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Chapter 1:

  • Virginia in 1860
  • -- her Seven grand divisions -- geological characteristics, climate and agricultural products -- her population -- political and Historical importance.


Virginia was, in 1860, in nearly all the particulars of area, resources, productions and population, one of the leading States of the Union, just as she had been from colonial and revolutionary times. Her influence in the councils of the nation was very great, if not even paramount, and she was looked up to, not only as ‘the mother of States and of statesmen,’ but as the ardent defender of the Union, in the formation of which she had taken the leading part. One-sixteenth of the native population of the United States, in 1860, claimed her soil as their birthplace; and it was said that a majority of the members of Congress, at that time, were either natives of Virginia, or the sons or grandsons of those who had been born within her borders.

The geographical position and general relations of Virginia gave her a commanding position. Classed as one of the Middle Atlantic States, situated midway between Maine on the northeast and Florida on the southeast, she was, in reality, the representative mid-coast State of the Union; having, in consequence of her position and variety of land relief, many of the characteristics of the States lying both to the north and south of her. Because of her great extension, of over 500 miles, from the Atlantic across the Atlantic highlands to the Ohio, she had many of the features and adaptations of the States lying to the west as well as of those on the northwest and southwest. She was also the eastern one of the central belt of States, as the latitude of the entrance to Chesapeake bay very nearly corresponds to that of the Golden Gate of California.

In extent of surface Virginia was one of the greatest of the States east of the Mississippi river, her area then [4] being about 68,000 square miles, while New York had 47,000, all of New England 68,348, and Georgia but 59,000. Her greatest breadth from the North Carolina line to the northern end of the ‘panhandle,’ within 900 miles of Lake Erie, was about 430 miles; her greatest length, from east to west along the North Carolina and Tennessee lines, from the Atlantic to Cumberland gap, was 440 miles. Her outline was varied and richly developed. On the east the Virginian sea of the Atlantic and Chesapeake bay—with its many tidal rivers and estuaries, some penetrating her territory fully 150 miles, dividing it into numerous large and small peninsulas and furnishing more than 1,500 miles of tide-washed shore line, with numerous harbors of unsurpassed capacity and depth—permeate over 11,000 square miles of her tidewater country. The navigable Ohio belonged to her all along her northwestern border, receiving numerous navigable tributaries that drained the larger part of her Trans-Appalachian territory.

The relief characteristics of the State were noteworthy and remarkable. These divided it into seven natural grand divisions, each differing from the other in soil, adaptation to production, climate and other characteristics, and each equal in area to some of the States of the Union.

1. The Tidewater, about 11,000 square miles in area, is the great low-lying plain that extends from the Atlantic border westward from 150 to 200 miles, rising from sea level to an elevation of about 200 feet at the head of the tide, where it meets the granitic step, or ‘Coast ridge,’ at the borders of the Midland, at the first falls of the rivers, where are situated the commercial and manufacturing cities of Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Richmond and Petersburg. Many of the most important battles of the war of 1861-65 in Virginia were fought along this ‘Coast ridge,’ generally a sharply-defined line of escarpment.

2. The Midland is the undulating higher plain of the Atlantic slope, somewhat triangular in form, that extends from the eastern rim of the ‘ridge’ westward to the broken range of hills and low mountains called the coast range of the Atlantic. Its area is about 12,500 square miles. It is intersected by many eastwardly flowing rivers; its surface is rolling or uneven, and deeply [5] carved into stream valleys with intervening watershed ridges. It rises from an altitude of from 150 to 200 feet on the east to one of from 300 to 500 on the west.

3. The Piedmont is the greatly diversified region lying between the eastern foot of the Coast range mountains and the eastern foot of the Blue ridge. Its area is nearly 7,000 square miles; in altitude it rises from an average of nearly 400 feet along its Midland border to one of nearly 1,000 feet along its Blue ridge border, while its included mountain ranges and Blue ridge spurs vary in altitude from 1,000 to 4,000 feet. It is a genuine piedmont, or foot-of-mountain country, that extends for a distance of over 300 miles along the eastern side of the Blue ridge from the Potomac to the North Carolina line, with an average breadth of nearly 25 miles. Its greatly varying forms of relief make it one of the most attractive and picturesque portions of the State.

