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The Governor’s Pawns

Hostages and Hostage-Taking in Civil War West Virginia

Civil War Era, Interpreting the Civil War: Texts and Contexts, Recent Releases


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 highlights the implementation of a hostage law established by Virginia’s pro-Union government in 1863 and the adoption of that law by the newly formed state of West Virginia. Author Randall Gooden uses genealogical sources to emphasize the personal nature of civilian arrests and hostage-taking and describes the impact on the communities and individuals left scarred by this practice. Readers are taken into the 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.

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.