Civil War Timeline for Kids
Utter Destruction at Gettysburg
1860 – Abraham Lincoln is elected as president of the United States. As a Republican, Lincoln opposed the extension of slavery into the new territories of the United States. Southern states view Lincoln’s opposition as a violation of states rights. Hostilities between northern and southern states increase.
December, 1860 – Northern forces withdraw posts from Fort Moultrie, South Carolina to Fort Sumter (Charleston) , South Carolina in anticipation of possible attack. The occupation angered South Carolina and turned Virginia against the Union.
January 1861 – South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Florida secede.
April, 1861 – Confederate forces demand Union evacuation of Fort Sumter by 12:45 April 11th. Union officials declare their intentions to evacuate on April 15th. Southern forces refuse negotiation.
4:30 A.M., April 12, 1861 – The first shell is fired at Fort Sumter beginning the Civil War.
April 14, 1861 – Union forces leave Fort Sumter. No soldiers on either side were killed, but war was inevitable. President Lincoln requested the mobilization of 75,000 troops to reclaim land and forts taken by the South. Lincoln further called upon 27 states to suppress 7 “cotton” or southern states. Northern populations are thrilled with the idea of suppressing the South.
April 17-19, 1861 – The 6th Massachusetts was the first regiment to respond and arrived at Baltimore, Maryland on April 19. Baltimore residents, largely in favor of secession, threaten to block the progress of northern troops. The first Union soldier was killed by gunshot at Union forces marched through the angry mob at Baltimore. A firefight ensued which resulted in the death of four soldiers and many more in the mob. Maryland becomes chaotic and key railroads are burned severing rail communications with the North. On April 17th, Virginia votes for secession from the Union and Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and sides with the southern states.
April 21, 1861 – Communications between Baltimore and Washington are severed. Union forces fear attack on Washington. Troops from Massachusetts and New York arrive to defend capital.
May 1861 – Railroad routes from north to Washington are reestablished. Despite many pro-secessionists, Maryland sides with the Union. Virginia officially secedes from the Union. Richmond is made capital of Confederate states. Despite a popular vote against secession, North Carolina secedes from the Union. Arkansas seceded on May 6.
June 1861 – Tennessee secedes from the Union. Kentucky and Missouri were each split, but never officially seceded.
July 1, 1861 – Union army grows to 186,000 soldiers.
July 16, 1861 – In an attempt to maintain northern support, and to make use of soldiers whose three-month commission was about to expire, president Lincoln authorized 30,000 troops to engage southern troops in northern Virginia . Union troops occupy Centreville under General McDowell. Southern troops mobilize at Bull Run creek near Manassas, Virginia.
July 21, 1861 – General McDowell attacks Confederates under General Beauregard at Bull Run. Aided by reinforcements by Generals Johnston and Stonewall Jackson, southern forces drive Union forces back through Centreville. Although there was concern that the Confederates would make an attempt at Washington, no advancement was made. The battle was intense and deadly. Union forces suffered 2,984 casualties while Confederate forces suffered 1,981 casualties. Northern supporters were discouraged while southern supporters were excited. Europe now viewed the dissolution (destruction) of the Union as inevitable.
August 1861 – Lincoln places General George McClellan in command of the troops in Washington. Army is renamed Army of the Potomac.
September 1861 – John C. Fremont, commander of the western states, issues a proclamation freeing slaves in Missouri, despite Lincoln’s disapproval. Proclamation energized the anti-slavery movement, but jeopardized the Union’s hope to win over the border states of Kentucky and Maryland.
October 24, 1861 – Amidst swirling rumors of conspiracies involving John C. Fremont, Lincoln issues an order removing him from his position.
October 31, 1861 – Despite his reluctance to engage the Confederates in battle, General George McClellan is made Commander of the Union army.
November 1861 – Union naval forces seize southern diplomats on their way to Great Britain. Great Britain demands their surrender and promises war with the North without compliance. Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward convinced him to surrender the diplomats to Great Britain.
January 1862 – President Lincoln dismissed the inept Secretary of War Simon Cameron and replaced him with Edwin M. Stanton – a virtuous Pennsylvania lawyer.
February 6, 1862 – General Ulysses S. Grant and Union forces take Fort Henry, Tennessee.
