April 12The war officially begins when South Carolina militia forces commanded by General Pierre G. T. Beauregard (1 -1893), second in the West Point class of 1838, bombard Fort Sumter, the Federal garrison in the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina. Lacking sufficient supplies, the fort's commander surrenders.
April 15Declaring a state of "insurrection," Lincoln calls for 75,000 volunteers for three months' service. April 17Virginia secedes, the most influential state to do so. Poorly defended, Washington, D.C., lies but a hundred miles from Richmond, seat of the Confederacy. From the White House, Lincoln can see Confederate flags flying over Arlington, Virginia.
April 19 In Baltimore, crowds sympathetic to the South stone Union troops marching to reinforce the capital; four soldiers are killed, the first casualties of the war. President Lincoln orders a naval blockade of southern ports. The blockade will prevent cotton, the South's principal cash crop, from being shipped to Europe and limit imports of munitions and other supplies crucial to the South's war effort. The Union navy is small at the time, and many of its commanders and sailors are Southerners who defect, but the American merchant marine is powerful, and merchant ships are pressed into service. Coupled with a major shipbuilding effort, the navy soon has hundreds of ships—including the first generation of ironclad warships—available to enforce the blockade, making this strategy a significant element of the Union's eventual victory.
At the suggestion of General Winfield Scott, the seventy-five-year-old, arthritic and overweight commander of the U.S. Army, Lincoln asks Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) to take field command of the Union forces. Instead, Lee resigns his U.S. Army commission on April 20 and assumes a commission in the Confederate army. Torn over the oath he took upon entering the United States Army, Lee decides he cannot take up arms against his home state of Virginia.
Lee is not alone. Many of the battle-tested commanders in the U.S. Army are Southerners who join the Confederate forces. In the war's early period, the Union armies will be led by generals who are political appointees. This disparity in leadership quality is a major factor in keeping the Confederacy's military hopes alive and prolonging the war.
July 21 The First Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas). In Virginia, Confederate armies under Generals Joseph E. Johnston (1807-1891) and Beauregard rout Union troops. Poor Union generalship is largely to blame, a problem that bedevils the Union war effort as Lincoln searches for effective commanders. During the fighting, Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson (1824-1863), West Point class of 1846 and a professor of military tactics and natural philosophy at Virginia Military Institute, is given the nickname "Stonewall" for his leadership of the stand made by his troops that turned the tide of battle.
August 5 After the crushing defeat at Bull Run, the North realizes that this is not going to be a ninety-day war. To pay for the war, Congress passes the first income-tax law, and enlistment periods are increased from three months to two years.
August 10-30 In the West, Union forces are defeated at Wilson's Creek, Missouri, and one of the Union's most experienced commanders General Fremont, "the Pathfinder," withdraws, surrendering much of Missouri, a border state that had not joined the Confederacy. To reverse his military losses, Fremont declares martial law and announces that the slaves of secessionists are free. Lincoln requests that this order be withdrawn, but Fremont refuses and Lincoln removes him from command.
October 21 Battle of Ball's Bluff (Virginia). Another rout of Union forces with some 1,900 Union troops killed.
November 1 Lincoln forces aging General Winfield Scott to retire, and replaces him with George B. McClellan (1826-1885) as general-in-chief.
January 27 Lincoln issues General War Order Number 1, calling for a Union offensive; McClellan ignores the order.
January 30 The Union ironclad ship Monitor is launched.
February 6 Opening a Union offensive in the West, General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) initiates a campaign in the Mississippi Valley, capturing Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. Ten days later, Grant takes Fort Donelson, near Nashville.
March 9 In the first battle between two ironclad ships, the Union Monitor engages the Confederate Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac) off Hampton Roads» Virginia. The battle is inconclusive, but the Virginia is scuttled to prevent her capture.
March 11 Annoyed at McClellan's inaction, Lincoln removes him as general-in-chief, replacing him with General Henry W. Halleek, but makes him head of the Army of the Potomac.
April 4 The Union Army of the Potomac begins the Peninsular Campaign aimed at Richmond, capital of the Confederacy. Stonewall Jackson will successfully tie up these Union troops for two months.
