The composition of the convention assembled in Richmond in the spring of 1861 to consider the question of secession, proved that the people of Virginia did not regard Mr. Lincoln's election as a sufficient cause for that measure, for at least two-thirds of its members were elected as ‘Union men.’ And they and their constituents continued to be so, until the determination to ‘coerce’ the seceded States was proclaimed by the President of the United States, and Virginia required to furnish her quota of the troops to be organized for that purpose. War being then inevitable, and the convention compelled to decide whether the State should aid in the subjugation of the other Southern States, or join them in the defense of the principles which they had professed since 1789—belong to the invading party, or to that standing on the defensive—it chose the latter, and passed its ordinance of secession. The people confirmed that choice by an overwhelming vote.The action of the Virginia convention was kept secret for nearly two days in order to give time to take possession of the United States armory and arsenal at Harper's Ferry, and volunteer companies were secretly hurried from the valley for this purpose. These troops reached Halltown, about five miles from Harper's Ferry, late in the afternoon of the 18th of April. Learning of their advance, the small Federal garrison there, at 10 p.m., fired the armory, and crossing into Maryland retreated all night toward the United States barracks at Carlisle. The Virginia troops occupied the town shortly after its evacuation, and proceeded to extinguish the fires. On the nomination of the governor, Gen. William B. Taliaferro was, on the 18th, assigned to the command of Virginia troops ordered to assemble at Norfolk for the purpose of capturing the Gosport navy yard. The same day, at the instance of General Scott, President Lincoln offered to Col. R. E. Lee the command of the United States army intended for the invasion of Virginia. On the 20th Colonel Lee resigned his commission in the United States army, and on the 22d he was elected by the Virginia convention, major-general to command the forces of the State, for which provision had been made to mobilize for its defense. General Lee accepted this appointment, and on the 23d was assigned to the command of the military and naval forces. On April 20th a Federal expedition from Fort Monroe attempted to destroy the dry dock at the Gosport navy yard,. near Norfolk, but only with partial success, as the Virginia troops arrived and took possession.
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