Saturday, February 14, 2009

McKain: "The Civil War in Northwestern Virginia"

[The Civil War in Northwestern Virginia: The Military, Political, and Economic Events Surrounding the Creation of West Virginia, and the Role of Parkersburg, West Virginia in those Events by David L. McKain (Author, 2004) Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, index, bibliography. Pages main/total: 160/395. ISBN: 0-9641955-0-2 $39]

The Civil War in Northwestern Virginia is a dual publication, part narrative, part source compilation. Author David L. McKain's narrative is roughly 150 pages in length, and, as the title implies, is a fairly comprehensive overview of regional military events (mostly raids, and guerrilla attacks), as well as a summary of the political events that led to the formation of the new state of West Virginia. However, the central focus of McKain's writing is the city of Parkersburg and its divided citizenry. The economic discussion is novel in that the emphasis is on the nascent petroleum industry, both extraction and refining. This is one of the few studies1 in the literature that focus on this rising industry in the context of the Civil War.

The narrative section of the book is only selectively cited, but does include a bibliography and index. Lengthy excerpts from newspaper accounts and O.R. reports are integrated into the text, as well as passages from important secondary sources such as H.E. Metheny's Wood County history2. It's also densely illustrated, with drawings and photographs sprinkled throughout. Maps depict city streets, political boundaries, and military movements.

The second part, an eclectic compilation of source material, runs approximately 200 pages, and is divided into 25 appendices. Here, almost 100 pages of transcribed newspaper articles (primarily the Wheeling Intelligencer) are assembled and categorized. A major portion is devoted to the oil industry, but articles dealing with military activities and political reportage are similarly abundant. The author also reproduced O.R. reports and sections from Dyer's Compendium relevant to military campaigns and events that took place in West Virginia. Some letters and diaries were also included.

In terms of usefulness to other researchers, the source material collected and organized by McKain is the highlight of The Civil War in Northwestern Virginia. For those interested in local history, the Parkersburg material is significant, as well as the content dealing with Wood County's petroleum industry.

1 - Darrell Collins's history of the Jones-Imboden Raid contained some insight into the economic importance of the region, especially with its coverage of the oil field destruction at Burning Springs.
2 - H.E. Metheny's
Wood County, West Virginia, in Civil War Times: With an Account of the Guerrilla Warfare in the Little Kanawha Valley (Trans-Allegheny Books, 1987) is a very worthwhile study on its own, and still in print last time I checked. Parkersburg is in Wood County.

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