4. The Blue ridge is a many-branched mountain chain, with swelling domes and considerable plateaus, extending for some 300 miles entirely across the State, from the northeast to the southwest, varying in elevation from about 1,000 feet near the Potomac to over 4,000 feet in the plateau in the southwest, on which are the three Blue ridge counties of the State. This is not only a striking feature in the landscape, from both its eastern and its western sides, but is one of the most important military features of the State. It played an important part in the many engagements of the Confederate war that took place in or near the passes that cut or cross it. Its area, as a grand division, is about 2,000 square miles.

5. The Great Valley, or the valley of Virginia, is the elevated plateau-like country lying between the western base of the Blue ridge and the eastern one of the North mountains—Kittatinny as a whole—of the Appalachian system. Its length is over 300 miles and its average breadth about 20 miles, giving it an area of about 7,600 square miles of the most fertile and productive portion of Virginia. It is her part of the great limestone valley that extends, for 1,500 miles, from near the mouth of the St. Lawrence far into Alabama. It is composed of a series of river basins, those of the Shenandoah and parts of those of the James, the Roanoke, the New river and the headwaters of the Tennessee. Its altitude varies from 500 to 2,600 feet. Its surface is diversified by hills and [6] detached mountain chains and ranges that render it one of the most remarkable fields for military operations in all the country, as is attested by the numerous battles that took place within it in Virginia and its extensions into Maryland and Tennessee.

6. Appalachia, or Appalachian Virginia, is the mountain belt, some 350 miles long, that extends west of the Great Valley entirely across the State; wedge-shaped in form, some 60 miles wide in the northeast and narrowing to 20 in the southwest. It is traversed by a large number of parallel ranges that vary in altitude from 2,000 feet to about 5,000, with long and generally narrow valleys between these mountain ranges running parallel with them. Within these mountain ranges and running with their valleys, are the principal tributaries of the Potomac in the northeast, of the James and the Kanawha in the central portions, of the Tennessee in the southwestern portions, and in the northwestern, the easterly branches of the Monongahela; all of which, in finding their way out, break through the successive ranges of the mountains and thus furnish ways through them. In 1860, Virginia's portion of Appalachia was divided into eighteen counties. The larger portion of this territory was covered with forests. As a whole, it was a most difficult region for the conduct of military operations, of which it was largely the theater during the first year of the war.

7. Trans-Appalachian Virginia, or Trans-Alleghany, as it was often called, is the region beyond the Appalachian or main mountain ranges; it is the inclined tableland that slopes to the northwest from the eastern outcrop of the great conglomerate rock border of the TransAppa-lachian coal-field to the Ohio, descending from an average elevation of nearly 3,000 feet along its eastern border, in the great Flat-top mountain and its extensions, to one of about 600 along the Ohio. The streams have deeply eroded its long westward slope, leaving it in high relief with long and narrow stream valleys separated by intervening ridges, generally rugged in character. The valleys widen and the between ridges sink as they approach the Ohio. This great region was divided into forty-one counties, nearly every one of which is underlaid by coal of highly-useful varieties, making it, intrinsically, one of the most valuable portions of the State; while a large part of its surface was covered with virgin forests. [7]

The waters of Virginia are among the most striking of its characteristics. Its tidal waters are very remarkable and inviting, by their extent and character, to commercial enterprises, in which Virginia took a fair part during all her history up to 1860, and in consequence of which she is now rapidly advancing, in the growth of her commercial ports, to the position she is entitled to from her large facilities for engaging in commerce. Her fluvial waters are numerous and full volumed, draining and watering every portion of the State, and furnishing numerous water powers. In 1860, those in her TransAppa-lachian territory, the Ohio and its tributaries, were the avenues of a large internal commerce. Virginia early embarked in the improvement of many of her fluvial waterways by canals and slack-water navigation, especially patronizing the Chesapeake & Ohio canal, to open a highway to the West by the Potomac and the Monongahela, and the James River & Kanawha canal, for a commercial highway up the James and down the Kanawha to the Ohio farther to the south. The State as a whole is undoubtedly one of the best watered regions in the United States.