April 6-7 Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee). Confederate forces under General Albert S. Johnston (1803-1862) attack Grant's army. Union forces are nearly defeated, but reinforcements arrive and drive off the Confederate army. Losses are staggering: 13,000 Union troops and 11,000 Confederate soldiers are lost in the two days of fighting; the combined losses are more than the total American casualties in the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War put together.
May 4-14McClellan's army takes Yorktown, Williamsburg, and the White House, only twenty miles from Richmond. But in spite of his numerical superiority, the overcautious McClellan halts to await reinforcements instead of pressing the offensive.
June 2Robert E. Lee takes command of the Confederate Armies of Northern Virginia.
June 26-July 2The Seven Days' Battles. Lee attacks McClellan and eventually drives him away from Richmond. The Peninsular Campaign, which might have captured Richmond and ended the war, is over.
July 11Lincoln appoints General Henry W. Halleck (1815-1872) general-in-chief.
August 9Battle of Cedar Mountain (Virginia). Confederate forces under Stonewall Jackson defeat Union troops.
August 30Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas). Confederate Generals Lee, Jackson, and James Longstreet (1821-1904) defeat Union forces under General John Pope (1822-1892), forcing Union troops to evacuate all the way back to Washington. In less than a month, Lee has pushed two Union armies twice the size of his from the gates of Richmond all the way back to the Union capital. Pope is sacked and McClellan is reinstated.
September 17Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg, Maryland). With Pope's retreat, Lee takes the offensive, but in one of those small moments that alter history, a copy of his orders falls into Union hands, allowing McClellan to anticipate Lee's strategy. In the single bloodiest day of the war, McClellan's Union forces meet Lee's advancing army. The dead and wounded exceed 10,000 for both sides. Lee pulls back, his invasion blunted, but McClellan fails to pursue the retreating Confederate army. The battle is a critical turning point. With Lee's offensive stalled, the likelihood of European recognition of the South is reduced.
September 22With the Union success at Antietam, Lincoln feels he can issue the Emancipation Proclamation from a position of strength. The proclamation is published in northern newspapers the following day.
Lacking the magisterial prose of some of his other famous speeches, this is a dry legalistic document. By itself, the Emancipation Proclamation doesn't free a single slave, but does change the character and course of the war. Lincoln's contemporary critics and cynical modern historians point to the fact that Lincoln freed only the slaves of the Confederacy, not those in border states or territories retaken by Union forces; as one newspaper of the day comments, "The principle is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States."
Lincoln's position is that under his war powers he can legally free only those slaves in rebel-held territory; it is up to Congress or the states to address the question of universal emancipation. But abolitionist voices, such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, welcome Lincoln's decision.
In the South, of course, the proclamation simply seems to confirm what secessionists have always believed: that Lincoln plans to force them to surrender slavery, a right they believe to be theirs, constitutionally granted and protected. They also see the proclamation as an incitement to slave rebellion, and stiffen their resolve to defend the South against Yankee encroachment.
The proclamation produces two other results. First, because of it, France and England end a tense diplomatic dance, finally resolving not to recognize the Confederacy. To do so would endorse slavery, which is illegal and politically unpopular in both countries. Second, in the North, the proclamation has the effect of making the war considerably less popular. White workers, who were volunteering freely when the cause was the Union's preservation, are less interested in freeing slaves who they think will overrun the North, taking jobs and creating social havoc. The serious decline in enlistments forces passage of the Conscription Act in March 1863, which applies to all men between twenty and forty-five—unless they are wealthy enough to pay a substitute— and later leads to violent anti-conscription reaction.
November 5McClellan is relieved as the head of the Army of the Potomac and is replaced by Ambrose Burnside, with disastrous results. General Burnside (1824-1881) has enjoyed early successes in devising an amphibious assault on the North Carolina coastline, but when it comes to command of the entire army, even Burnside feels he is out of his depth. He will soon be proved correct.
December 13Battle of Fredericksburg (Virginia). Despite an overwhelming numerical advantage, General Burnside's Union troops are routed by Lee with severe casualties, losing 12,000 to the Confederates' 5,000.
January 1The Emancipation Proclamation is signed.
January 2Battle of Murfreesboro (or Stone River, Tennessee). The Union advance toward Chattanooga, the South's rail center, is checked after a costly draw.
