My interest in history is probably as great as my interest in geography, a theme I’ve commonly woven into the Twelve Mile Circle. Keeping that in mind, I’ve grown ever-excited as events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War approach. Activities will escalate rapidly on April 12, 2011 with the anniversary of the Confederate attack on Ft. Sumter [my visit] and continue with intensity for another four years.
Commemorations will even take place in my little corner of the world. That website reminded me of a very basic geographic fact: the capital of the United States had the misfortune of finding itself suddenly bordering enemy territory. A line of artillery placed atop Virginia’s Potomac River ridgeline — the very home of the Confederate’s leading general, Robert E. Lee — would have reduced the city of Washington and all its iconic structures to rubble. That’s exactly why the Union army marched across the river within 12 hours of Virginia’s secession and seized the highlands for the duration of the war. They then constructed a ring of 68 forts completely around the city [my visit to one] and dug in for the next four years.
This got me thinking about what would happen geographically if one or more states decided to secede today. Could a split ever replicate the situation of a capital city suddenly abutting "enemy" territory? I considered that as a purely hypothetical scenario. I don’t know of any reasons why this would ever happen. Neither would I wish to trivialize or diminish the very serious causes behind the Civil War a century and a half ago, so I hope nobody takes it that way.
However, if we were to start splitting individual states from each other for whatever reason, which state (now national) capitals would suddenly appear vulnerably along a border? I know it doesn’t make much difference today with bombers and long-range missiles and such, but let’s suspend our disbelief for a moment and go with it. The list is smaller than I imagined.
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Trenton seems to be the best example. Nothing but the Delaware River separates the capital of New Jersey from Pennsylvania. Technically the same is true for Carson City, Nevada although Lake Tahoe might serve as an effective buffer from California. Juneau, Alaska sits on an international border today (remember the trick question?) although the habitable portion clings to the Gastineau Channel with huge mountains and an icefield separating it from Canada. Plus, Canada doesn’t seem to have much of a desire to invade Alaska anytime soon.
A few others come close. Cheyenne, Wyoming is about ten miles from Colorado. St. Paul, Minnesota is maybe thirty miles from Wisconsin. Providence, Rhode Island extends nearly to Massachusetts but nearly everything in Rhode Island is near a border, so is it even a useful example?
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An even better instance exists just a bit further north. This is all that separates Ottawa, the Canadian capital, in the province of Ontario from the province of Québec. Should Québec ever secede from Canada, well… let’s just hope it ended amicably.