Virginia is unique in geological characteristics. She has within her borders, large areas underlaid by the rocks of every geological formation found in North America. This means that she possesses nearly every variety of soil and most kinds of valuable economic rocks and minerals, especially the best of granites, slates, brownstones, sandstones, and other building rocks; great deposits of the ores of iron, zinc, lead and copper; a wide belt of gold-bearing rocks extends through the length of the midland; limestones in the greatest abundance, especially in the valley and throughout Appalachia; and, surpassing all others in value, she had, in 1860, over 17,000 square miles of bituminous and semi-bituminous coals, mostly in Trans-Appalachia, but with a considerable area in the midland near Richmond, that in the number of beds and the variety of adaptation were unsurpassed by those of any State in the Union.

The climate of Virginia presents a great variety in consequence of her position in relation to the ocean, and especially because of the relief of the surface of the State, from the low levels of tidewater, where grow and flourish the long-leaf pine, live-oak, cotton and other [8] warm-temperate productions, to the high levels of the Blue ridge, the Valley, Appalachia and TransAppa-lachia, where are broad areas over 4,000 feet above the sea level, and to the still higher ridges of the southwestern Blue ridge and of western Appalachia, where flourish the pines, the balsams and the larches of the cool-tem perate regions of the United States. Her high mountain chains intercept and turn aside the great storm waves of the northwest, but taking from them their moisture, while they intercept the vapor-laden winds from the ocean on the southeast, and from them draw tribute of a larger precipitation. As a whole, it is a State with perennial rains, long growing seasons, and a climate of means rather than of extremes.

Her adaptation to productions, both animal and vegetable, are great and varied. Of the 311,117,036 acres of her land embraced in farms, in 1860, 11,437,821 acres were improved, and 19,679,215 acres were unimproved, leaving an area of over 13,000,000 acres not included in farms, which was mostly embraced in the great patents, embracing much of the Appalachian regions, which were covered with original forests. The cash value of the land embraced in farms at that time was $371,761,661. Of the other States, only New York, Illinois and Ohio had more acres of land under cultivation, and none but Texas had more unimproved land embraced in farm boundaries. Virginia ranked fifth in the cash value of her farms, being only exceeded by Illinois, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Her agricultural productions embraced all the cereals, tubers, pulse, grass and grass seeds of the temperate region, to which were added great quantities of tobacco, considerable cotton and hemp, a large amount of sweet potatoes, the products of the warm-temperate regions, besides all temperate fruits in profusion. She ranked among the leading States of the Union in the production of all the great staples of the country except the rice, cotton and sugar of the far South. She was the leading State in the production of tobacco, and ranked fifth in that of wheat and sixth in Indian corn and oats. Virginia ranked high also in the numbers and quality of her domestic animals, her breeds of all which were among the best in the whole country.

The people of Virginia were of almost unmixed nativity, the foreign-born of her population in 1860 being but [9] 35,058, or less than one-fortieth of the whole. The basis of her white population was mainly English and Scotch, with Germans (mainly in the Valley), French Huguenots (mainly in Midland), and some Irish. Her negroes were mostly the descendants of imported Africans, but among them were numbers that had been sold into her borders from Northern States previous to the emancipation of slaves in those States. The condition of her people was, as a whole, as happy and contented as could be presented by any of the States of the Union. Cultivable lands were plentiful and comparatively cheap. Nearly all articles needed to supply human wants were abundant and held at reasonable prices. Labor was well paid, especially that of a skilled character. The great body of the people was prosperous and steadily improving in circumstances. Kindly relations existed throughout the commonwealth, not only between the races, but between the rich and the poor. The laws were respected and justly and ably administered by an incorruptible judiciary, from the gentlemen justices of the peace of the counties up to her distinguished judges of the circuit courts and the court of appeals. Crimes affecting persons and property were rare, and the churches of the leading religious denominations of the country, the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, this order representing their comparative numbers, were everywhere distributed, well attended and cared for by able and zealous preachers of the Gospel. She was among the first of the States to establish asylums for the insane and an institution for mutes and the blind.