January 25The hapless General Burnside is replaced as head of the Army of the Potomac by General Joseph Hooker (1814— 1879). Despite his failure as a military leader, Burnside earns historical notoriety for his bushy "muttonchop" facial hair, which will come to be called, in a reversal of his name, "sideburns." January 26The Secretary of War authorizes the governor of Massachusetts to recruit black troops. While blacks fought in every previous American war, a 1792 law barred them from the army. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteers are the first black regiment recruited in the North. Eventually, 185,000 black soldiers in the Union army will be organized into 166 all-black regiments. Nearly 70,000 black soldiers come from the states of Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. While most are pressed into support units forced into the most unpleasant tasks, and are paid less than their white counterparts, black troops are involved in numerous major engagements, and sixteen black soldiers will receive the Medal of Honor. Their impact is even greater in the navy, where one in four sailors is black; four of these will win Medals of Honor.
May 2—4Battle of Chancellorsville (Virginia). In another devastating battle, losses for both sides exceed 10,000 men. Lee's army defeats Hooker's Army of the Potomac. During the fighting, Stonewall Jackson leads a daring rear-end attack, forcing the Union withdrawal. But as he returned to Confederate lines, he is mistakenly shot by a Confederate soldier and dies of pneumonia on May 10, costing the Confederates one of their most effective field generals.
May 14Battle of Jackson (Mississippi). Union Generals William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891), named at birth for the notorious Indian chief and adding the William later, defeats the Confederates under General J. E. Johnston.
May 22General Grant, in concert with Sherman, begins the long siege of the Confederate citadel at Vicksburg, Mississippi, the key-to control of the Mississippi River. The U.S. War Department establishes the Bureau of Colored Troops to supervise recruitment and enlistment of black soldiers.
June 20Pro-Union West Virginia, severed from Virginia, is admitted as the thirty-fifth state, with a state constitution calling for gradual emancipation.
June 24Planning an invasion of Pennsylvania that signals a shift in southern strategy, Lee's army crosses the Potomac and heads toward Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with the idea that a victory there will give Lee a clear road to Washington.
June 25General George Meade (1815-1872) is put in charge of the Army of the Potomac after General Hooker is removed by Lincoln for his failure to be more aggressive. Meade begins organizing his army for the coming confrontation with Lee.
July 1-3The Battle of Gettysburg. Confederate troops in search of shoes meet up with a detachment of Union cavalry. Reinforcements are poured in. In three days of ferocious fighting that mark the final turning point in the war, the Union army takes a strong defensive position and turns back repeated Confederate assaults. Confederate losses reach 28,000 killed, wounded, or missing, a third of the army's effective strength, to the Union's 23,000. Now severely undermanned, Lee retreats to Virginia, unable to press his drive against the North. His army in tatters, Lee seems ripe for picking, and Lincoln wants the remnants of the Confederate army destroyed, ending the war. But Meade, licking his own wounds and cautious as ever, fails to press Lee, allowing him to cross the Potomac and escape safely into Virginia.
July 4General U. S. Grant's long siege of Vicksburg ends in victory as he demands an unconditional surrender, giving new popular meaning to his initials. More than 29,000 Confederate troops lay down their arms, and the Union now possesses control of the Mississippi River, effectively splitting the Confederacy in two, east from west.
July 13—16In New York, resentment against the Union Conscription Act turns into rioting in which blacks are lynched. Federal troops eventually quell the riots. Similar riots occur in several major northern cities. The crowd's anger has two sources: the idea of fighting to free the slaves, and the unfairness of the ability of the wealthy to avoid conscription by paying a substitute. In some northern counties, taxes are raised to pay for large numbers of substitutes so that residents of those counties will not have to fight.
August 21While most of the war is fought between organized armies, in the western states of Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas, a cruel form of partisan fighting takes place, with its roots in the "Bloody Kansas" wars. Of these partisan guerrillas, the most vicious is William C. Quantrill, whose "raiders" include the psychopathic "Bloody Bill" Anderson, who carries his victims' scalps on his saddle, and the future outlaws Jesse James and Cole Younger. With 450 men, Quantrill raids Lawrence, Kansas, and slaughters more than 180 civilians. The following October, he commits another such raid of terror in Baxter Springs, Kansas. In 1865, Quantrill will head east, intending to assassinate Lincoln, but will be killed in Kentucky by Union soldiers in May after the war's official end.
