The Eastern Theater of the Civil War roughly comprised the area east of the Appalachians in the vicinity of the rival capitals of Washington and Richmond. It included the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, as well as the District of Columbia and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina.
When the war began in the spring of 1861 and the Confederates declared their capitol at Richmond, Virginia, the immediate cry from Union headquarters was “On to Richmond!” For the next four years a succession of Northern commanders struggled desperately to do just that.
Bounded by the Appalachian Mountains to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the vast majority of battles occurred in a relatively small 100 miles strip of Virginia countryside between the cities of Washington and Richmond.
It was these campaigns that would also become the most famous in the history of the war, due to their proximity to large populations centers and the heavy media attention that they received. Both the bloodiest battle of the war — Gettysburg, and the bloodiest single day of the war — Antietam, were both fought in the Eastern Theater.
The principle commanders of the Eastern Theater included: For the Union – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Major General George B. McClellan, Major General John Pope, Major General Ambrose Burnside, Major General Joseph Hooker, and Major General George G. Meade. The South was led by General Robert E. Lee, General Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard, General Joseph E. Johnston, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, and Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early.
Eastern Theater Campaigns
Blockade of the Chesapeake Bay (May-June 1861)
- Sewell’s Point (May 18-19, 1861, Virginia)
- Aquia Creek (May 29-June 1, 1861, Virginia)
- Big Bethel (June 10, 1861, Virginia)
Operations in Western Virginia (June-December, 1861)
- Philippi (June 3, 1861, West Virginia)
- Rich Mountain (July 11, 1861, West Virginia)
- Kessler’s Cross Lanes (August 26, 1861, West Virginia)
- Carnifex Ferry (September 10, 1861, West Virginia)
- Cheat Mountain (September 12-15 1861, West Virginia)
- Greenbrier River (October 3, 1861, West Virginia)
- Camp Alleghany (December 13, 1861, West Virginia)
Manassas Campaign (July 1861)
- Hoke’s Run (July 2, 1861, West Virginia)
- Blackburn’s Ford (July 18, 1861, Virginia)
- Manassas I (July 21, 1861, Virginia)
Blockade of the Carolina Coast (August 1861)
- Hatteras Inlet Batteries (August 28-29, 1861, North Carolina)
McClellan’s Operations in Northern Virginia (October-December 1861)
Blockade of the Potomac River (October 1861-January 1862)
- Cockpit Point (January 3, 1862, Virginia)
Jackson’s Operations Against the B&O Railroad (January 1862)
- Hancock (January 5-6, 1862, Maryland)
Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition (February-June 1862)
- Roanoke Island (February 7-8, 1862, North Carolina)
- New Berne (March 14, 1862, North Carolina)
- Fort Macon (March 23-April 26, 1862, North Carolina)
- South Mills (April 19, 1862, North Carolina)
- Tranter’s Creek (June 5, 1862, North Carolina)
Jackson’s Valley Campaign (March-June 1862)