While Virginia did not have in 1860 a public school system under State control, as she now has, she made ample provision for all those desiring to be educated. In nearly every neighborhood throughout the State were private schools, generally well taught, to which all had access, the State paying the tuition of all who asked such assistance. Academies and preparatory schools, most of them classical and taught by well-educated gentlemen, were found in all parts of the State. Many of these, conducted by men of high social standing and with numerous assistants, were not only locally patronized but drew large numbers of pupils from other States, especially those of the South and Southwest. Her military institute, attended by appointed students from every portion [10] of the State, was widely known, from the character of its training, as the ‘West Point of the South.’ Numerous denominational colleges, some of them dating from colonial times, with able faculties, were established at various places in the State while the university of Virginia, of which Jefferson was the father and which was liberally subsidized by the State, was, beyond controversy, the leading university of the United States in the character of its professors, its methods of instruction and training, and its large attendance of students from Virginia and States of the South and West. From its schools of law, medicine, science and literature, had been graduated a large proportion of the leading professional men not only of the Southern but of many of the Western States, even to the shores of the Pacific. The State patronized a medical college at Richmond, and from the Union theological seminary of the Presbyterians, near Hampden-Sidney college, and from the Episcopal theological seminary, near Alexandria, many able divines came to the churches throughout the same extensive regions. Female schools of a high order were established in many portions of the State, which were widely patronized from the same regions as were the colleges and the university.

Contrary to the general belief, the training of the negroes was not neglected. For, although the teaching of them in public was prohibited for prudential reasons, the right of their owners to teach them was not abridged, and very many were taught the elements of reading, etc. Their religious instruction was generally well provided for, and large numbers of them were members of the same churches as were their masters and mistresses, while they had numerous churches of their own, built by the liberality of the whites and supplied by preachers of their own race, but very often by those of the dominant one. They had another sort of education which has been rarely recognized. It is a fact that there were in Virginia thousands of technical schools, properly so called, for training the negro race, in the days of slavery. Every plantation where there was any considerable number of slaves was a well-organized and self-contained colony, in which each member of the community, from the youngest that was able to perform any light labor to the oldest who was not helpless, had an assigned duty to perform, [11] under the direction of the master and the mistress, or the trusted overseer, either in the household and its surroundings or in the fields. Each of these home communities had its own mechanics, or trades people of nearly every kind, from the carders, spinners, weavers, knitters, seamstresses and trained servants of the household and its attached flower and vegetable gardens, to the shoemakers, blacksmiths, wagonmakers, and other craftsmen of the home shops, and the wagon and cart drivers, plowmen, cattle and sheep herders, and others who conducted all the different labors of the large plantations. Especially were there large numbers of highly-skilled laborers on the great tobacco plantations, who, under but light supervision, pitched, cared for, cut and cured the large crops of tobacco, for the quantity and quality of which Virginia was famous in all parts of the world. One need not hesitate to say, that a better trained, better ordered, better cared for, happier and more contented laboring population nowhere existed within the limits of the Union.

The occupations of the people of Virginia were greatly varied in consequence of the great variety of the surface features of the State and their adaptations. Her oceanic waters abounded in shell and scale fish, and gave employment to large numbers of oystermen and fishermen. The large plantations of Tidewater were devoted to the production of wheat and corn, and those south of the James to peanuts and cotton; the cultivation of sweet potatoes was a specialty in the more easterly regions. Eastern and Central Midland raised large crops of wheat, from which a superior quality of flour was manufactured, especially at Richmond, for the South American trade. Western Midland, then as now, added the production of large quantities of tobacco. The Piedmont country in its northeastern portion, within the limits of the growth of natural grasses, was devoted to the production of cereals and the rearing of cattle and horses, while the large plantations of the central and southwestern parts not only produced corn and wheat, but great quantities of what is known as heavy shipping tobacco. The elevated pasture lands of the Blue ridge were mainly given up to grazing and dairying. The Great Valley, from the Potomac to the Tennessee line, the paradise of the farmer, the grazer and the dairyman, produced bountiful crops of all the cereals, especially wheat and corn; large numbers of [12] cattle and horses were reared, and much attention was given to dairying as well as to general husbandry.

