After the surrender of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, President Abraham Lincoln called up 75,000 militiamen to put down what he described as a rebellion against the authority of the federal government. On April 15, Lincoln's secretary of war sent a request to Virginia's governor for the state to furnish three regiments totaling 2,340 militiamen and officers. The following day Governor John Letcher refused to send troops "to subjugate the Southern States."
The surrender of Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for volunteers radically changed the political situation in Virginia. The question that Virginians, including members of the convention, then faced was no longer whether secession was legal or wise or in the state's interest. The new question once the war began was which side to take, whether to fight with the United States against the Confederate states or with the Confederacy against the United States.