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American Civil War: Resources in Special Collections

A guide to resources on the American Civil War using materials from the University of Maryland Special Collections in Hornbake Library.

Timeline of the Civil War

1860

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

December: South Carolina Legislature votes to secede from the Union.

1861

January-February: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana join South Carolina in secession.

February: At a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, the seven seceding states create the Confederate Constitution. Jefferson Davis is named provisional president of the Confederacy until elections can be held.

Texas secedes from the Union.

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

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

Virginia secedes from the Union.

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

May: Richmond becomes the capital of the Confederacy.

Arkansas and North Carolina secede from the Union.

June: Tennessee secedes from the Union.

1862

January: On January 27, President Lincoln issues War Order No. 1, authorizing the Union to launch a unified aggressive action against the Confederacy.

April: Union General Ulysses S. Grant prevails at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, but not without enormous losses. Over two days 13,000 out of 63,000 Union soldiers died, and 11,000 of 40,000 Confederate troops were killed.

Conscription is adopted in the Confederacy.

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

September: The Battle of Antietam, Maryland, exacts heavy losses on both sides.   This battle proved to be the bloodiest day of the war; 2,108 Union soldiers were killed and 9,549 wounded -- 2,700 Confederates were killed and 9,029 wounded.

December: Lee wins the Battle of Fredericksburg decisively.

1863

January: Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring that all slaves in areas still in rebellion were, in the eyes of the federal government, free.  

March: President Lincoln signs the federal draft act, making all men between the ages of 20 and 45 liable to be called for military service in the Union Army. Service could be avoided by paying a fee or finding a substitute.

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

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

November: On November 19, President Lincoln dedicates a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield as a national cemetery and delivers his Gettysburg Address.

1864

March: 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.

June: General Grant again attacks Confederate forces at Cold Harbor, losing over 7,000 men in twenty minutes. Although General Lee suffered fewer casualties, his army never recovered from Grant's continual attacks. This proves to be Lee's last clear victory of the war.

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

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

Union General Sherman continues his march through Georgia to the sea. After marching through Georgia for a month, Sherman storms Fort McAllister on December 13, 1864, and captures Savannah itself eight days later. 

1865

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

Transportation problems and successful blockades cause severe shortages of food and supplies in the South. Starving soldiers began to desert Lee's forces.

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

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

April: Union troops occupy Richmond.

Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox.  On April 9, the two commanders meet at Appomattox Courthouse, and agree on the terms of surrender. Lee's men were sent home on parole -- soldiers with their horses, and officers with their side arms. All other equipment was surrendered.

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. 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.

Andrew Johnson is inaugurated as President of the United States.

April- May: Remaining Confederate troops are defeated. Jefferson Davis is captured and taken prisoner near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10.  He is later indicted for treason and serves 2 years in prison.

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

Taken, in part, from: Timeline of the Civil War 1861-1865 (Library of Congress) and Timeline 1859-1865 (Smithsonian Institution).

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