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The U.S. Civil War: A Historical Timeline

The U.S. Civil War: A Historical Timeline

JanuaryThe South Secedes. 
When Abraham Lincoln, a known opponent of slavery, is elected president, and the South Carolina legislature perceives a threat. Calling a state convention, the delegates vote to remove the state of South Carolina from the union known as the United States of America. The secession of South Carolina is followed by the secession of six more states—Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—and the threat of secession by four more, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These eleven states eventually form the Confederate States of America.
The South Creates a Government.
At a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, the seven seceding states create the Confederate Constitution, a document similar to the United States Constitution, but with greater stress on the autonomy of each state. Jefferson Davis is named provisional president of the Confederacy until elections could be held.
The South Seizes Federal Forts.
When President Buchanan—Lincoln's predecessor—refuses to surrender southern federal forts to the seceding states, southern state troops seize them. At Fort Sumter, South Carolina troops repulse a supply ship trying to reach federal forces based in the fort. The ship is forced to return to New York, its supplies undelivered.
MarchLincoln's Inauguration.
At Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, the new president says he has no plans to end slavery in those states where it already exists, but he also says he would not accept secession. He hopes to resolve the national crisis without warfare.
AprilAttack on Fort Sumter.
When President Lincoln plans to send supplies to Fort Sumter, he alerts the state in advance, in an attempt to avoid hostilities. South Carolina, however, fears a trick; the commander of the fort, Robert Anderson, is asked to surrender immediately. Anderson offers to surrender, but only after he has exhausted his supplies. His offer is rejected, and on April 12, the Civil War begins with shots fired on the fort. Fort Sumter eventually was surrendered to South Carolina.
 Four More States Join the Confederacy.
The attack on Fort Sumter prompts four more states to join the Confederacy. With Virginia's secession, Richmond was named the Confederate capitol.
JuneWest Virginia Is Born.
Residents of the western counties of Virginia do not wish to secede along with the rest of the state. This section of Virginia is admitted into the Union as the state of West Virginia on June 20, 1863.
 Four Slave States Stay in the Union.
Despite their acceptance of slavery, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri do not join the Confederacy. Although divided in their loyalties, a combination of political maneuvering and Union military pressure keep these states from seceding.
First Battle of Bull Run.
Public demand pushes General-in-Chief Winfield Scott to advance on the South before adequately training his untried troops. Scott orders General Irvin McDowell to advance on Confederate troops stationed at Manassas Junction, Virginia. McDowell attacks on July 21, and is initially successful, but the introduction of Confederate reinforcements results in a Southern victory and a chaotic retreat toward Washington by federal troops.
General McDowell Is Replaced.
Suddenly aware of the threat of a protracted war and the army's need for organization and training, Lincoln replaces McDowell with General George B. McClellan.
A Blockade of the South.
To blockade the coast of the Confederacy effectively, the federal navy has to be improved. By July, the effort at improvement has made a difference and an effective blockade begins. The South responds by building small, fast ships that could outmaneuver Union vessels.
NovemberA Blockade of the South.
On November 7, Captain Samuel F. Dupont's warships silence Confederate guns in Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard. This victory enables General Thomas W. Sherman's troops to occupy first Port Royal and then all the famous Sea Islands of South Carolina.
JanuaryAbraham Lincoln Takes Action.
On January 27, President Lincoln issues a war order authorizing the Union to launch a unified aggressive action against the Confederacy. General McClellan ignores the order.
McClellan Loses Command.
On March 8, President Lincoln, impatient with General McClellan's inactivity, issues an order reorganizing the Army of Virginia and relieving McClellan of supreme command. McClellan is given command of the Army of the Potomac, and ordered to attack Richmond. This marks the beginning of the Peninsular Campaign.
Battle of the "Monitor" and the "Merrimac."
In an attempt to reduce the North's great naval advantage, Confederate engineers convert a scuttled Union frigate, the USS Merrimac, into an iron-sided vessel rechristened the CSS Virginia. On March 9, in the first naval engagement between ironclad ships, the Monitor fights the Virginia to a draw, but not before the Virginia has sunk two wooden Union warships off Norfolk, Virginia.
The Battle of Shiloh.
