On this day 150 years ago, a statewide referendum overwhelmingly affirmed the Virginia Convention‘s vote to secede. The tally was 125,950 to 20,373, or about 86 percent in favor. A landslide, in other words. Towns from Lynchburg to Centreville were unanimous in their support, while in all of Augusta County only ten men braved a “no” vote. And make no mistake: voting “no” was a brave act. Ballots were public; one had to step up and announce his preference, and do so in the face of declarations like this one from the Staunton Vindicator: “We look upon such conduct [voting no] as treason, and deserving the halter.” A dentist dared to express his sympathies for Lincoln and was threatened with “summary punishment.”
Martinsburg was the only town in the Shenandoah Valley to vote against secession (3-to-1 against, in fact), but even Martinsburg had its share of “secesh” sentiment. On the Fourth of July that year, a young woman who claimed that a Union soldier had sworn at her mother shot and killed the man. Her name? Belle Boyd, of course.
Oh, and she was acquitted on all charges.
IMAGE: Virginia Sentinel (Alexandria, Virginia) Tuesday, May 21, 1861; Issue 62; col B