West Virginia broke off from Virginia at the beginning of the Civil War.

The colony of Virginia was the largest of the thirteen original colonies that formed the United States of America. Roughly the southeastern half of the state was the first area to be settled, and came to be dominated by planters and other high-society types, plus the small farmers that formed the vast majority of what became the Confederate population. The northwestern third of the state (starting at the Alleghenies, the first mountain range after the Blue Ridge) was different; the terrain was notably more rugged and totally unsuitable for plantation agriculture, or in fact for much large-scale development of any kind. The people that settled this area, roughly in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains range, were generally from the second wave of immigration, especially Scots-Irish Presbyterians, and often had no greater desire than to be left alone to scratch out a subsistence-level crop from their land.

The northwesterners and the southeasterners didn't get along too well, as one might imagine; the culture clash was too great, and the interests of the more populous southeast almost always won out when the two sides clashed in the General Assembly. Economically, the two sides had almost nothing in common; slaveholders, who dominated the ruling class from the southeast, simply didn't exist in the northwest.

Virginia was finally pushed out of the Union when President Abraham Lincoln called for troops from Virginia to help put down the rebellion in South Carolina after Fort Sumter, and announced that more troops would be marching through the state. This touched off Virginia's main fear, that of "coercion" -- being forced to stay in the Union by occupying soldiers -- and Governor Henry Wise immediately called for secession. After long arguments, the Articles of Secession were approved, with most of the opposition coming from the northwest.

With Union troops massing on the Ohio River, and most of its citizens not too keen on secession anyway, the next step was clear; the northwest decided to secede from Virginia. Protected by Union General George McClellan, who stopped a column of now-independent Virginia forces advancing toward it, the Wheeling Convention formed a Unionist state government, which led eventually to the establishment of the new state of West Virginia. WV's statehood was proclaimed on 13 May 1862.