A Timeline of the American Civil War

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A Brief History

May 1st marks two critical events in the history of the American Civil.  The first occurred in 1862.  On May 1st of that year, The Union Army completed the Capture of New Orleans.  A year later, in 1863, The Battle of Chancellorsville began, ultimately resulting in a Confederate victory, although the confederates lost one of their most celebrated generals (Stonewall Jackson) as a result of injuries sustained in the week long battle.  In a bizarre twist, on the second night of the battle, Jackson was shot by fellow Southern soldiers who mistook him for a Union soldier.   Despite having his wounded arm amputated, as it had been hit multiple times, the general died a few days later, becoming another of the hundreds of thousands to perish in The American Civil War, the deadliest war ever for American soldiers.  The conflict briefly tore the country in two and ended with the death of a president and the eventual end of legalized slavery in America.  This article presents a timeline of its most bizarre moments.

Digging Deeper: Causes and Origins of the American Civil War

“First cotton gin” from Harper’s Weekly. 1869 illustration depicting event of some 70 years earlier.

On March 14, 1794, American inventor Eli Whitney patented his greatest invention.

Digging Deeper: The American Civil War

Bombardment of Fort Sumter by Currier & Ives

On April 19, 1861, an angry mob with pro-secessionist intentions attacked US Army troops on the streets of Baltimore, an event known as The Baltimore Riot of 1861, or alternately as The Pratt Street Riot or even the more dramatic Pratt Street Massacre

On June 3, 1861, in the first organized land battle (barely a battle in reality) of the American Civil War, the Union Army with 3000 men routed an untrained force of 800 Confederate volunteers in what it now West Virginia at Philippi, a small town that today has only about 3000 residents.

On July 26, 1861, Major General George McClellan was appointed the commander of the Army of the Potomac, a move President Lincoln hoped would instill professionalism and competence to that Army.  McClellan was outranked only by Winfield Scott, the 75 year old relic who was increasingly under fire from a public that demanded a quick and thorough victory.

On August 5, 1861, the Federal Government of the United States instituted its first income tax to help pay for the Civil War.  With a tax rate of only 3% of all income over $800, it may seem like a bargain today, but at the time it was about as popular as emptying the chamber pot. 

On October 23, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln, defender of the Union of the United States, illegally suspended the rule of Habeas Corpus, the Constitutional protection of Americans against being held in confinement without charges and due process.

On March 8, 1862, during the American Civil War, perhaps the most important naval battle of the war began, a battle that would see the first clash of ironclad/armored warships. 

On May 11, 1862, the CSA ironclad, CSS Virginia, was scuttled in the James River to avoid capture by Union forces. The Virginia had formerly been the USS Merrimac and had fought the USS Monitor in the first battle of ironclad armored ships.

On July 12, 1862, a congressional resolution was signed into law authorizing the Army to issue the Medal of Honor to enlisted soldiers (only) for “personal valor.”  The Navy already had a similar medal for “personal valor” as of 1861.  Prior to this development, the US military had no medals at all since the Mexican War.

On July 23, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln finally found a replacement for General George B. McClellan as General-in-Chief of the Union Army when he appointed General Henry W. Halleck.

On December 12, 1862, the United States ship, USS Cairo, an iron-clad gunboat of the City Class, was sunk in the Yazoo River by a remotely detonated Confederate “torpedo,” what naval mines were called back then.

On December 17, 1862, the stormy history of the United States concerning civil rights was once again marked by a shameful disregard for human rights when Major General Ulysses S. Grant, future President of the United States, issued his infamous Order No. 11, an order expelling all Jews from the military district he commanded, which included Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi.

On May 2, 1863, during The Battle of Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson Jackson was shot by fellow Southern soldiers who mistook him for a Union soldier.   Despite enduring the amputation of Jackson’s arm, which had been hit multiple times, the general died a few days later, becoming another of the hundreds of thousands to perish in The American Civil War.

On July 1, 1863, the battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania began, perhaps the most important battle of the US Civil War.

On July 3, 1863, the Army of the Potomac fought a defensive battle against the Army of Northern Virginia at the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.

