Notable milestones throughout the entirety of the American Civil War, condensed into one simplistic timeline

For a nation divided by Civil War, many turning points along the way, whether political, social, economic or war related, helped pave the way for a Union  victory.

The south won significant victories in 1861, but in spring 1862, the North gained control of railroad junctions and rivers in the West and launched a campaign against the Confederate capital of Richmond. In late April the Federals took control of the large southern port of New Orleans. The South, however, won a major battle at Bull Run and began to invade Kentucky and Maryland. After a major loss at Antietam, the Confederates were victorious at Fredericksburg.

Early in 1863 the South won the Battle of Chancellorsville, but in July the North beat the Confederates back at Gettysburg and took Vicksburg, thus gaining control of the entire Mississippi River. The war was beginning to turn in favor of the Union.

In late 1864, the capture of Atlanta allowed Sherman to divide the Confederacy. Supply lines in Virginia were also cut when Union forces laid waste to the breadbasket of the Confederacy — the Shenandoah Valley. It was now clear that the Union would be victorious, but the South continued to fight at Petersburg defending Richmond until defeat was inevitable, and they finally surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, on April 9, 1865.


  • 1820 – 21 – Missouri Compromise enacted.
  • August 22, 1831 – Nat Turner leads a
    slave rebellion in Virginia.
  • September 18, 1850 – Fugitive Slave Act adopted.
  • 1851 – 52 – Uncle Tom’s Cabin published, first in serial form, then in book form.
  • May 30, 1854 – Kansas-Nebraska Act adopted.
  • May 22, 1856 – Senator Charles Sumner attacked by Congressman Preston Brooks.
  • May 24, 1856 – John Brown’s raid at Pottawatomie Creek in Kasnas
  • March 6, 1857 – Supreme Court rules against Dred Scott.
  • October 16, 1859 – John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
  • May 1860 – U.S. Congress passed the Morrill Tariff Bill, raising the average tariff from about 15% to 37%.
  • November 6, 1860 – Abraham Lincoln elected U.S President.
  • December 14, 1860 – Georgia legislature calls for a convention to consider a confederacy of southern states.
  • December 20, 1860 – South Carolina secedes from the Union.
  • December 30, 1860 – South Carolinian’s seize Federal arsenal at Charleston.
  • March 1861 – Morrill Tariff was signed into law by President James Buchanan.

Fort Sumter, 1861

  • January 9 – Secessionist batteries at Charleston, South Carolina, repulse ship sent to reinforce Fort Sumter.
  • February 18 – Jefferson Davis inaugurated provisional president of the Confederacy.
  • March 4 – Abraham Lincoln inaugurated president of the United States.
  • April 12 – Civil War beings as Confederates open fire on Fort Sumter.
  • April 14 – Fort Sumter falls.

Bull Run


  • July 3 – John Charles Fremont appointed commander of Union’s newly created Western Department, which includes the neutral state of Missouri.
  • August 10 – Battle of Wilson’s Creek (Missouri).
  • August 30 – Fremont declares martial law in Missouri and names Ulysses S. Grant to command Federal forces along the Mississippi River.
  • September 3 – Confederates under Leonidas Polk occupy Columbus Kentucky, in defiance of Kentucky’s neutrality.
  • November 2 – Fremont relieved of command

Shiloh, 1862

The Coastal War

  • February 10 – Battle of Elizabeth City (North Carolina)
  • March 9 – The Virginia and the Monitor clash at Hampton Roads (Virginia)
  • April 18-28 – Federal forces capture New Orleans



  • August 3 – Robert E. Lee launches offensive in northern Virginia.
  • August 28-30 – Second Battle of Bull Run (Virginia)
  • September 4 – Lee invades Maryland.
  • September 12-15 – Battle of Harpers Ferry (western Virginia)
  • September 17 – Battle of Antietam (Mayland)


  • September 22 – Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation, to take effect January 1, 1863.
  • December 13 – Battle of Fredericksburg (Virginia)

Vicksburg, 1863

Chancellorsville / Gettysburg



  • September 2 – Federals seize Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • September 7 – Braxton Bragg orders his Confederates to evacuate Chattanooga.
  • September 19-20 – Battle of Chickamauga (Georgia)
  • October 23 – Ulysses Grant takes command in Chattanooga, where Federals have come under siege.
  • November 23-25 – Battle of Chattanooga (Campaign).

Grant vs Lee, 1864


Paths to Victory

  • August 31 – George McClellan nominated by Democrats to challenge Abraham Lincoln in the November election.
  • November 8 – Lincoln wins reelection decisively.
  • November 15 – William Sherman launches his devastating march from Atlanta to Savannah.
  • November 30-December 16 – Battles of Franklin and Nashville (Tennessee)
  • December 13 – Sherman captures Fort McAllister, below Savannah, and links up with Federal fleet.
  • December 21 – Sherman takes Savannah.

Carolinas, 1865

  • January 13-15 – Federals capture Fort fisher and proceed to seal off Wilmington, North Carolina, the last Confederate port open to foreign trade.
  • January 21 – William Sherman leaves Savannah to advance through the Carolinas.
  • January 31 – U.S. Congress passes Thirteenth Amendment, outlawing slavery.
  • February 3 – Peace talks between Union and Confederate leaders at Fort Monroe, on the Virginia coast, conclude without an agreement.
  • February 17 – Confederates abandon Charleston, South Carolina; Sherman’s troops occupy Columbia, South Carolina.
  • Mach 19-21 – Battle of Bentonville (North Carolina)
  • March 28 – President Lincoln lays out plans for peace in a meeting with top commanders near Petersburg, Virginia.


  • March 31-April 1 – Battle of Five Forks (Virginia)
  • April 2 – Grant breaks through at Petersburg, forcing Confederates to abandon that city and nearby Richmond overnight.
  • April 6 – Battle of Sayler’s Creek (Virginia)
  • April 9 – Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox Court House.
  • April 15 – Abraham Lincoln dies after being shot by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.
  • April 26 – Joseph Johnston surrenders to William Sherman.
  • May 10 – Jefferson Davis captured by Federals in Georgia.
  • May 23-24 – Victorious Union troops parade through Washington, D.C.
  • May 26 – Armed resistance to the Union ends with surrender of Confederate troops west of the Mississippi.


  • April 15, 1865 – Abraham Lincoln dies after being shot by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Democrat Andrew Johnson succeeds Abraham Lincoln as president following Lincoln’s assassination.
  • December 1865 – Republican-dominated Congress refuses to seat newly elected representatives from Southern states reorganized under Johnson’s proclamation and launches its own program of Reconstruction.
  • May 1868 – Impeachment trial in Senate ends with Johnson’s acquittal when his opponents fall one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict.
  • March 4, 1869 – Republican Ulysses S. Grant succeeds Johnston and supports the Fifteenth Amendment, barring states from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of race.
  • March 2, 1877 – Republican Rutherford B. Hayes declared winner of disputed presidential election after signaling the end of Reconstruction by pledging to remove the last Federal troops in the South, send there by Grant to protect voting rights.