On April 6, Confederate forces attack Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh, Tennessee. By the end of the day, the federal troops are almost defeated. Yet, during the night, reinforcements arrive, and by the next morning the Union command the field. When Confederate forces retreat, the exhausted federal forces do not follow. Casualties are heavy—13,000 out of 63,000 Union soldiers died, and 11,000 of 40,000 Confederate troops were killed.
Fort Pulaski, Georgia.
General Quincy A. Gillmore batters Fort Pulaski, the imposing masonry structure near the mouth of the Savannah River, into submission in less than two days, April 10–11, 1862.
New Orleans.
Flag Officer David Farragut leads an assault up the Mississippi River. By April 25, he is in command of New Orleans.
The Peninsular Campaign.
In April, General McClellan's troops leave northern Virginia to begin the Peninsular Campaign. By May 4, they occupy Yorktown, Virginia. At Williamsburg, Confederate forces prevent McClellan from meeting the main part of the Confederate army, and McClellan halts his troops, awaiting reinforcements.
May"Stonewall" Jackson Defeats Union Forces.
Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, commanding forces in the Shenandoah Valley, attacks Union forces in late March, forcing them to retreat across the Potomac. As a result, Union troops are rushed to protect Washington, D.C.
 The Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks).
On May 31, the Confederate army attacks federal forces at Seven Pines, almost defeating them; last-minute reinforcements save the Union from a serious defeat. Confederate commander Joseph E. Johnston is severely wounded, and command of the Army of Northern Virginia falls to Robert E. Lee.
June–JulyThe Seven Days' Battles.
Between June 26 and July 2, Union and Confederate forces fight a series of battles: Mechanicsville (June 26–27), Gaines' Mill (June 27), Savage's Station (June 29), Frayser's Farm (June 30), and Malvern Hill (July 1). On July 2, the Confederates withdraw to Richmond, ending the Peninsular Campaign.
JulyA New Commander of the Union Army.
On July 11, Major-General Henry Halleck is named general-in-chief of the Union army.
AugustPope's Campaign.
Union General John Pope suffers defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 29-30. General Fitz-John Porter is held responsible for the defeat because he has failed to commit his troops to battle quickly enough; he is forced out of the army by 1863.
Harper's Ferry.
Union General McClellan defeats Confederate General Lee at South Mountain and Crampton's Gap in September, but does not move quickly enough to save Harper's Ferry, which falls to Confederate General Jackson on September 15, along with a great number of men and a large body of supplies.
On September 17, Confederate forces under General Lee are caught by General McClellan near Sharpsburg, Maryland. This battle proves to be the bloodiest day of the war—2,108 Union soldiers are killed and 9,549 wounded, and 2,700 Confederates are killed and 9,029 wounded. The battle has no clear winner, but because General Lee withdraws to Virginia, McClellan is considered the victor. The battle convinces the British and French—who were contemplating official recognition of the Confederacy—to reserve action. It also gives Lincoln the opportunity to announce his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (September 22), which would free all slaves in areas rebelling against the United States, effective January 1, 1863.
NovemberThe Battle of Fredericksburg.
General McClellan's slow movements, combined with General Lee's escape, and continued raiding by Confederate cavalry, dismay many in the North. On November 7, Lincoln replaces McClellan with Major-General Ambrose E. Burnside. Burnside's forces are defeated in a series of attacks against entrenched Confederate forces at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Burnside is replaced with General Joseph Hooker.
JanuaryEmancipation Proclamation.
In an effort to placate the slave-holding border states, Lincoln resists the demands of radical Republicans for complete abolition. Yet some Union generals, such as General B.F. Butler, declare slaves escaping to their lines "contraband of war," not to be returned to their masters. Other generals decree that the slaves of men rebelling against the Union are to be considered free. Congress, too, has been moving toward abolition. In 1861, Congress had passed an act stating that all slaves employed against the Union were to be considered free. In 1862, another act stated that all slaves of men who supported the Confederacy were to be considered free. Lincoln, aware of the public's growing support of abolition, issues the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring that all slaves in areas still in rebellion are, in the eyes of the federal government, free.
MarchThe First Conscription Act.
Because of recruiting difficulties, an act is passed making all men between the ages of 20 and 45 liable to be called for military service. Service could be avoided by paying a fee or finding a substitute. The act is seen as unfair to the poor, and riots in working-class sections of New York City break out in protest. A similar conscription act in the South provokes a similar reaction.
