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1850-1877: The Civil War: Chronology

1850-1877: The Civil War: Chronology




  • 12 Apr . South Carolina artillerymen fire upon Fort Sumter, a Union stronghold located in Charleston Harbor.
  • 13 Apr . After forty thousand shells hit the fort, Union Maj. Robert Anderson surrenders Fort Sumter to Confederate forces.
  • 15 Apr. President of the United States Abraham Lincoln issues a call for seventy-five thousand three-month volunteers; African Americans are rejected.
  • 19 Apr . Lincoln orders a naval blockade of all Confederate ports. Southern sympathizers attack Massachusetts militiamen in Baltimore.
  • 19 Apr . Dorothea Dix volunteers to supervise women nurses for the Federal army.
  • 20 Apr . Robert E. Lee resigns his commission in the Federal army and sides with the Confederacy.
  • 27 Apr. Lincoln suspends the writ of habeas corpus from Philadelphia to Washington.
  • 3 May Union General-in-Chief Winfield Scott announces his Anaconda Plan, a naval blockade of the Southern coastline in conjunction with a land attack along the Mississippi River. Lincoln calls for forty-two thousand additional volunteers as well as eighteen thousand sailors.
  • 6 May Confederate president Jefferson Davis approves a bill declaring a state of war between the United States and the Confederate States.
  • 13 May Queen Victoria declares English neutrality and grants each side in the American conflict the status of belligerent.
  • 24 May While removing a Confederate flag from a hotel roof in Alexandria, Virginia, Union officer Elmer Ellsworth becomes the first combat casualty of the war after he is killed by the innkeeper, James T. Jackson; Union troops then shoot and kill Jackson. Both men are recognized as martyrs by their respective regions.
  • 31 May Confederate general P. G. T. Beauregard is given command over all Confederate troops in northern Virginia.
  • 4 July Lincoln sends out a call for an additional four hundred thousand recruits.
  • 13 July Union forces defeat Southern troops at Carrickford, Virginia, and take control of the entire area known as West Virginia. Union casualties are fifty-three, while the Confederates lose twenty.
  • 21 July In the first major battle of the war, Confederate troops defeat Federal soldiers at the First Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia. Southern losses equal 387 dead as opposed to 460 for the Union.
  • 25 July Congress passes the Crittenden Resolution, which states that the war will be fought to preserve the Union, not to destroy slavery.
  • 27 July Lincoln removes Gen. Irvin McDowell as commander of the Army of the Potomac and replaces him with Gen. George B. McClellan.
  • 10 Aug . At Wilsons Creek, Missouri, Confederate troops defeat Union forces in the second major battle between the two adversaries.
  • 30 Aug . Gen. John Fremont places Missouri under martial law and authorizes Federal troops to confiscate all Confederate property. Fremont also frees all slaves in the state who belong to Confederate sympathizers.
  • 2 Sept . Abraham Lincoln notifies Fremont that his edict may move the border states toward secession.
  • 1 Oct . Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his military staff decide to wait until the spring before attacking the Northern states.
  • 3 Oct . Louisiana governor Thomas O. Moore bans the shipment of cotton to Europe. Moore hopes to pressure England and France into recognizing Southern independence.
  • 14 Oct . Lincoln suspends the writ of habeas corpus from Maine to Washington, D.C.
  • 21 Oct . Union troops are defeated at the Battle of Balls Bluff near Leesburg, Virginia. Sen. Edward Baker, one of Lincolns close friends, is killed during the fighting. Northern casualties are more than a thousand compared to less than one hundred for Southern forces.
  • 24 Oct . Lincoln signs orders replacing Fremont with Gen. David Hunter.
  • 1 Nov. Union General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, a veteran of both the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, resigns his post because of his age and personality clashes with younger subordinates. Lincoln promotes George B. McClellan to become Scotts replacement.
  • 8 Nov . In the Caribbean the captain of the U.S.S. San Jacinto stops the British frigate Trent and arrests two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell, who are on their way to Europe. This incident, known as the Trent Affair, sparks a diplomatic crisis between the United States and Great Britain and almost leads to war.
  • 9 Dec . The United States Senate establishes the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War to address rumors of military incompetence at First Bull Run and Balls Bluff.


