How West Virginia Almost Became Virginia, Virginia almost became Maryland and Maryland almost Became Delaware

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virginia1861cameronThe opening days of the American Civil were unprecedented times in the history of the young Republic.

By the summer of 1861, the Commonwealth of Virginia was in open rebellion against the United States government.

In the diary she kept throughout the Civil War, Mary Henry, daughter of the Smithsonian Institution’s first secretary, commented that she could look out her window from the Washington, D.C., castle and see the “flag of the rebels” flying in the wind just across the Potomac River, the border between Virginia and Washington .

It was this constant fear of being bordered by the unknown nation – the rebellious Old Dominion – that drove the elite of Washington society to unspeakable fear.

In the opening months of the war, Mary Henry writes about the panic that swept Washington – church services were cancelled, children weren’t allowed to play outside and Federal officials quietly whispered that the city was unprepared to withstand a Southern invasion.

In addition to these fears, Washington itself seemed unsecure, as a wave of distrust permeated the city. Neighbors began to question the loyalties of each other, while Confederate spies walked among the townspeople.

Long before Congress ever considered the notion of authorizing the State of West Virginia to be created, United States Secretary of War Simon Cameron proposed a plan to create a buffer of safety around the nation’s capital by completely recarving the centuries old borders of the states of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

Though such an action would be a gross usurpation of Federal authority granted by the Constitution, Cameron argued that the times were extraordinary and warranted extraordinary action.

The city needed to be secure, he urged, and the only way to do so would be to push the boundaries of the Southern Confederacy farther from the Washington capital.

The Secretary’s precise plan was to transfer all of Virginia’s counties lying east of the Blue Ridge to Maryland, except for the handful of counties that make up Virginia’s eastern peninsula – these, along with Maryland’s counties on the Delmarva Peninsula would be given to Delaware.

The change would realign the borders of the three states along their more natural boundaries as opposed to the political boundaries that were created in the 1600s.

The Secretary’s plan appeared in the December 21, 1861, edition of Harper’s Weekly.

Arguing Cameron’s case, the publication stated, “The geographical position of the metropolis of the nation, menaced by the rebels, and required to be defended by thousands of our troops, induces use to suggest for consideration the propriety and expediency of a reconstruction of the boundaries of the States of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Wisdom and true statesmanship would dictate that the seat of the National Government, for all time to come, should be placed beyond reasonable danger of seizure by enemies within, as well as from capture by foes from without.”

“Cameron’s plan would have made Virginia an inland state with no coastal waterfront, and reduced the potential of enemy forces controlling the heights of Arlington,” writes Virginia Places.

Ultimately, the Secretary’s plan to make West Virginia, Virginia; Virginia, Maryland; and Maryland, Delaware, never saw the full light of day, thanks in large part to Union forces securing the area that is Northern Virginia and placing the region under a buffer of Union control.

The Secretary’s plan was also hindered by a group of politicians gathered in West Virginia’s northern panhandle city of Wheeling, who were in the process of establishing a new state from the boundaries of Old Virginia.

Still yet, one can’t help but imagine what it would be like to say Charleston, Virginia; Richmond, Maryland; and Chincoteague Island, Delaware!

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