Civil War Timeline & Leading Events

Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia

Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia

June 1-3, 1864 – A costly mistake by General Ulysses S. Grant results in 7,000 Union casualties in twenty minutes during an offensive against fortified Rebels at Cold Harbor in Virginia. Grant lost over 7,000 men in 20 minutes. Although Lee suffered fewer casualties, his army never recovered from Grant’s continual attacks. This was Lee’s last clear victory of the war. Grant prepares for a ten-month siege of Petersburg.

June 15, 1864 – Union forces miss an opportunity to capture Petersburg and cut off the Confederate rail lines. As a result, a nine-month siege of Petersburg begins with General Ulysses S. Grant’s forces surrounding Robert E. Lee and his men.

June 19, 1864 – The USS Kearsarge sinks the CSS Alabama off Cherbourg, France, where the Confederate raider was bound for refitting.

Jubal A. Early

Jubal A. Early

July 1864 – Confederate General Jubal Early led his forces into Maryland to relieve the pressure on Lee’s army. Early got within five miles of Washington, D.C., but on July 13, he was driven back to Virginia.

July 11-12, 1864 – 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.

June 28, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln signs a bill repealing the fugitive slave laws.

July 20, 1864 – At Atlanta, Sherman’s forces battle the Rebels now under the command of General John B.Hood,, who replaced Johnston.

August 5, 1864 – Union Admiral David G. Farragut wins the Battle of Mobile Bay.

August 29, 1864 – Democrats nominate George B. McClellan for president to run against Republican incumbent Abraham Lincoln.

Battle of Atlanta, Georgia

Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864, by Kurz & Allison,1888.

September 2, 1864 – Atlanta is captured by Sherman ‘s Army. “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won,” Sherman telegraphs President Abraham Lincoln. The victory greatly helps Abraham Lincoln’s bid for re-election.

October 19, 1864 – A decisive Union victory by Cavalry General Philip H. Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley over Jubal Early’s troops.

November 8, 1864 – After three and a half months of incessant maneuvering and much hard fighting, Sherman forced Hood to abandon Atlanta, the munitions center of the Confederacy. Sherman remained there, resting his war-worn men and accumulating supplies, for nearly two-and-a-half months. During the occupation, George N. Barnard, official photographer of the Chief Engineer’s Office, made the best documentary record of the war in the West. Much of what he photographed was destroyed in the fire that spread from the military facilities blown up upon Sherman’s departure.

General William T. Sherman's March to the Sea

General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea

Abraham Lincoln is re-elected president, defeating Democrat George B. McClellan. Lincoln carries all but three states with 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 of 233 electoral votes. “I earnestly believe that the consequences of this day’s work will be to the lasting advantage, if not the very salvation, of the country,” Lincoln tells supporters.


November 15, 1864 – After destroying Atlanta’s warehouses and railroad facilities, Sherman, with 62,000 men begins a March to the Sea. President Abraham Lincoln, on advice from General Ulysses S. Grant approved the idea. “I can make Georgia howl!” Sherman boasts.

November 16, 1864 – Sherman leaves Atlanta and begins his “march to the sea,” in an attempt to demoralize the South and hasten surrender.

Union Generals, B.B. Russell, 1861

Union Generals Winfield Scott, George McClellan, Nathaniel Banks, and John Wool, by B.B. Russell, 1861.

December 15-16, 1864 – Hood’s Rebel Army of 23,000 is crushed at Nashville, Tennessee by 55,000 Federals including African American troops under General George H. Thomas. The Confederate Army of Tennessee ceases as an effective fighting force.

Did You Know?

  • More than three million men fought in the war.
  • Two percent of the population — more than 620,000 — died in it.
  • The chance of surviving a wound in Civil War days was 7 to 1.
  • The first organized ambulance corps were used in the Peninsular campaign and at Antietam.
  • President Abraham Lincoln did not believe that whites and blacks could live together in peace. He had planned to relocate the entire black population of the United States to Central America.

December 21, 1864 – Sherman reaches Savannah, Georgia leaving behind a 300-mile long path of destruction 60 miles wide all the way from Atlanta. Sherman then telegraphs Lincoln, offering him Savannah as a Christmas present.

January 31, 1865 – The U.S. Congress approves the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, to abolish slavery. The amendment is then submitted to the states for ratification.

February 3, 1865 – A peace conference occurs as President Lincoln meets with Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens at Hampton Roads in Virginia, but the meeting ends in failure – the war will continue.

Only General Robert E. Lee’s Army at Petersburg and Johnston’s forces in North Carolina remain to fight for the South against Northern forces now numbering 280,000 men.

Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War

Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War, By Schussele, 1866.

March 4, 1865 – Inauguration ceremonies take place for President Abraham Lincoln in Washington. “With malice toward none; with charity for all…let us strive on to finish the work we are in…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations,” Lincoln says.

March 25, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee launches the last offensive when he attacked General Ulysses S. Grant’s forces near Petersburg, but was defeated — attacking and losing again on April 1. On April 2, Lee evacuated Richmond, the Confederate capital, and headed west to join with other forces.

April 2, 1865 – General Ulysses S. Grant’s forces begin a general advance and break through Lee’s lines at Petersburg. Confederate General Ambrose P. Hill is killed. Lee evacuates Petersburg. The Confederate Capital, Richmond, is evacuated. Fires and looting break out. The next day, Union troops enter and raise the Stars and Stripes.

April 4, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln tours Richmond where he enters the Confederate White House. With “a serious, dreamy expression,” he sits at the desk of Jefferson Davis for a few moments.

April 9, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee surrenders his Confederate Army to General Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Grant allows Rebel officers to keep their sidearms and permits soldiers to keep horses and mules.  Lee tells his troops: “After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.”

No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.” – Frederick Douglass, American Abolitionist and former slave

April 10, 1865 – Celebrations break out in Washington, D.C.

The Assassination of President Lincoln, by Currier and Ives, 1865

The Assassination of President Lincoln, by Currier and Ives, 1865

April 14, 1865 – The Stars and Stripes is ceremoniously raised over Fort Sumter, South Carolina. That night, Lincoln and his wife Mary see the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. At 10:13 p.m., during the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth shoots President Abraham Lincoln in the head. Doctors attend to President Lincoln in the theater then move him to a house across the street. He never regains consciousness.

April 15, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln dies at 7:22 in the morning. Vice President Andrew Johnson assumes the presidency.

April 18, 1865 – Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrenders to Sherman near Durham in North Carolina.

April 26, 1865 – John Wilkes Booth is shot and killed in a tobacco barn in Virginia.

May 4, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln is laid to rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery, outside Springfield, Illinois.

May 1865 – The remaining Confederate forces surrender. The Nation is reunited as the Civil War ends. Over 620,000 Americans died in the war, with disease killing twice as many as those lost in battle. 50,000 survivors return home as amputees.

Conquered Banner of the Confederacy

Conquered Banner of the Confederacy.

November 10, 1865 – Captain Henry Wirz, the notorious superintendent of the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, was tried by a military commission presided over by General Lew Wallace from August 23 to October 24, 1865. He was hanged in the yard of the Old Capitol Prison on November 10th.

December 6, 1865 – The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery, was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865.

Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, April 2019.

Also See:

Civil War Facts & Trivia

Civil War Main Page

Slavery – Cause and Catalyst of the Civil War

Slavery in the United States