February 16 1862 – Confederate forces surrender Fort Donelson (Nashville) to general Grant and Union army. Grant takes some 15,000 Confederate troops prisoner marking an early turning point in the war. Union troops were able to advance almost 200 miles without resistance. Chaos ensued among the population of Tennessee. The victory at Fort Donelson resulted in increased support from Great Britain .Ulysses S. Grant rises to greatness, though is admonished by Generals Halleck and McClellan for basking in his victory and is temporarily relieved of command of the Army of the Tennessee. With an excellent chance of taking the demoralized Confederate Army in Richmond and Manassas, McClellan takes no further action.
February 22, 1862. Despite the disappointment at Nashville, Jefferson Davis is elected to a six year term as president of the Confederacy.
February 28, 1862 – Jefferson Davis declares Martial law in Richmond. Seven weeks later, a conscription (draft) law is passed.
March 6, 1862 – Iron-clad Confederate ship Merrimac breaks the Union naval blockade at Norfolk, Virginia. Officials in Washington fear the Merrimac will attack the capital and send the Monitor to counterattack. The Monitor drives the Merrimac back to Hampton Roads.
April 5, 1862 – Confederate armies under General Johnston launch a surprise attack on Union forces under General Grant at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee (Shiloh). Confederate forces initially drove Union forces from Shiloh Church, but Union forces from Savannah reinforced the army and ultimately drove the Confederates back. Despite the Union victory, no pursuit against the retreating Confederate army was made due to fatigue. Over 13,000 Union casualties were reported and nearly 11,000 Confederate casualties were reported, including general Johnston who bled to death. Northern sympathizers blamed Grant for the high number of casualties.
April 1862 – Union forces of 100,000 occupy Corinth, MS.
April 29th – Union naval forces aboard the Hartford, led by David Farragut take Forts St. Phillip and Jackson near New Orleans. New Orleans is evacuated. On May 1, Union forces occupied New Orleans. The capture of New Orleans was essential because it was the chief trading port and largest city in the South.
May 11, 1862 – Union forces destroy the Merrimac at Norfolk Harbor. Norfolk is evacuated and occupied by Union armies.
May 25, 1862 – Confederate forces under Stonewall Jackson route Union forces at Winchester, Virginia and force them across the Potomac River. Fear strikes Washington. Union forces mobilize to defend the capital. Jackson’s victories prevented the accumulation of Union troops for an offensive against Richmond.
May 31, 1862 – General Johnston (a different Confederate general than the one who died at Shiloh) and Confederate forces attack depleted Union armies near Richmond. Confederate armies are repulsed near Richmond, and Union armies form an encampment near Chickahominy Creek. Floods and heavy rains cause malaria and severely damage Union forces. 21,000 reinforcements are sent. Robert E. Lee is placed in command of the Confederate army of Northern Virginia.
June 6, 1862 – Union forces take Memphis, Tennessee and gain control of a crucial port on the Mississippi River. Only Vicksburg and Port Hudson remain as Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi.
June 27, 1862 – Confederate forces under Generals Lee and Jackson engage Union armies under McClellan at Gaines’ Mill, Virginia. Union forces are driven back and sustain substantial casualties. McClellan’s tactics and strategies are called into question as his armies retreat from positions near Richmond.
July 1, 1862 – In retreat, Union armies repulse Confederates at Malvern Hill. Nevertheless, Union forces were driven away from Richmond. Southern states gain confidence in their armies and the war.
July 11, 1862 – General Halleck is made Commander of Union army.
August 1862 – General John Pope and Union forces are defeated at the Second Battle of Bull-Run (Manassas).
September 1862 – General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac drives back General Lee and Confederate forces at South Mountain, VA. McClellan, however, failed to move quickly enough to Harper’s Ferry – which is occupied by General Stonewall Jackson and Confederate forces.
September 17, 1862 – McClellan’s Army of the Potomac and Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia clash at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. One of the bloodiest battles in the war, the Union army lost over 2,100 men while the Confederate Army lost over 2,700 men. Tens of thousands of soldiers were wounded. There was no clear winner, but Lee’s army, advancing north, was forced back to Virginia. The battle served the Union in that it persuaded Great Britain and France against recognizing the Confederacy as legitimate.
President Lincoln at Antietam
September 22, 1862 – President Lincoln announces the Emancipation Proclamation which gave freedom to all slaves being held in rebel territory effective January 1, 1863.
December 1862 – Lincoln replaces McClellan with general Ambrose Burnside as Commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside is defeated by Confederate forces at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Lincoln replaces Burnside with General Joseph Hooker.
March 1863 – Congress passed the Conscription Act which made men between the ages of 20-45 eligible for war.