MayThe Battle of Chancellorsville.
On April 27, Union General Hooker crosses the Rappahannock River to attack General Lee's forces. Lee splits his army, attacking a surprised Union army in three places and almost completely defeating them. Hooker withdraws across the Rappahannock River, giving the South a victory, but it is the Confederates' most costly victory in terms of casualties.
 The Vicksburg Campaign.
Union General Grant wins several victories around Vicksburg, Mississippi, the fortified city considered essential to the Union's plans to regain control of the Mississippi River. On May 22, Grant begins a siege of the city. After six weeks, Confederate General John Pemberton surrenders, giving up the city and 30,000 men. The capture of Port Hudson, Louisiana, shortly thereafter places the entire Mississippi River in Union hands. The Confederacy is split in two.
June–JulyThe Gettysburg Campaign.
Confederate General Lee decides to take the war to the enemy. On June 13, he defeats Union forces at Winchester, Virginia, and continues north to Pennsylvania. General Hooker, who had been planning to attack Richmond, is instead forced to follow Lee. Hooker, never comfortable with his commander, General Halleck, resigns on June 28, and General George Meade replaces him as commander of the Army of the Potomac. On July 1, a chance encounter between Union and Confederate forces begins the Battle of Gettysburg. In the fighting that follows, Meade has greater numbers and better defensive positions. He wins the battle, but fails to follow Lee as he retreats back to Virginia. Militarily, the Battle of Gettysburg is the high-water mark of the Confederacy; it is also significant because it ended Confederate hopes of formal recognition by foreign governments. On November 19, President Lincoln dedicates a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield as a national cemetery, and delivers his memorable "Gettysburg Address."
SeptemberThe Battle of Chickamauga.
On September 19, Union and Confederate forces meet on the Tennessee-Georgia border, near Chickamauga Creek. After the battle, Union forces retreat to Chattanooga, and the Confederacy maintains control of the battlefield.
NovemberThe Battle of Chattanooga.
On November 23–25, Union forces push Confederate troops away from Chattanooga. The victory sets the stage for General Sherman's Atlanta Campaign.
After Rosecrans' debacle at Chickamauga, September 19–20, 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg's army occupies the mountains that ring the vital railroad center of Chattanooga. Grant, brought in to save the situation, steadily builds up offensive strength, and on November 23-25, bursts the blockade in a series of brilliantly executed attacks. The photographs, probably all taken the following year when Chattanooga was the base for Sherman's Atlanta campaign, include scenes on Lookout Mountain, stormed by Hooker on November 24.
November–DecemberThe Siege of Knoxville.
The difficult strategic situation of the federal armies after Chickamauga enable Bragg to detach a force under Longstreet to drive Burnside out of eastern Tennessee. Burnside seeks refuge in Knoxville, which he successfully defends from Confederate assaults.
MayGrant's Wilderness Campaign.
General Grant, promoted to commander of the Union armies, plans to engage Lee's forces in Virginia until they are destroyed. North and South meet and fight in an inconclusive three-day battle in the Wilderness. Lee inflicts more casualties on the Union forces than his own army incurs, but unlike Grant, he has no replacements.
 The Battle of Spotsylvania.
General Grant continues to attack Lee. At Spotsylvania Court House, he fights for five days, vowing to fight all summer if necessary.
JuneThe Battle of Cold Harbor.
Grant again attacks Confederate forces at Cold Harbor, losing over 7,000 men in twenty minutes. Although Lee suffers fewer casualties, his army never recovers from Grant's continual attacks. This is Lee's last clear victory of the war.
 The Siege of Petersburg.
Grant hopes to take Petersburg, below Richmond, and then approach the Confederate capital from the south. The attempt fails, resulting in a ten-month siege and the loss of thousands of lives on both sides. General Benjamin F. Butler's command is in the vicinity of Petersburg as early as May 11, missing its opportunity to capture this vital railroad center.
JulyConfederate Troops Approach Washington, D.C.
Confederate General Jubal Early leads his forces into Maryland to relieve the pressure on Lee's army. Early gets within five miles of Washington, D.C., but on July 13, he is driven back to Virginia.
AugustGeneral William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign.
