Civil War Timeline & Leading Events

Battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee

Battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, by Kurz and Allison, 1887.

January 31, 1862 – President Lincoln issued General War Order No. 1 authorizing the Union to launch a unified aggressive action against the Confederacy. General McClellan ignored the order.

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 and earn Grant the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.

February 20, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln is struck with grief as his beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, dies from fever, probably caused by polluted drinking water in the White House.

March 8, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln, impatient with General McClellan’s inactivity, issued an order reorganizing the Army of Virginia and relieving McClellan of supreme command. McClellan was given command of the Army of the Potomac, and ordered to attack Richmond.

Confederate Ironclad Steamer, the Merrimac

Confederate Ironclad Steamer, the Merrimac

March 8-9, 1862 – The Confederate Ironclad Merrimac sinks two wooden Union ships then battles the Union Ironclad Monitor to a draw. Naval warfare is thus changed forever, making wooden ships obsolete.

The Peninsular Campaign begins as McClellan’s Army of the Potomac advances from Washington down the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay to the peninsula south of the Confederate Capitol of Richmond, Virginia then begins an advance toward Richmond. President Abraham Lincoln temporarily relieves McClellan as general-in-chief and takes direct command of the Union Armies.

April 4, 1862 – On the peninsula southeast of Richmond, General McClellan leads the Army of the Potomac toward Yorktown, Virginia, beginning the Peninsular Campaign.

Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, by J.H. Bufford

Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, by J.H. Bufford

April 6-7, 1862 – Confederates launch a surprise attack on General Ulysses S. Grant’s unprepared troops at Shiloh, Tennessee. By the end of the day, the federal troops were almost defeated. Yet, during the night, reinforcements arrived, and by the next morning, the Union commanded the field. When Confederate forces retreated, the exhausted federal forces did not follow. Casualties were heavy — 13,000 out of 63,000 Union soldiers died, and 11,000 of 40,000 Confederate troops were killed. President Abraham Lincoln is then pressured to relieve Grant but resists. “I can’t spare this man; he fights,” Lincoln says.

April 10-11, 1862 – General Quincy A. Gillmore battered Fort Pulaski, the imposing masonry structure near the mouth of the Savannah River, into submission in less than two days.

April 16, 1862 – Conscription is adopted in the Confederacy.

David Farragut

David Farragut

April 24-25, 1862 – 17 Union ships under the command of Flag Officer David Farragut move up the Mississippi River then take New Orleans, the South’s greatest seaport. Later in the war, sailing through a Rebel minefield, Farragut utters the famous phrase “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

May 8, 1862 – Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign begins successfully with a victory at the Battle of McDowell in Virginia.

May 31, 1862  – In the Battle of Seven Pines, General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army attacks McClellan’s troops in front of Richmond and nearly defeats them. Last-minute reinforcements saved the Union from a serious defeat. Robert E. Lee takes over command of the Confederate army from the wounded Joseph E. Johnston.

Battle of Malvern Hill, Virginia in the Civil War.

Battle of Malvern Hill, Virginia in the Civil War.

June 25-July 1, 1862 – Union and Confederate forces fought a series of battles known as the Seven Days Battles: Mechanicsville (June 26-27), Gaines’s Mill (June 27), Savage’s Station (June 29), Frayser’s Farm (June 30), and Malvern Hill (July 1). Results to both sides were heavy and McClellan then begins a withdrawal back toward Washington. On July 2, the Confederates withdrew to Richmond, ending the Peninsular Campaign.

July 11, 1862 – After four months as his own General-in-Chief, President Lincoln hands over the task to General Henry W. “Old Brains” Halleck.

August 20, 1862 – Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune publishes The Prayer of Twenty Millions, a plea for Lincoln to liberate slaves in the Union.

Second Battle of Bull Run

Second Battle of Bull Run, by Currier & Ives.

August 29-30, 1862 – Union General John Pope suffered defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in northern Virginia. 75,000 Federals lost to 55,000 Confederates under General Stonewall Jackson and General James Longstreet. Once again the Union Army retreats to Washington and President Lincoln then relieves Pope. General Fitz-John Porter was also held responsible for the defeat because he had failed to commit his troops to battle quickly enough. He was forced out of the army by 1863.

September 4-9, 1862 – General Robert E. Lee invades the North with 50,000 Confederates and heads for Harpers Ferry, located 50 miles northwest of Washington. The Union Army, 90,000 strong, under the command of McClellan, pursues Lee.

September 15, 1862 – Union General McClellan defeated Confederate General Lee at South Mountain and Crampton’s Gap in September but did not move quickly enough to save Harper’s Ferry, which fell to Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson, along with a great number of men and a large body of supplies.

September 17, 1862 – Confederate forces under General Lee were caught by General McClellan near Sharpsburg, Maryland. 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. The battle had no clear winner, but because General Lee withdrew to Virginia, McClellan was considered the victor. The battle convinced the British and French, who were contemplating official recognition of the Confederacy, to reserve action.



September 22, 1862 – President Lincoln issues the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which would free all slaves in areas rebelling against the United States, effective January 1, 1863.

November 7, 1862 – President Lincoln replaces McClellan with General Ambrose E. Burnside as the new Commander of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln had grown impatient with McClellan’s slowness to follow up on the success at Antietam, even telling him, “If you don’t want to use the army, I should like to borrow it for a while.”

December 13, 1862 – Army of the Potomac under General Burnside suffers a costly defeat at Fredericksburg in Virginia with a loss of 12,653 men after 14 frontal assaults on well-entrenched Rebels on Marye’s Heights. “We might as well have tried to take hell,” a Union soldier remarks. Confederate losses are 5,309. “It is well that war is so terrible – we should grow too fond of it,” states Lee during the fighting.

African American soldiers in the Civil War.

African American soldiers in the Civil War.

January 1, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln issues the final Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in territories held by Confederates and emphasizes the enlisting of black soldiers in the Union Army. The war to preserve the Union then becomes a revolutionary struggle for the abolition of slavery.

January 25, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln appoints General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing Burnside.

January 29, 1863 – General Ulysses S. Grant is placed in command of the Army of the West, with orders to capture Vicksburg.

March 3, 1863 – The U.S. Congress enacts a draft, affecting male citizens aged 20 to 45, but also exempts those who pay $300 or provide a substitute. “The blood of a poor man is as precious as that of the wealthy,” poor Northerners complain.

April 7, 1863 – 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.

April 27, 1863 – Union General Hooker crossed the Rappahannock River to attack General Lee’s forces. Lee split his army, attacking a surprised Union army in three places and almost completely defeating them. Hooker withdrew across the Rappahannock River, giving the South a victory, but, it was the Confederates’ most costly victory in terms of casualties.