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Virginia in the American Civil War

Library of Virginia collections pertaining to the American Civil War

Virginia in the American Civil War

historical illustration of Belle Isle prison
Dix, John Ross. Here in Belle Isle’s Dreary Prison. New York: Chs. Magnus, 1864.

On May 23, 1861, voters ratified Virginia's secession from the United States. Virginia was the largest state in population and industrial capacity to join the Confederacy, which soon moved its capital to Richmond. With the capitals of the Confederacy and the Union only 100 miles apart, Virginia became the major battleground of the American Civil War.

Four years of war ended the institution of slavery, altered the Virginia landscape, displaced families, and cost thousands their lives. In 1863, forty-eight northwestern Unionist counties seceded from Virginia to create West Virginia. Union troops occupied large sections of eastern and northern Virginia. When Richmond fell in April 1865, retreating Confederate troops set fire to supplies left behind, destroying property as well as state and local records. The transformation caused by the Civil War in Virginia reverberated throughout the decades and still resonates today. 

The Library of Virginia houses extensive collections related to the Civil War, including manuscripts, published materials, maps, and images. These materials provide valuable insight into a critical era in Virginia and US history.

To research an individual's Civil War military service, see Using Virginia Civil War Records.

Content Warning: Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation.