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The Governor's Pawns

Hostages and Hostage-Taking in Civil War West Virginia

272 pages
The Kent State University Press

An in-depth look at the unique actions of the newly formed state of West Virginia during the Civil War

While the taking of hostages by both the Union and the Confederacy was common during the Civil War, it was unique for an individual state government to engage in this practice. The Governor’s Pawns examines the history that led to the taking of political prisoners in western Virginia, the implementation of a hostage law by Virginia’s pro-Union government in 1863, and the adoption of that law by the newly recognized state of West Virginia.

The roots of state hostage-taking took hold prior to the Civil War. Sectional politics between eastern and western Virginia and their local communities, as well as long-standing family rivalries, resulted in the extreme actions of secession and war. Randall Gooden uses genealogical sources to tell the fascinating stories of individuals swept up in the turmoil, including hostages and their captors, freedmen, and government and military officials. Gooden emphasizes the personal nature of civilian arrests and hostage-taking and describes the impact on communities and the families left scarred by this practice.

The Governor’s Pawns takes readers into the city streets, state and national capitol buildings, army camps, jails and military prisons, hospitals, and graveyards that accompanied the tit-for-tat style of pointedly personal warfare.

Author Bio

Randall S. Gooden is a native of West Virginia and professor of history at Clayton State University, where he teaches courses on the Civil War era. He has also served as the assistant curator at the West Virginia and Regional History Collection.