May 1863 – General Hooker attacks Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Chancellorsville. Lee’s army drives back Union forces across the Rappahannock River. Despite the Confederate victory, they suffer substantial casualties including the death of Stonewall Jackson.
Dramatization of Battle of Chancellorsville
May/July 1863 (major turning point in the war) – Meanwhile, General Grant and Union forces had split the Confederacy in two by capturing Vicksburg, Mississippi, the essential port on the Mississippi River(it officially fell on July 4), and soon after Port Hudson, Louisiana. The entire Mississippi River was now in the hands of the Union. After defeating Union forces at Winchester, General Robert E. Lee decided to enter enemy territory and raced north toward Pennsylvania. Lee’s army captured York, Pennsylvania and had planned to attack Harrisburg. General George Meade, who had replaced Hooker as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, had his sights set on taking Richmond, but instead was instructed to follow Lee north. On news of Meade’s intentions, Lee shifted his army. Lee conferred with General James Longstreet concerning attack strategies, and despite Longstreet’s urgings decided to take the offensive.
On July 1, the Confederate and Union armies clashed at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In a dramatic series of charges and battles, including one led by Confederate General Pickett through a mile-long valley and up Cemetery Ridge (a hill fortified by Union soldiers) heavy casualties on both sides were reported. Meade’s army, from atop Cemetery Ridge, had resisted Pickett’s Charge and drove the Confederates south but failed to secure their destruction by waiting too long to pursue the retreating Confederates. The Union victory was the central turning point in the war and prevented the Confederacy from ever gaining formal recognition from European nations. On November 22, Lincoln gave his famous “Gettysburg Address” and dedicated part of the battlefield as a national cemetery.
September 1863 – Despite the crushing defeat at Gettysburg, the war was not over. Confederate forces defeated Union forces at Chickamauga Creek, Georgia and drove them back to Chattanooga, Tennessee.
November 1863 – Union forces under General Grant drive Confederates away from the crucial railroad town of Chattanooga and set the stage for Sherman’s March to the Sea.
May 1864 – Ulysses S. Grant is made Commander of Union Army and planned to engage the enemy in Virginia until the enemy was defeated. Grant attacked Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the wooded wilderness of central Virginia for three days. The battles became known as the Battle of the Wilderness. Despite heavy casualties, the Union army had replacements whereas the Confederates did not. Though the results of the Wilderness campaign were inconclusive, the Confederate army was weakening. Grant next attacked at Spotsylvania Courthouse where the Union army engaged the enemy for five days.
June 1864 – Grant next attacked at Cold Harbor. Despite losing 7,000 men in mere minutes, the continual pummeling from Grant’s army severely weakened and demoralized Lee’s army.
July 1864 – Although he hoped to capture Richmond from the north, after the Cold Harbor massacre, Grant shifted his army southwest in an attempt to take Petersburg, a city just south of Richmond. The Confederate army was well prepared and inflicted 10,000 casualties on Union forces (though Petersburg would soon be seized). Meanwhile, Lee sent general Jubal Early and 20,000 men to drive Union forces out of the Shenandoah Valley and Frederick, Maryland – which they did successfully. The Confederates were left with a clear path to Washington, but waited too long to advance. Reinforcements promptly arrived at Fort Stevens to defend the capital. Confederate forces retreated.
July 1864 – President Lincoln, in response to the heavy casualties at Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor issues a proclamation for 500,000 volunteers.
August 1864 – General William T. Sherman begins his March to the Sea. Despite initial defeat, Sherman and his Union forces take Atlanta, Georgia – the munitions center of the South. The Union occupation of Atlanta boosts morale in the North. Sherman continued on through Georgia, destroying buildings, farms and factories and cutting off supplies to the remained of the Confederate army. In December, Sherman took Savannah.
November 1864 – President Lincoln is re-elected.
January 1865 – Northern blockades devastate the south. Soldiers begin to starve. Many desert the army. Confederate currency became worthless.
February 1865 – Sherman marches through the Carolinas and destroys virtually everything. Soldiers jump at the opportunity to burn South Carolina, the so-called culprit of the war.
March 25, 1865 – Lee’s army attacks Grant at Petersburg in desperation. Lee’s army is repulsed and Grant marches to Richmond. Richmond is evacuated and Lee’s forces head west.
April 9, 1865 – General Lee’s army was surrounded at Appomattox by Grant’s forces. Lee formally surrenders the Confederacy on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. The Civil War is over.
April 14, 1865 – President Lincoln is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a southern sympathizer.