  • 11 Jan . Under criticism that his office suffers from corruption and mismanagement, Secretary of War Simon Cameron submits his resignation. Lincoln chooses Edwin Stanton, former attorney general and personal friend of General-in-Chief George McClellan, to fill the post.
  • 27 Jan . Lincoln releases General War Order No. 1, calling for a Union offensive by 22 February.
  • 6-16 Feb. Confederate forces at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Tennessee, surrender to Union troops under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. As a result of his victories Grant is promoted to major general.
  • 24 Feb . Nashville becomes the first major city in the South to fall to Union forces.
  • 27 Feb . Confederate president Jefferson Davis suspends the writ of habeas corpus.
  • 9 Mar . In the worlds first clash between ironclad warships, the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia fight to a draw off the coast of Hampton Roads, Virginia.
  • 11 Mar . Due to a lack of initiative on the part of McClellan, Lincoln removes his title as general-in-chief, but retains his services as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
  • 13 Mar . Lincoln approves General McClellans plan for operations along the coast of Virginia.
  • 4 Apr . General McClellan moves against Yorktown, Virginia, in order to establish a base between the James and York Rivers on the peninsula.
  • 6-7 Apr. Union forces win a costly victory at Shiloh, Tennessee.
  • 16 Apr . Confederate president Jefferson Davis approves a bill instituting the first military draft in American history.
  • 25 Apr . New Orleans falls to Union commander David Farragut.
  • 9 May Union general David Hunter, commander of the Department of the South, frees slaves in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida without congressional approval; Lincoln countermands the order several days later.
  • 13 May Robert Smalls, a slave working for the Confederate navy, steals the steamer Planter from Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, and surrenders the ship to Union blockading forces.
  • 20 May Gen. George McClellan stops his advance toward Richmond, eight miles outside the Confederate capitol.
  • 25 May Lincoln orders McClellan to attack Richmond or return to Washington.
  • 31 May Confederate general Joseph Johnston is wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines. Robert E. Lee replaces Johnston the following day as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.
  • 6 June Memphis, Tennessee, surrenders to Union naval forces.
  • 25 June-2 July During the Seven Days Battle, Virginia, Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee push Federal troops back to the peninsula between the James and York Rivers.
  • 11 July Abraham Lincoln names Henry W. Halleck as Union general-in-chief
  • 17 July Lincoln signs the Second Confiscation Act, which frees slaves that flee to Union lines.
  • 22 July Lincoln informs his cabinet about his intention to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • 4 Aug . Lincoln institutes a military draft calling for 300,000 new enlistees. The act, however, does not go into effect because 421,000 Northerners volunteer to join the Union army for three years.
  • 28-30 Aug. At the Second Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, Confederate troops once again defeat Union forces.
  • 17 Sept . At Antietam Creek, Maryland, Gen. George McClellan forces Gen. Robert E. Lee to retreat into Virginia in the bloodiest day of both the war and American history.
  • 22 Sept . Lincoln publishes the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
  • 27 Sept . In New Orleans, Union general Benjamin F. The Beast Butler musters the first official African American regiment into the Union army, the First Louisiana Native Guard Infantry.
  • 11 Oct . Southern critics label the war a rich mans war and a poor mans fight after Confederate president Jefferson Davis amends his draft law to exempt anyone owning twenty or more slaves.
  • 5 Nov . Lincoln retires McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac and replaces him with Ambrose E. Burnside.
  • 13 Dec . At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Lee turns back an offensive by Burnside.
  • 17 Dec . In the Western theater, Ulysses S. Grant issues General Order No. 11 expelling Jews from his area of operation. Grant rescinds the order a few weeks later.


