Timeline of Civil War Events
and Selected Documents from MHS's Collection

1861


  • 5 January -- John A. Andrew inaugurated as governor of Massachusetts
  • 8 January -- Governor Andrew organizes a 100 gun salute on Boston Common to commemorate the Battle of New Orleans (1815) and awaken patriotic spirit in the residents of Massachusetts
  • 9 January -- Mississippi secedes; Star of the West is turned back by Southern fire while attempting to bring supplies and reinforcements to Fort Sumter
  • 10 January -- Florida secedes
  • 11 January -- Alabama secedes
  • 16 January -- Governor Andrew issues General Order No. 4 calling for the reorganization of the state militia so that it is ready to serve when called
  • 18 January -- Massachusetts is first state to offer men and money to maintain the authority of the federal government
  • 19 January -- Georgia secedes; Virginia proposes a peace conference to discuss the current crisis
  • 21 January -- Jefferson Davis and four other southern senators leave Washington
  • 26 January -- Louisiana secedes
  • 1 February -- Texas adopts an Ordinance of Secession
  • 4 February -- The peace conference, proposed by Virginia, convenes at the Willard Hotel in Washington
  • 8 February -- The Confederate States of America forms in Montgomery, Alabama by convention of delegates from the seceded states
  • 9 February -- Jefferson Davis elected President of the Confederate States for a term of six years
  • 12 February -- Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky presents to the Senate a petition signed by 22,000 Massachusetts residents supporting compromise to preserve the Union
  • 27 February -- The peace conference adjourns after submitting a proposal to Congress
  • 2 March -- Texas admitted into the Confederate States of America
  • 4 March -- President Lincoln inaugurated as the sixteenth President of the United States
  • 11 March -- President Lincoln and his Cabinet decide to withdraw troops from Fort Sumter
  • 13 March -- Lt. Gustavus Vasa Fox of Massachusetts meets with President Lincoln to discuss his plan for reprovisioning Fort Sumter
  • 16 March -- President Lincoln commissions Robert E. Lee as Colonel in the 1st U.S. Cavalry
  • 20 March -- President Lincoln appoints Massachusetts congressman Charles Francis Adams as Minister to Great Britain
  • 29 March -- President Lincoln and his Cabinet reverse their decision to withdraw from Fort Sumter and President Lincoln orders a mission to reprovision the fort
  • 12 April -- Fort Sumter fired upon by Confederate forces under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard while federal government attempts to provision the fort
  • 13 April  -- Major Robert Anderson surrenders Fort Sumter
  • 15 April -- President Lincoln issues a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve a term of three months in defense of the Union
  • 17 April  -- Virginia committee votes for secession 
  • 19 April  -- The Massachusetts Sixth Volunteer Infantry is attacked by a mob of Southern sympathizers in Baltimore while enroute to Washington; four soldiers and twelve civilians are killed
  • 20 April  -- Robert E. Lee tenders his resignation to the United States War Department
  • 25 April  -- More than 2000 militiamen from multiple states (including New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts) arrive in Washington to defend the capital
  • 29 April-- Maryland House of Delegates votes against secession
  • 1 May -- The four Massachusetts soldiers killed in Baltimore on April 19 are honored in Boston
  • 3 May  -- President Lincoln calls for additional 42,000 volunteers for three years of service
  • 5 May -- General Benjamin Butler secures B&O railroad line running between Baltimore & Washington
  • 6 May-- Tennessee and Arkansas pass secession ordinances; Great Britain recognizes the Confederate States of America as a belligerent, but not as a nation
  • 8 May  -- Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles appoints Gustavas Vasa Fox chief clerk of the Navy
  • 9 May-- US Naval Academy & USS Constitution arrive at new home in Newport, RI
  • 20 May-- North Carolina secedes
  • 24 May -- Federal troops capture Alexandria, Virginia; Col. Elmer Ellsworth of the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry is killed
  • 26 May -- Dorothea Dix is authorized to begin establishing military hospitals
  • 1 June -- Skirmish at Fairfax Court House, Virginia
  • 3 June-- The "Philippi Races" is a minor actions, but victory for the Union side
  • 8 June -- Tennessee secedes
  • 10 June -- Battle at Big Bethel, Virginia leaves 1 Confederate and 18 Union soliders dead
  • 11 - 25 June -- The second Wheeling Convention meets in Wheeling, Virginia, nullifying seccession, establishing a 'restored' government, and laying the groundwork for the creation of West Virginia
  • 17 June -- Use of communication by telegraph from balloon successfully tested in Washington
  • 18 June -- President Lincoln signs legislation authorizing formation of the United States Sanitary Commission
  • 27 June-- General Nathaniel Banks arrests Baltitmore chief of police for being a southern sympathizer
  • 1 July -- The War Department authorizes raising of Union troops in Kentucky and Tennessee
  • 4 July -- Independence Day is celebrated in both the North and South
  • 13 July -- Confederate General Robert Selden Garnett is killed at Corrick's Ford in northern Virginia; he is the first general killed in action