Union General Sherman departs Chattanooga, and is soon met by Confederate General Joseph Johnston. Skillful strategy enables Johnston to hold off Sherman's force, almost twice the size of Johnston's. However, Johnston's tactics cause his superiors to replace him with General John Bell Hood, who is soon defeated. Hood surrenders Atlanta, Georgia, on September 1; Sherman occupies the city the next day. The fall of Atlanta greatly boosts Northern morale.
September–NovemberSherman in Atlanta.
After three and a half months of incessant maneuvering and much hard fighting, Sherman forces Hood to abandon Atlanta, the munitions center of the Confederacy. Sherman remains there, resting his war-worn men and accumulating supplies, for nearly two and a half months.
NovemberGeneral William T. Sherman's March to the Sea.
General Sherman continues his march through Georgia to the sea. In the course of the march, he cuts himself off from his source of supplies, planning for his troops to live off the land. His men cut a path 300 miles (485 km) in length and 60 miles (100 km) wide as they pass through Georgia, destroying factories, bridges, railroads, and public buildings.
 Abraham Lincoln Is Re-Elected.
The Republican party nominates President Abraham Lincoln as its presidential candidate and Andrew Johnson for vice president. The Democratic party chooses General George B. McClellan for president and George Pendleton for vice president. At one point, widespread war-weariness in the North makes a victory for Lincoln seem doubtful. In addition, Lincoln's veto of the Wade-Davis Bill—requiring the majority of the electorate in each Confederate state to swear past and future loyalty to the Union before the state could officially be restored—lose him the support of Radical Republicans who think Lincoln too lenient. However, Sherman's victory in Atlanta boosts Lincoln's popularity and helps him win re-election by a wide margin.
DecemberSherman at the Sea.
After marching through Georgia, Sherman storms Fort McAllister on December 13, 1864, and captures Savannah itself eight days later.
 Hood before Nashville.
Continuing his policy of taking the offensive at any cost, General John B. Hood brings his reduced army before the defenses of Nashville, where it is repulsed by General George H. Thomas on December 15–16, in the most complete victory of the war.
Fort Fisher, North Carolina.
After Admiral David D. Porter's squadron of warships subjects Fort Fisher to a terrific bombardment, General Alfred H. Terry's troops take it by storm on January 15. Wilmington, North Carolina, the last resort of the blockade-runners, is sealed off. Timothy H. O'Sullivan promptly records the strength of the works and the effects of the bombardment.
The Fall of the Confederacy.
Transportation problems and successful blockades cause severe shortages of food and supplies in the South. Starving soldiers begin to desert Lee's forces, and although Confederate President Jefferson Davis approves the arming of slaves as a means of augmenting the shrinking army, the measure is never put into effect.
Sherman Marches through North and South Carolina.
Union General Sherman moves from Georgia through South Carolina, destroying almost everything in his path.
A Chance for Reconciliation Is Lost.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis agrees to send delegates to a peace conference with President Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward, but insists on Lincoln's recognition of the South's independence as a prerequisite. Lincoln refuses, and the conference never occurs.
Fallen Richmond.
On March 25, General Lee attacks General Grant's forces near Petersburg, but is defeated; he attacks and loses again on April 1. On April 2, Lee evacuates Richmond, the Confederate capital, and heads west to join other forces.
Surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
General Lee's troops are soon surrounded, and on April 7, Grant calls upon Lee to surrender. On April 9, the two commanders meet at Appomattox Courthouse and agree on the terms of surrender. Lee's men are sent home on parole—soldiers with their horses, and officers with their sidearms. All other equipment is surrendered.
The Assassination of President Lincoln.
On April 14, as President Lincoln is watching a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., he is shot by John Wilkes Booth, an actor from Maryland obsessed with avenging the Confederate defeat. Lincoln dies the next morning. Booth escapes to Virginia. Eleven days later, cornered in a burning barn, Booth is fatally shot by a Union soldier. Nine other people are involved in the assassination; four are hanged, four imprisoned, and one acquitted.
April–MayFinal Surrenders among Remaining Confederate Troops.
Remaining Confederate troops are defeated between the end of April and the end of May. Jefferson Davis is captured in Georgia on May 10.
NovemberThe Execution of Captain Henry Wirz.
The notorious superintendent of the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, is tried by a military commission presided over by General Lew Wallace from August 23 to October 24, 1865, and is hanged in the yard of the Old Capitol Prison on November 10.

Source: Library of Congress

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