September 19-20 The Battle of Chickamauga (Georgia). The Union armies led by Generals William Rosencrans (1819-1898) and George H. Thomas (1816-1870) are defeated by Confederates under General Braxton Bragg (1817-1876). Once again, losses for both sides are extremely high: 16,000 Union casualties to 18,000 Confederate. The Union army retreats to Chattanooga.
October 16Grant is given command of Union forces in the West; Grant replaces Rosencrans in Chattanooga with General George Thomas, nicknamed "the Rock of Chickamauga" for his heroic stand in that battle.
November 19Dedicating a military cemetery on the notorious Pennsylvania battlefield, Lincoln delivers the "Gettysburg Address," one of the immortal speeches in history. (Written in snatches over several days and completed the morning he delivered it, the speech was not written on the back of a letter, as myth has it.)
November 23—25In a stunning assault, Grant sweeps up over mountains to drive General Bragg's Confederate forces away from Chattanooga. Tennessee is again brought under Union control. Grant's Union forces, having split the South east from west by controlling the Mississippi, can now split it horizontally with a march through Georgia to the sea that will be led by General Sherman.
December 8 Looking toward the end of the war, Lincoln offers a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction that will pardon Confederates who take an oath of loyalty.
January 14General Sherman begins his march across the South by occupying Sheridan, Mississippi. His strategy is simple—total war. Sherman either destroys or takes anything that might be used by the enemy to continue fighting. He demonstrates his planned tactics for the march ahead by burning and destroying railroads, buildings, and supplies.
March 10His star rising after Vicksburg and Chattanooga, Grant is named commander of the Union armies, replacing General Halleck.
April 17Grant suspends prisoner-of-war exchanges with the Confederates. His intention is to further weaken the Confederate forces. While it is effective, this strategy leads to the deaths of many Union soldiers held prisoner in overcrowded camps where food supplies are meager.
May 4 Grant begins an assault on Virginia with an army of 100,000 aimed at Lee's Virginia army.
May 5—6Battle of the Wilderness (Virginia). During two days of inconclusive but bloody fighting, many of the wounded on both sides die when caught by brushfires ignited by gunfire in the dense woods of the battleground.
May 8—12 Battle of Spotsylvania (Virginia). Another five days of inconclusive fighting make Grant's plan clear: a war of attrition that will wear down Lee's outnumbered forces.
May 13-15 In Georgia with an army of 110,000, Sherman defeats General Johnston, but Johnston preserves his smaller army with a skillful retreat.
June 3Battle of Cold Harbor (Virginia). Ignoring horrible losses, Grant continues to assault Lee's impregnable defense, a ghastly mistake that Grant later admits. To date, in this campaign, Grant has suffered more than 60,000 casualties, a number equal to Lee's entire army. One southern general comments, "This is not war, this is murder." But Grant's costly strategy is accomplishing its
purpose of wearing out Lee's army.
June 15-18Grant begins the long siege of Petersburg, Virginia, recalling the tactics he used earlier against Vicksburg.
June 27Johnston's Confederate forces turn back Sherman at Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia.
July 2-13 A year after Gettysburg, Confederate forces under General Jubal Early (1816-1894) raid Maryland, heading toward Washington, D.C. With a small force, Early continues to harry Union troops in Virginia.
July 14General Early is slowed down by Union General Lew Wallace (1827-1905). The lightly defended city of Washington is reinforced, although Early reaches the District of Columbia but then withdraws. (Later governor of New Mexico and minister to Turkey, General Wallace gains his greatest fame as the author of the novel Ben Hur.)
July 17Despite his success at preserving his forces against Sherman's assault, Johnston is replaced by General John B. Hood (1831—1879), who attempts to take the offensive against Sherman.
July 22General Hood's first attack on Sherman outside Atlanta is turned back, as is a second assault six days later.
July 30At Petersburg, General Burnside oversees the mining of Confederate fortifications. In a disastrously miscalculated explosion, his own force suffers nearly 4,000 casualties. Burnside is relieved of any command.