  • 1 Jan . President Abraham Lincoln of the United States issues the Emancipation Proclamation. Except for the border states (Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware) and those enemy areas already under Union control, the proclamation frees all slaves located in the Southern states.
  • 25 Jan . Lincoln replaces Ambrose E. Burnside with Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meanwhile John A. > Andrew, the governor of Massachusetts, receives permission to recruit African Americans, and the FiftyFourth Massachusetts Infantry becomes the first black regiment from the North.
  • 3 Mar . Lincoln signs the Unions first Conscription Act, calling for the enlistment of all male citizens between the ages of twenty and forty-five. The bill allows chapters to hire a substitute for $300.
  • 1-4 May At the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, Lee repels another Union offensive, but the South suffers a blow when Gen. Thomas Stonewall Jackson is wounded by friendly fire.
  • 10 May Stonewall Jackson dies from pneumonia.
  • 22 May In Mississippi, Grant places Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, under siege.
  • 23 May The Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, leads to a prolonged siege; it is the first major engagement in which African American troops participate.
  • 3 June Confederate general Robert E. Lee decides to invade the North and moves his army from Fredericksburg, Virginia, toward the Maryland border.
  • 16 June Lee moves the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River into Mary land.
  • 27 June Abraham Lincoln removes Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac and replaces him with George Meade.
  • 1-3 July At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in some of the fiercest fighting of the war, Meade inflicts a decisive defeat upon Lee, forcing the Southern army to retreat into Virginia. Both sides suffer a total of fifty thousand casualties. Lees army, having lost seventeen generals and one-third of its strength, never attempts to invade the North again.
  • 4 July After a six-week siege, Vicksburg, Mississippi, falls to Federal forces under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and over twenty-nine thousand Confederates become prisoners
  • 8 July Port Hudson, Louisiana, surrenders to Union forces, who now control the entire Mississippi River. Confederate cavalry commander John H. Morgan crosses the Ohio River and begins his raids into Indiana and southern Ohio.
  • 13-16 July A draft riot occurs in New York City in which approximately one thousand people are killed or wounded before Federal troops restore order.
  • 18 July The all-black Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Infantry attacks and suffers heavy losses at Battery Wagner, South Carolina. Journalists on the scene later immortalize the assault in magazines and newspapers.
  • 26 July Militiamen capture John Morgan and his Confederate cavalry at New Lisbon, Ohio.
  • 8 Aug . Gen. Robert E. Lee offers his resignation. Confederate president Jefferson Davis refuses to accept it, noting that the Confederacy cannot afford to lose his leadership capabilities.
  • 21 Aug . Confederate guerrilla fighter William Quantrill burns Lawrence, Kansas, and murders more than 150 men and boys. The raid alienates many Southerners who see the war as a moral crusade.
  • 19-20 Sept. In a major battle at Chickamauga, Georgia, Confederate troops force Federal troops to retreat into Tennessee. The number of casualties on both sides reaches thirty-five thousand, including Lincolns brother-in-law, Confederate general Ben Hardin Helm.
  • 16 Oct . Lincoln chooses Ulysses S. Grant to command all Union forces in the west.
  • 19 Nov . Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address.
  • 23-25 Nov. A Union victory at Chattanooga, Tennessee, forces the Confederates to retreat into Georgia, abandoning Knoxville and leaving Tennessee under Union control.
  • 8 Dec . Lincoln presents his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, offering a full pardon to Confederates who take an oath of allegiance.
  • 12 Dec . The Confederate government refuses to accept supplies sent from the Northernstates to Union prisoners of war.