  • 16 July -- General McDowell and over 30,000 Union troops depart camp at Alexandria, VA marching toward Manassas
  • 21 July -- The Union and Confederate armies meet on the battlefield in Manassas resulting in a loss and an embarrassing retreat for the Union army
  • 22 July -- The Crittenden-Johnson Resolution, stating the war is being waged to "defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union," passes the House of Representatives
  • 25 July -- General John C. Fremont assumes command of the Western Department in St. Louis, Missouri
  • 27 July -- General George B. McClellan takes command of the Army of the Potomac
  • 5 August -- Congress authorizes President Lincoln to enlist seamen in the federal Navy for the duration of the war
  • 6 August -- President Lincoln signs the Confiscation Act allowing Union troope to free slaves used by the Confederates “in arms or labor” against the United States
  • 8 August -- The Confederate government recognizes the states of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky and authorizes the raising of troops in those states
  • 10 August -- The Battle at Wilson’s Creek, the first battle in the western theater, is fought
  • 16 August -- President Lincoln declares the Confederate states in a state of rebellion and forbids all commerce with them
  • 19 August -- A Haverhill, MA newspaper publisher is tarred and feathered for his rumored southern sympathies
  • 21 August -- Captain George Dwight is replaced as commandant of the Springfield Armory; under his guidance the armory had reached a production rate of 200 arms a day to supply the Union army
  • 24 August -- President Jefferson Davis sends ambassadors to England, France, and Spain to gain recognition of the Confederacy
  • 28 August -- Fort Hatteras, South Carolina, an important Confederate Port, surrenders to Union troops  
  • 30 August -- In Missouri, General John C. Fremont issues a proclamation calling for confiscation of all property and emancipating all slaves held by Missourians supporting the Confederate cause
  • 3 September -- Confederate troops enter Kentucky ending the state’s neutrality in the conflict
  • 6 September -- General Ulysses S. Grant lands federal troops at Paducah, Kentucky, capturing the city and gaining control of the mouth of the Tennessee River
  • 11 September -- President Lincoln revokes General Frémont's unauthorized proclamation of emancipation in Missouri
  • 12 September -- The Federal government orders the arrest of pro-Confederate members of Maryland's state legislature, scheduled to meet in Frederick on 17 September; Prisoners are sent to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor
  • 17 September -- The Union Navy takes possession of Ship Island, Mississippi with a landing party from the USS Massachusetts
  • 20 September -- Colonel James A. Mulligan surrenders the Union garrison at Lexington, Missouri to General Sterling Price, ending an 8 day siege; General Fremont is criticized for lack of action relieving the garrison
  • October 1-- Secretary Welles refuses to issue letters of marque which would allow privateering against Confederate ships because doing so would recognize the Confederates as “a distinct and independent nationality”
  • October 3 -- Louisiana’s governor bans shipments of cotton to New Orleans partially in hopes of encouraging Britain and France to recognize the Confederacy
  • October 8 -- General William T. Sherman replaces General Robert Anderson as commander of the Union Department of the Cumberland after Anderson suffers a breakdown
  • October 12 -- The first Federal ironclad, the USS St. Louis, is launched at Carondelet, Missouri
  • October 21 --At the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, Union forces suffer over 900 casualties while the Confederacy suffers less  than 160 casualties.
  • October 24 -- President Lincoln orders John C. Frémont be relieved of command of the Department of the West
  • October 28 -- Confederate general Albert Sydney Johnston assumes command of the Army of Central Kentucky at Bowling Green
  • November 1 --General George McClellan becomes General-in-Chief of the Union Army
  • November 3 -- General David Hunter assumes command of the Department the West, formally relieving General John C. Fremont of his command
  • November 7 -- A Union naval force commanded by Flag Officer Du Pont enters Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, and defeats Confederate forces at Forts Walker and Beauregard
  • November 8 --Confederate ambassadors James Mason and John Slidell are taken off of the British mail packet Trent by the USS San Jacinto in the Bahamas Straits
  • November 9 -- General Henry W. Halleck is assigned command of the newly formed Department of the Missouri, which absorbed the Department of the West
  • November 11 -- Professor Thaddeus Lowe makes history raising an observation balloon from the deck of specially fitted balloon boat, the G.W. Parke Custis
  • November 23--The San Jacinto docks in Boston Harbor; James Mason and John Slidell are removed to Fort Warren on George’s Island
  • November 27 – The Trent arrives in Southampton, England, bringing news of Mason and Slidell’s removal from the ship
  • November 30 – Lord Russell, British Foreign Secretary, informs Lord Lyons, Minister to the United States, that the removal of Mason and Slidell constitutes an aggressive act and that Britain demands their release, reparations, and an apology from the United States government