Civil War history and the birth of Nevada

2011-04-14T19:58:00Z Civil War history and the birth of Nevada Elko Daily Free Press
April 14, 2011 7:58 pm

The West is full of embellished stories and the birth of the State of Nevada is not excluded. Tuesday was the 150th anniversary of the start of the U.S. Civil War, an important date that brought to mind the nickname found on our state flag: Battle Born.

As most Nevadans know, our state was admitted to the Union on Oct. 31, 1864, during the Civil War.

Many believe and are taught in school that Nevada was admitted as a state so the Union could use our silver in the fight against the South. According to Guy Rocha, the former Nevada state archivist, this “fact” is really another tall tale of the West.

“The reasons for Nevada’s statehood were political, not economic,” Rocha says in an article debunking the myth. “Earlier writers were so caught up in romanticizing Nevada’s role in the Civil War they decided to re-invent history.”

Nevada was a territory and part of the Union when President Abraham Lincoln appointed James Warren Nye governor. Nye put down any demonstration in support of the Confederacy, says Rocha. The federal government bought Nevada’s silver and gold bullion to support its currency, and the federal taxes at the time were collected and put into Union coffers, Rocha says.

“Therefore, Nevada’s creation as a territory on March 2, 1861, by the U.S. Congress ensured that its riches would help the Union and not the Confederate cause,” he wrote.

But a territory is not a state, and things were different three years later.

By the time Congress got around to an Enabling Act for Nevada on March 21, 1864, the Civil War was winding down, says Rocha. The North had already won decisive victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg and the South was headed toward defeat.

The problem for Lincoln was re-election and the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. New states were the solution.

Lincoln faced a three-way race against Gen. John C. Fremont, a Radical Republican candidate, and General George B. McClellan, a Democrat. The president needed new states to support his moderate reconstruction policies for the South, including the 13th Amendment, says Rocha.

“Enabling acts for three territories, Colorado, Nebraska and Nevada, were passed by Congress in March 1864,” Rocha wrote. “Nebraska’s constitutional convention voted against statehood, while Colorado Territory’s voters did not approve the proposed state constitution. Thus, Nevada Territory was the only territory to come to the support of President Lincoln.”

Rocha says ironically in the end Nevada’s votes weren’t needed to secure Lincoln’s re-election. Fremont dropped out of the presidential race and Lincoln easily won against McClellan. Lincoln carried 22 states and 212 electoral votes compared with McClellan’s three states and 22 electoral votes.

So, Nevada may have been “Battle Born” since it was granted statehood during the Civil War, but the wealth from the Comstock Lode was not the deciding factor in becoming a state. As usual, it was all about politics.

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Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are John Pfeifer, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak. 

Copyright 2015 Elko Daily Free Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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