It should be borne in mind that in 1860 there was no seaboard connection in Virginia with the great prairie States. The Baltimore & Ohio railroad had but just opened communication by rail with that region. None other of the railways of Virginia had then crossed the Appalachians, consequently there was none of that destructive competition which has now made farming unprofitable in the Atlantic States. The wheat from Virginia, much of it ground into flour by local mills, especially in the Valley and in Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Richmond and Petersburg, found good markets, notably in Baltimore and Richmond, for the West Indies and South America, or the grocery trade of the United States, which then had its best entrepots at Norfolk and Baltimore.

The people in the valleys of the Appalachian country and on the sloping uplands of Trans-Appalachia, were mainly engaged in the rearing of cattle, hogs, horses and other animals, which were driven eastward, either as young cattle to be sold to the farmers of the Valley and Piedmont for fattening from their ample corn-fields, or were driven direct, as fat cattle, to the eastern cities, sometimes as far northward as New York. There were also many dwellers in cabins, surrounded by a few acres of cleared land, within these mountain regions, who had little or no occupation beyond fishing and hunting. But these were the breeding places of hardy folk, who were constantly drifting westward as they grew to maturity, to form a considerable element in the great populations of newer States. Virginia, peopled with landhun-gry Anglo-Saxons, made the great mistake, from the earliest days of her history, of parceling out her magnificent domain into great patents, some of them including a half million acres, and many of them from 50,000 to 100,000 acres, at the nominal price of but a few cents an acre. This policy prevailed, as population advanced westward, from the Atlantic to the Ohio, until these patents, often overlapping and loosely located, covered a large area of all the Appalachian and Trans-Appalachian country, left no land to be divided into parcels of moderate size for the use of the home-builder, and introduced uncertainty of land titles, all greatly detrimental to the peopling of that very desirable and intrinsically rich region, [13] across which and from which, largely because of this uncertainty of title and of the tempting parceling out of the great prairie States into sections and fractions of sections of land, the population of Virginia, from the seaboard to the mountains, drifted westward, leaving only stranded fragments of good stock along the way which ignorant writers describe as ‘poor whites’ of a different origin from the main sturdy stock of the Virginia people.

The northwesterly portion of the Trans-Appalachian country and the broad bottom lands of the Ohio and its tributaries, early attracted from the eastward a thrifty and intelligent class of people, who made that a highly-productive grazing and agricultural region, which found markets for its products on the hoof eastward, or in flatboats westward on the flood tides of its numerous rivers. The manufacture of salt at various localities, especially on the Great Kanawha, was one of the leading industries of that section, supplying much of the Mississippi valley with its prime necessity of human life. Coal mining was also becoming an important industry on the Kanawha, the Monongahela and along the Ohio, the product of the mines finding markets in Cincinnati, Louisville, and even New Orleans. The distilling of petroleum, from cannel coal, had assumed very considerable proportions, especially along the Kanawha, when the discovery of natural petroleum, near 1860, by the boring of wells on the waters of the Little Kanawha, marked the beginning of the trade in petroleum, which has become one of the largest and most profitable in the whole world.

Of the 297,354 of Virginia's white population reported as engaged, in 1860, in gainful occupations, 108,958 were farmers and 30,518 were farm laborers; showing that a very large proportion of her people were engaged in farming or planting. Of the so-called professional classes, there were 3,441 lawyers, 2,467 physicians and 1,437 clergymen. Her population was mainly rural in habitation; she had no cities of large size. Richmond contained but 37,910 inhabitants; Petersburg, 8,266, and Norfolk and Portsmouth but 24,116; Wheeling, the metropolis of northwestern Virginia, contained but 14,083. The manufacturers of all kinds were comparatively few in number; they were mostly the blacksmiths, bricklayers, carpenters, shoemakers and wheelwrights [14] of the towns and villages throughout the commonwealth.

Her military population, the white men of the State between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, was 196,587; a striking contrast to the 1,099,855 at that time within the limits of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, States to the west of her borders that had, by her own action, been cut from her territory, and a very large percentage of whose population was of Virginian origin; and yet her fighting population was considerably larger than that of any other Southern State except Missouri. The available number of Virginia's arms-bearing population in 1860 was so decreased by the Union element and the secession from the State by West Virginia that she had not more than 150,000 fighting men to respond to her call for troops after the secession from the Union in 1861.

