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October 16–18, 1859
John Brown, in an attempt to amass arms for a slave insurrection, attacks the federal armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

December 2, 1859
Brown is hanged for murder and treason at Charles Town, Virginia.

November 6, 1860
Abraham Lincoln is elected President, with Hannibal Hamlin as his Vice President.

December 20, 1860
As a consequence of Lincoln’s election, a special convention of the South Carolina legislature votes to secede from the Union.

January 9, 1861
Star of the West , an unarmed merchant vessel secretly carrying federal troops and supplies to Fort Sumter, is fired upon by South Carolina artillery at the entrance to Charleston harbor.

January 9–February 1
Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas follow South Carolina’s lead and secede from the Union.

January 29
Kansas is admitted as a state with a constitution prohibiting slavery.

Delegates from six seceded states meet in Montgomery, Alabama, to form a government and elect Jefferson Davis President of the Confederate States of America.

March 4
Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated as the sixteenth President of the United States.

April 12–13
Fort Sumter is bombarded and surrenders to South Carolina troops led by P. G. T. Beauregard.

April 15
Lincoln declares a state of insurrection and calls for 75,000 volunteers to enlist for three months of service.

April 17–May 20
Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina secede from the Union.

April 19
Lincoln orders a blockade of all Confederate ports.

April 20
Colonel Robert E. Lee resigns his commission in the United States Army.

May 24
Union troops cross the Potomac River from Washington and capture Alexandria, Virginia, and vicinity. Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth is killed by a local innkeeper and is the first officer to die in the war. He becomes a martyr for the North.

May 29
Richmond becomes the capital of the Confederacy.

July 21
Confederate forces win a victory at the First Battle of Manassas. Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson earns the nickname “Stonewall” for his tenacity in the battle.

November 1
George B. McClellan, thirty-four, replaces the aging Winfield Scott as general-in-chief of the Union armies.

November 8
The Union navy seizes Confederate commissioners to Great Britain and France—James A. Mason and John Slidell—from the British steamer Trent, inflaming tensions between the United States and Great Britain.

Julia Ward Howe, inspired after seeing a review of General McClellan's army in the Virginia countryside near Washington, composes the lyrics to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." It is published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862.


February 6, 1862
General Ulysses S. Grant captures Fort Henry, Tennessee. Ten days later he accepts the “unconditional and immediate surrender” of Fort Donelson. These victories open up the state of Tennessee for Union advancement.

March 9, 1862
The ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (formerly the sunken USS Merrimack, which the Confederates had raised from the Norfolk Navy Yard and rebuilt as an ironclad) battle to a draw at Hampton Roads, Virginia, demonstrating the superior potential of vessels made of steel.

April 4
On the peninsula southeast of Richmond, McClellan leads the Army of the Potomac toward Yorktown, Virginia, beginning the Peninsular Campaign.

April 6–7
Union General Ulysses S. Grant prevails at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, but not without enormous losses.

April 16
Conscription is adopted in the Confederacy.

April 25
Federal fleet commander David G. Farragut captures New Orleans.

May 8
Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign begins successfully with a victory at the Battle of McDowell in Virginia.

May 31–June 1
During the Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia, Robert E. Lee takes over command of the Confederate army from the wounded Joseph E. Johnston.

June 25–July 1
Lee forces McClellan’s army to retreat, ending the threat to Richmond in the Seven Days’ campaign.

August 20
Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune publishes The Prayer of Twenty Millions, a plea for Lincoln to liberate slaves in the Union.

August 29–30
The South is again victorious at the Second Battle of Manassas.

September 17
The Battle of Antietam, Maryland, exacts heavy losses on both sides.

September 22
President Lincoln issues the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

November 7
General McClellan receives Lincoln’s order relieving him of command of the Army of the Potomac.

December 13
Lee wins the Battle of Fredericksburg decisively.



January 1, 1863
Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, which declares that slaves in the seceded states are now free.

March 3
President Lincoln signs a federal draft act.

April 7
In a test of ironclad vessels against land fortifications, Union Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont’s fleet fails to penetrate the harbor defenses of Charleston.

May 1–4
Lee hands the Army of the Potomac another serious loss at the Battle of Chancellorsville. “Stonewall” Jackson is wounded during the battle. He will develop pneumonia and die on May 10.