August5 In a Union naval attack on the key southern port of Mobile, Alabama, Admiral David Farragut (1801-1870) orders his fleet to continue to attack after mines in the harbor sink one of his ships. From the rigging of his flagship, Farragut shouts, "Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!" He successfully closes the port, cutting off the South from vital supplies being smuggled in by blockade runners. Farragut is given the new rank of vice-admiral, created especially for him, and ecstatic wealthy New Yorkers gave him a purse of $50,000.
September 2Sherman takes Atlanta after Hood's withdrawal. Much of the city is set on fire. With Atlanta and Mobile in Union hands, northern morale is lifted, providing Lincoln a much-needed boost in the coming election, in which Lincoln's chances do not look good.
September 19 and October 19Union forces under General Philip Sheridan (1831-1888) twice defeat Jubal Early's Confederates while taking heavy losses. The Confederates are driven from the Shenandoah Valley, one of their remaining supply sources.
November8 Lincoln has been campaigning against two generals he has sacked, John C. Fremont and George McClellan. Although Fremont withdraws from the race, Lincoln wins reelection by less than a half-million popular votes, but his margin in the electoral vote is sweeping.
November 16Sherman begins his notorious march from Atlanta to the sea at Savannah, destroying everything in his path by cutting a forty-mile-wide swath through the heart of the South, earning him the title "Attila of the West" in the southern press. A Confederate attempt to cut Sherman's supply lines is crushed, effectively destroying General Hood's army. Three days before Christmas, Sherman marches into Savannah unopposed, completing the horizontal bisection of the South. He sends Lincoln a telegram offering Savannah as a Christmas present. Of his march, Sherman comments, "We have devoured the land. . . . To realize what war is, one should follow our tracks."
January 15Fort Fisher, North Carolina, falls to Union land and sea forces, closing off another southern port of supply.
January 16Sherman's army wheels north through the Carolinas on a march as destructive as his Georgia campaign.
February 4Robert E. Lee is named commander-in-chief of the Confederate army, accepting the post despite the obvious hopelessness of the cause.
February 17Columbia, South Carolina, is burned: General Sherman and retreating Confederate forces are both blamed for setting the fires. A day later, Sherman occupies Charleston.
February 22Wilmington, North Carolina, the last open southern port, falls to Union forces.
March 4Lincoln is inaugurated for a second term.
From Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
April 1The Battle of Five Forks (Virginia). In the last major-battle of the war General Sheridan throws back a Confederate assault.
April 2 Lee withdraws from Petersburg, ending the six-month siege. He advises President Jefferson Davis to leave Richmond. A day later, Union troops enter Petersburg and Richmond. Two days after that, Lincoln tours Richmond and sits in President Davis's chair.
April 8 Surrounded and facing starvation, Lee surrenders to Grant at the village of Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. At Lincoln's request, the terms of surrender are generous, and Confederate officers and men are free to go home with their horses; officers may retain their sidearms, although all other equipment must be surrendered.
April 11 In his last public address, Lincoln urges a spirit of generous conciliation during the reconstruction.
April 14While watching a comedy at Ford's Theatre, Lincoln is shot and mortally wounded by the actor John Wilkes Booth, a southern patriot. The first President to be assassinated, Lincoln dies the following day and Andrew Johnson, the Vice-President, takes the oath of office.
April 26 Booth is cornered and shot dead near Bowling Green, Virginia.
April 18 Confederate General Johnston surrenders to Sherman in North Carolina. Scattered resistance continues throughout the South for several weeks ahead, ending in May, when Confederate General Richard Taylor surrenders to Union General Edward R. S. Canby and General Kirby Smith surrenders western Confederate forces.
May 10 Captured in Georgia, Jefferson Davis, presumed (incorrectly) to be a conspirator in the Lincoln assassination plot, is jailed awaiting trial. Later released on bail, he is never tried. The only Southern officer executed for war crimes was Major Henry Wirz, commander of the infamous Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, despite evidence showing he had tried to ease the suffering of his prisoners. In 1868, as one of his final acts in office President Johnson grants amnesty to all southerners, including Davis, who declines to accept it.
What did the Civil War cost America?
The federal army began force reductions on April 13, 1865. According to Senate figures at the time, the Union had enlisted 2,324,516 soldiers, approximately 360,000 of whom were killed. The Confederate army peaked at about one million soldiers, with losses of some 260,000. The war cost the Union side more than six million dollars and the Confederate states about half that much.