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April 15, 1861: President Lincoln Calls for Volunteer Troops

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On April 15, 1861, three days after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteer troops. At the time, the U.S. Army had only about 16,000 soldiers. While most historians point to Fort Sumter as the beginning of the war, some suggest the war didn’t really begin until Lincoln’s call for troops. His action spurred four of the “holdout” states—Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas—to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.

Union volunteers from what would become the new state of West Virginia often waited in long lines to enlist. This was particularly true in the northwestern region; although, many of these soldiers were actually from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Before the war’s end, some 32,000 Union troops would be enlisted in West Virginia.

But Western Virginia had split loyalties. Confederate recruiters were signing up their own troops in portions of the area more loyal to the South. Confederate soldiers from West Virginia counties have been estimated in the 18,000 range. However, some studies suggest this number may have been much higher.

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