On July 13, 1863, New Yorkers angry about military conscription (draft) started 3 days of rioting that would go down in history as the worst US riot ever.

On October 15, 1863, The H. L. Hunley, a Confederate (the South!) submarine, sank during a test, killing its inventor and namesake, Horace L. Hunley.

On November 24, 1863, Union forces under the command of future President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant captured Lookout Mountain as part of the campaign to relieve the siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee by Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Grant is known as the most successful Union general of the Civil War, and as the man most responsible for winning that war. This much is true, but much of the other things we “know” about Grant are not so true.

On February 17, 1864, the CSS H.L. Hunley became the first submarine to sink an enemy warship, even though it had itself sunk twice before!

On April 12, 1864, Confederate forces under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred a large part of the Federal troops defending Fort Pillow, Tennessee.

On July 30, 1864, Union forces exploded 8,000 pounds of black powder in a tunnel underneath Confederate trenches at Petersburg, Virginia, creating a crater 170 feet long and 120 feet wide, and 30 feet deep.  The unorganized rush of Union troops into the crater resulted in Union failure, with Federal troops suffering well over double the casualties inflicted on the Confederate troops.  The Battle of the Crater as this action was called is an example of an unconventional military idea that did not work. 

On October 19, 1864, military forces of the Confederate States of America invaded Vermont from a staging area in Quebec, Canada.

On November 30, 1864, Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood set what has to be some kind of record for an American general for getting his subordinate generals killed by making an epic fail charge against Union forces led by Major General John M. Schofield at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.

On April 27, 1865, the paddle-wheel steamboat, SS Sultana was carrying 2427 people when she blew up, killing 1800!

On May 10, 1865, President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, was captured by Federal troops in Georgia. Many Americans in the North consider Jeff Davis to be the worst kind of traitor, while many Americans in the old Confederacy drive around with bumper stickers that read “My President is Jeff Davis.”

Digging Deeper: Aftermath and Consequences of the American Civil War

A Union soldier who survived

On November 10, 1865, the long sad saga of the Camp Sumter prisoner of war camp located in Andersonville, Georgia finally came to a conclusion of sorts when the Camp Commandant, Confederate Major Henry Wirz was hanged for the crimes of conspiracy and murder for his terrible treatment of Union soldiers held captive at the camp popularly known as “Andersonville.”

On December 24, 1865, 6 former Confederate veterans of the recently concluded US Civil War formed the first known chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization largely founded on the principles of White Supremacy and violence against African Americans and those not in agreement with Klan beliefs.

On July 28, 1866, Vinnie (Lavinia) Ream, an 18 year old girl became the first woman in the United States to win a commission for a statue, that of the recently deceased President Lincoln.  This statue became her most famous work, and it resides in the Rotunda of the US Capitol.

On December 25, 1868, much maligned and embattled President of the United States Andrew Johnson issued a blanket pardon for all Confederate veterans of the US Civil War.

On November 17, 1871, The National Rifle Association was founded by the editor of the Army and Navy Journal (William Church) and General George Wingate, being awarded a charter by the state of New York. The first president of the NRA was Civil War (Union) General Ambrose Burnside, who had also worked as a gunsmith in Rhode Island.

On August 30, 1879, American Army and Confederate Army General John Bell Hood died of Yellow Fever, only 6 days after his wife and daughter died of that disease, leaving behind 10 orphaned children and a rich heritage as a fighting man.

On August 8, 2000, 136 years after she sank with all hands, the Confederate submarine, the Hunley, was raised to the surface.  Throughout history, men have built famous ships, and many of those ships found their way to the bottom of the sea.  

Historical Evidence

For more information of America leading up to the Civil War, please see…

Hudson, Leonne.  Company “A” Corps of Engineers, U.S.A., 1846-1848, in the Mexican War, by Gustavus Woodson Smith.  The Kent State University Press, 2001.

Kilbride, Daniel.  An American Aristocracy: Southern Planters in Antebellum Philadelphia.  University of South Carolina Press, 2006.


About Author

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.