June 9
Confederate cavalry under Jeb Stuart clash with the Union mounts of Alfred Pleasonton in an all day battle at Brandy Station, Virginia. Some 18,000 troopers—approximately nine thousand on either side—take part, making this the largest cavalry battle on American soil. In the end, Stuart will hold the field. Yet this battle signals the rise and future domination of Union cavalry in the eastern theater.

July 1–3
The Battle of Gettysburg is fought in Pennsylvania. General George G. Meade compromises his victory by allowing Lee to retreat South across the Potomac.

July 4
After a long siege, Confederates surrender Vicksburg to Ulysses S. Grant, thus securing the Mississippi River for the Union.

July 13–15
Violent riots erupt in New York City in protest of the draft.

September 19–20
Confederates under General Braxton Bragg win a great tactical victory at Chickamauga, Georgia. Union General George H. Thomas wins the nickname "Rock of Chickamauga" for his stubborn defense of his position.

November 19
Lincoln delivers his Gettysburg Address, in which he reiterates the nation’s fundamental principle that all men are created equal.

November 23–25
After three days of battle, the Union victory at Chattanooga, Tennessee, opens the way for Union advancement into the heart of the Confederacy.



March 10, 1864
Newly commissioned to the rank of lieutenant general, Ulysses S. Grant is given official authority to command all of the armies of the United States.

May 5–6
The Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia is the first of a bloody series of month-long engagements between Grant and Lee.

May 10–12
Battles at Spotsylvania Court House and Yellow Tavern impede Grant’s drive for Richmond. Confederate cavalry commander Jeb Stuart is killed at Yellow Tavern, May 11.

June 1–3
The Battle of Cold Harbor results in heavy Union casualties. Grant prepares for a ten month siege of Petersburg.

June 19
The USS Kearsarge sinks the CSS Alabama off Cherbourg, France, where the Confederate raider was bound for refitting.

June 28
Lincoln signs a bill repealing the fugitive slave laws.

July 11–12
Confederate forces under Jubal Early probe and fire upon the northern defenses of Washington, D.C., throwing the Capital into a state of high alert.

August 5
Union Admiral David G. Farragut wins the Battle of Mobile Bay.

September 2
After forcing the Confederate army of John Bell Hood out of Atlanta, Georgia, General William T. Sherman captures the city, a major munitions center for the South.

October 19
A Union victory at Cedar Creek ends the Confederate threat in the Shenandoah Valley.

November 8
Lincoln is reelected President, with Andrew Johnson as Vice President.

November 16
Sherman leaves Atlanta and begins his “march to the sea,” in an attempt to demoralize the South and hasten surrender.

December 15–16
General George Henry Thomas wins the Battle of Nashville, decimating John Bell Hood's Confederate Army of Tennessee.

December 21
Savannah falls to Sherman’s army without resistance. Sherman gives the city to Lincoln as a Christmas present.



January 31, 1865
Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery throughout the United States.

February 17
Columbia, South Carolina, is almost completely destroyed by fire, most likely set by Sherman’s troops.

March 4
Lincoln is inaugurated as President for a second term.

March 29
The Appomattox campaign begins, with Grant’s move against Lee’s defenses at Petersburg, Virginia.

April 2
Petersburg falls, and the Confederate government evacuates its capital, Richmond. Confederate corps commander Ambrose Powell Hill is killed in action while attempting to rally his men.

April 3
Union troops occupy Richmond.

April 9
Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox.

April 14
John Wilkes Booth shoots President Lincoln at Ford’s Theater; Secretary of State William H. Seward is stabbed and wounded in an assassination attempt inside his Washington home.

April 15
Lincoln dies, and Andrew Johnson is inaugurated as President.

April 26
Joseph E. Johnston surrenders to William T. Sherman in North Carolina; John Wilkes Booth is shot in a barn in Virginia and dies.

May 10
Jefferson Davis is captured and taken prisoner near Irwinville, Georgia.

May 26
In New Orleans, terms of surrender are offered to General E. Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department. His acceptance on June 2 formally ends Confederate resistance.

June 30
All eight conspirators are convicted for the assassination of President Lincoln; four are sentenced to death.


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