I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union.
— Robert E. Lee, January 1861
The past is dead; let it bury its dead, its hopes and its aspirations; before you lies the future–a future full of golden promise.
– Jefferson Davis
Blockade of the Chesapeake Bay – May-June 1861
Manassas Campaign – July 1861
McClellan’s Operations in Northern Virginia – October-December 1861
Blockade of the Potomac River – October 1861 – January 1862
Jackson’s Valley Campaign – March-June 1862
Peninsula Campaign – March 8-July 1, 1862
Northern Virginia Campaign – August 1862
Fredericksburg Campaign – November-December, 1862
Longstreet’s Tidewater Operations – March-April 1863
Cavalry Operations along the Rappahannock – March 1863
Chancellorsville Campaign – April-May 1863
Gettysburg Campaign – June-July 1863
Bristoe Campaign – October-November 1863
Mine Run Campaign (November-December 1863)
Demonstration on the Rapidan River – February 1864
Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid – February 28–March 3, 1864
Crook-Averell Raid on the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad – May 1864
Bermuda Hundred Campaign – May 1864
Grant’s Overland Campaign – May-June 1864
Lynchburg Campaign – May-June 1864
Early’s Raid and Operations Against the B&O Railroad – June-August 1864
Richmond-Petersburg Campaign – June 1864-March 1865
Sheridan’s Valley Campaign – August-October 1864
Sheridan’s Expedition to Petersburg – March 1865
Appomattox Campaign – March-April 1865
Seeing more major Civil War battles than any other state, Virginia was a prominent part of the Confederate States of America. In the winter of 1860–1861, Americans were forced to decide their nation’s future. States in the lower South began seceding from the Union in December 1860. Still, Virginia, with the most diversified economy and the largest population of the slave states, remained part of the Union. However, that would change after President Abraham Lincoln, on April 15, 1861, called for troops from all states still in the Union in response to the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Two days later, on April 17, the Virginia convention voted to secede, pending ratification of the decision by the voters.
Virginia stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ohio River at this time, and Virginia citizens didn’t all agree with secession. In the western part of the state, some Virginians never accepted secession and instead began a process that created the new state of West Virginia.
Virginians ratified the articles of secession on May 23. The following day, the Union army moved into northern Virginia and captured Alexandria without fighting.
With Virginia’s entry into the Confederacy, it was decided in May to move the Confederate capital from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia. Due to Richmond’s size, industrial capacity, and location, the city was deemed strategically vital to the Confederacy’s survival. The White House of the Confederacy, located a few blocks north of the State Capital, was home to Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s family.
Most of the battles in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War took place in Virginia because the Confederacy had to defend its national capital at Richmond. Union forces made several failed attempts to capture Richmond. The remarkable success of General Robert E. Lee in defending the Confederate capital was a central theme of Civil War history.
From the first big battle at Manassas/Bull Run in 1861 to the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox in 1865, Virginia stayed in the headlines throughout the Civil War. More than 2,000 “military events” were recorded in Virginia during the war, more than any other state. By the time General Robert E. Lee surrendered in 1865, much of the state had been ravaged by war. No part of the state escaped, with battles fought deep in the mountains to the Atlantic coast.
Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated February 2022.
Eastern Theater of the Civil War
National Park Service Battle Descriptions (no longer available online)
National Park Service Civil War