Prior to the first census Virginia had 10 representatives in the United States Congress; the first census, that of 1790, gave her 19, the second 22, the third 23, the fourth 22, the fifth 21, the sixth 5, the seventh 13, and the eighth, that of 1860,1. The center of population of the United States at each of the five decades, from 1810 to 1850, was within her borders. Her density of population in 1860 was about 25 to the square mile.

From the historical standpoint, Virginia occupied an enviable position. From the threshold of 1860 she looked back upon an heroic and glorious past. Her Capt. John Smith—leader, diplomat, fighter, explorer, geographer, historian and adventurer—would have been a notable figure in any age. In 1619, before the establishing of any other English colony in America, she assembled an elected house of burgesses and entered upon a representative career which, from that time forward, stoutly maintained the rights of her people to govern themselves; and even in submitting to the Cromwellian parliament in 1652, she secured a continuance of her representative law-making privileges. Proud of her loyalty in the restoration of 1660, she hesitated not to rebel, in 1676, against the usurping authority of the royal parliament, and against that of the royal governor who failed to obey her orders and protect the colony against Indian outrages, and endeavored to rule without consent of the people. Her Governor Spotswood, who came in 1710, was by far the most prominent figure of his time in the American colonies. [15] In 1714 he established the first blast-furnace for the manufacture of iron, on the bank of the Rappahannock, within the afterward famous battlefield of Chancellorsville. He was the first, in 1716, to lead an expedition across the Blue ridge into the famous Shenandoah valley, and in 1730 became the deputy postmaster-general of all the colonies.

When the French and Indian war of 1750 began, and France claimed the territory drained by the Ohio, Virginia had a young Washington to send on a diplomatic errand to the French, at the head of that river; to lead her citizen soldiery, in 1754, in the unequal combat of the Great Meadows, and in 1755 to save from complete disaster the British regulars under Braddock. When England attempted taxation without representation, in 1765, her Patrick Henry fired the colonies to resistance. In 1769 she called a revolutionary convention, which denounced the acts of the British parliament. In 1774 she sent representatives to the first Continental Congress, in the persons of Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Bland and Edmund Pendleton, all men of mark, who helped, then and there, to lay the foundations for a Federal union. In 1774 her brave and hardy men of the Great Valley and the mountains beyond, the fighting Scotch-Irishmen under the leadership of Lewis, met the combined Indian power of the Northwest, in a fierce struggle at the mouth of the Kanawha on the bank of the Ohio, and not only established Virginia's claim to the Northwest, but broke up the combination that, by Indian invasions in the rear, would have defeated the contention of the colonies with the mother country, if it had succeeded.

In 1775 the elected delegates of her people assembled in convention in Richmond, and resolved to put the colony in a state of defense against the aggressions of the crown, and followed these resolutions by ordering the enlisting and drilling in companies of soldiers throughout the commonwealth. A troop of these from Hanover, led by Patrick Henry, compelled the royal governor to pay for the powder of the colony that he had unlawfully removed from Williamsburg to shipboard. When the second Continental Congress met, in 1775, Peyton Randolph, of Virginia, was again chosen to preside over it [16] and when that body, moved to action by the conduct of the British troops in Boston, formed a Federal union under the name of the United Colonies, and authorized the raising of a Continental army, her George Washington was chosen its commander-in-chief and took command at Cambridge, Mass., on the 2d of July, 1775.

The Virginia people again met in convention on the 17th of July, 1775, and chose a committee of safety to take charge of the affairs of the colony, ordered the enlistment of troops, passed laws for the raising of money, the procuring of arms and military supplies, and for the conducting of elections by loyal voters. The story of the revolution need not be repeated. Virginia's Washington, after seven long years of arduous struggle and endurance, brought it to a successful termination, at her Yorktown, in 1781. But it is well to recall that it was Virginia, the most conservative of the colonies, which in the convention of 1776, on the 6th of May, instructed her delegates in Congress to propose ‘to declare the United Colonies free and independent States;’ and that this resulted in a Declaration of Independence, on the 4th of July, 1776, which was drawn by her Thomas Jefferson. [17]

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