A Civil War Biography

Peter Godwin Van Winkle

Van Winkle was born 7 September 1808 in New York, New York. After completing preparatory studies he studied the law and, having moved to Virginia, was admitted to the bar in that state. He established a law practice in Parkersburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1835. He served as president of the town board of trustees from 1844 until 1850. He was a member of the Virginia State constitutional convention in 1850. In 1852 he became treasurer of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad Company. He would later become the railroad's president.

As the secession crisis heightened tensions ran high between Union and Secession sympathizers in northwestern Virginia. When a riot erupted in Parkersburg over arms stored in the county jail, Van Winkle, a staunch Unionist, took command of Federal forces in the area and squelched the riot. He took part in the Wheeling reorganization convention of 1861, an attempt to keep the western portion of Virginia in the Union. He helped forge West Virginia statehood as a member of the second Wheeling Convention then the constitutional convention. He was a member of the West Virginia house of delegates in 1863. When West Virginia was admitted to the Union he became one of the state's first US Senators. He served in the Senate from 4 August 1863 until 3 March 1869. He is best known for breaking ranks with the Republican party and voting for acquittal of Andrew Johnson. For his action he was vilified in the Radical Republican press and denounced by both houses in the West Virginia legislature. Van Winkle retired from public service when he left the Senate. He died in Parkersburg on 15 April 1872.

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