Acting Paymaster; William B. Belden, First Lieutenant, Engineers; General Robert E. Lee, Commander of Virginia Forces; and Governor John Letcher (1813–1884).

Telegram of James P. Smith, ADC, to Governor John Letcher, 1863 May 5
Telegraph from George W. Munford to Jefferson Davis, 1861 April 22
Virginia. Governor's Office. Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, 1859–1863 (bulk 1860–1863). Accession 36787. Miscellaneous Microfilm Reels 4703–4788. (Click Here for Finding Aid)
Executive papers, 1859–1863, of Governor John Letcher (18131884) are organized into two series that have been designated for Chronological files and Subject files. The bulk of the material can be found in the Chronological files' series, which primarily consists of incoming correspondence from 1860 to 1863. Much of the correspondence to Governor Letcher consists of recommendations of Virginians for appointments. The governor appointed coroners; inspectors of salt, flour, tobacco, warehouses, and vessels; commissioners; Bank of Virginia directors; and notaries; in addition to positions in the Provisional Army. Many petitions accompany these recommendations. Governor Letcher dealt with numerous such requests for commissions in the Provisional Army before the governor transferred all Virginia's forces to the Confederate States. Also common are letters and telegrams, mostly from April 1861, to the governor from individuals in support of secession and others who are tendering their service for the war effort. Letcher sent letters to the convention nominating colonels, calling volunteers into service, and issuing commissions. Along these same lines are various requests for exemptions from military service. An ordinance of the convention exempted railroad officers and employees from service. The second series of Governor Letcher's Executive papers contains Subject files. There are three subjects represented in this series: the Advisory Council, John Brown's Raid, and Railroads. The materials related to the Advisory Council include correspondence, proceedings, and reports of committees between April and June 1861. Governor Letcher often referred correspondence to the Advisory Council and the endorsement on the letter details the Council's action with regard to the letter. The majority of the correspondence, however, concerns appointments in the Provisional Army and other military matters.

Letter of Robert E. Lee to Governor William Smith, 1865 February 9 Letter of Robert E. Lee to Governor William Smith, 1865 February 9, page 2 Virginia. Governor's Office. Executive Papers of Governor William Smith, 1864–1865. Accession 36916. Miscellaneous Microfilm Reels 5014–5025. (Click Here for Finding Aid)
Executive papers, 1864–1865, of Governor William "Extra Billy" Smith (1797–1887) are organized into two series that have been designated for Chronological files and Subject files. The bulk of the material can be found in the Chronological files' series which primarily consists of incoming correspondence between 1864 and April 1865. Although Governor Smith did not formally surrender his office until June 13, 1865, there is no documentation beyond April 1, 1865. The majority of the correspondence consists of applications of exemption from military duty. The governor granted exemptions for county sheriffs, physicians, government officials, and other individuals. The governor also received numerous requests for slaves' exemptions from laboring on fortifications. Additional correspondence to Governor Smith consists of recommendations of Virginians for appointments. The governor appointed coroners; inspectors of salt, tobacco, and warehouses; commissioners; vaccine agents; bank directors; and notaries. Letters by individuals stating their desire to be considered for a particular position are also present. The second series is devoted to Subject files of which there are only two: Quartermaster's Department Vouchers and Statements on the Condition of Banks. The Quartermasters' Department of the Confederate States of America issued vouchers in 1864 for various supplies. It is unknown why these vouchers are included within the executive papers. The statements on banks provide financial data on various financial institutions across the state. The statements also provide comparisons between 1863 and 1864 of the amount of capital, debt, loans to the Confederate States, etc.

Virginia. Medical Department. Records of the Surgeon General, 1861–1863. Accession 38901. (Click Here for Finding Aid)
Records, 1861–1863, of the Virginia Medical Department containing requisitions, bills, a report, and receipts of the Surgeon General, Dr. Charles Bell Gibson, of the Medical Dept. of Virginia between 1861 and 1863. There are mostly requisitions and bills for medicine, hospital stores, etc., submitted to the Surgeon General by various surgeons of the Volunteer Forces throughout Virginia. These requisitions were approved by the Surgeon General's Office and signed by L. S. Joynes, assistant surgeon. Each requisition has an attached bill that is numbered and provides an itemized list of expenditures. The majority of medical supplies were purchased from Purcell, Ladd, & Co., druggists in Richmond.

Virginia. Secretary of the Commonwealth. Executive Journal Indexes of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, 1861–1865. Accession 35185. Miscellaneous Microfilm Reels 5486–5489.
These volumes provide a chronological listing of the governor's activities regarding appointments, executive orders and memorandums, commissions, notaries, pardons, proclamations, writs of election, restorations of rights, renditions, and requisitions as recorded by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.