  • 18 Jan . Confederate president Jefferson Davis issues a conscription law enlisting all white males between the ages of eighteen and forty-five (later seventeen and fifty) into the Confederate army.
  • 1 Feb . Lincoln calls for an additional five hundred thousand enlistees for the Union army.
  • 3-14 Feb. During operations in Mississippi, Union general William T. Sherman occupies the town of Meridian. Sherman destroys buildings, supplies, and railroads in his path, a tactic that he will later implement in his infamous March to the Sea.
  • 27 Feb . At Andersonville, Georgia, Union prisoners arrive at an unfinished, sixteen and-one-half-acre log stockade. The prison quickly gains notoriety for its uninhabitable conditions.
  • 9 Mar . Lincoln promotes Ulysses S. Grant to lieutenant general and general-in-chief of all Union armies.
  • 12 Apr . Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest capture Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in the process murdering black soldiers who are trying to surrender. Remember Fort Pillow! becomes a rallying cry for African American troops.
  • 3 May The Army of the Potomac (122,000 men) advances toward Richmond and the Army of Northern Virginia (66,000 men).
  • 4 May In the west Gen. William T. Sherman leaves Chattanooga with 110,000 men and advances toward Atlanta.
  • 5-6 May The armies of Grant and Lee fight an inconclusive battle in thick woods at Wilderness, Virginia. Casualties are heavy, more than twenty-five thousand for both sides, as brush fires in the forest kill many wounded soldiers.
  • 8-12 May Unlike his predecessors who failed to keep pressure on the enemy, Ulysses S. Grant pursues Robert E. Lee after Wilderness and fights the Confederate army for five days at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia; the battle ends in a draw.
  • 12 May The Confederate cavalry general Jeb Stuart dies from wounds suffered the previous day at Yellow Tavern, outside Richmond.
  • 1-3 June At Cold Harbor, Virginia, Grant attempts to outflank Lee in another inconclusive battle which produces heavy casualties on both sides. After one month of continual fighting the Union casualties reach 50,000 (41 percent of their original strength) while Southern losses equal 32,000 (46 percent of their original strength).
  • 15-18 June Lee repulses several assaults by Grant upon Petersburg, Virginia, an important railroad center. Grant places the city under siege.
  • 25 June The Forty-Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment, a unit of former coal miners, begins digging a mine underneath the Confederate breastworks at Petersburg.
  • 27 June At Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, Confederate forces repel an assault by Gen. William T. Sherman, resulting in heavy losses for the Federals.
  • 12 July After maneuvering to the outskirts of Washington, D.C., Confederate cavalry general Jubal Early retreats into Virginia rather than face newly arrived Union reinforcements.
  • 17 July Confederate president Jefferson Davis replaces Gen. Joseph E. Johnston with Gen. John Bell Hood after Johnston fails to stop Shermans advance.
  • 20-28 July In a series of assaults, Hood attacks Shermans forces on the outskirts of Atlanta. Hoods men fail to dislodge the Federals and suffer heavy losses.
  • 30 July Union forces blow up the mine under Confederate fortifications at Petersburg, but fail to take the city.
  • 5 Aug . Union admiral David Farragut captures Mobile, Alabama. During the battle Farragut utters his famous cry, Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!
  • 2 Sept . Atlanta falls to Union general William T. Sherman.
  • 19 Sept- 9 Oct. Union cavalry general Philip Sheridan drives Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early from the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia.
  • 16 Nov . Sherman leaves Atlanta and begins his March to the Sea.
  • 30 Nov . Gen. John B. Hood attacks Union forces at Franklin, Tennessee, and suffers heavy losses, including the death of six generals. Union general John M. Schofield withdraws to Nashville to reinforce Gen. George H. Thomas.
  • 15-17 Dec. Thomas attacks Hood outside Nashville and nearly annihilates the Southern force. This is the last major battle fought by the Confederate Army of Tennessee.
  • 21 Dec . Gen. William T. Sherman takes Savannah, Georgia, without a fight.


  • 15 Jan . A joint assault by Union army and navy forces capture Fort Fisher, a Confederate stronghold protecting Wilmington, North Carolina.
  • 16 Jan . Sherman issues his Special Field Order No. 15, which sets aside land along the Georgia coast for the exclusive settlement of African American refugees.
  • 17 Feb . Sherman captures Columbia, South Carolina. Fires set by fleeing Confederate soldiers as well as by some of Shermans men nearly destroy the capital city.
  • 22 Feb . Union forces capture Wilmington, North Carolina, the last open Confederate port.
  • 3 Mar . U.S. president Abraham Lincoln orders Ulysses S. Grant to reject Robert E. Lees request for peace negotiations unless Lee intends to surrender first.
  • 13Mar. Confederate president Jefferson Davis signs a bill allowing African Americans to enlist in the Confederate army.
  • 27-28 Mar. Lincoln meets with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. William T. Sherman, and Adm. David D. Porter, directing each of them to offer Southerners generous terms of surrender to avoid postwar guerrilla activity.
  • 1 Apr . In one of the last battles of the war, Union cavalry general Philip Sheridan and a force of fifty thousand rout ten thousand Confederates at Five Forks, Virginia.
  • 2 Apr . Robert E. Lee abandons Petersburg and notifies President Jefferson Davis to move the Confederate government from Richmond.
  • 3 Apr . Union forces take Richmond without a fight; Lincoln arrives the following day.
  • 6 Apr . In the last battle between the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac, Southern troops lose one-third of their total strength at Saylers Creek, Virginia.
  • 9 Apr . Robert E. Lee formally surrenders at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.
  • 14 Apr . John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln.
  • 18 Apr . Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston formally surrenders to Union general William T. Sherman at Durham Station, North Carolina, to end hostilities between the North and South officially.

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