Abraham Lincoln - Key Events
02/07/1861: Confederate States of America organized
The Confederate States of America is organized by the lower Southern states stretching from South Carolina to Texas. Jefferson Davis is elected president. Davis, a native Mississippian, had served in the Senate as a leading Southern advocate and was Secretary of War for President Franklin Pierce. Over the course of the Civil War, Davis will face the conflict between the confederate ideology of states' rights and the need for a strong, central government to lead the war against President Abraham Lincoln and the Union.
03/04/1861: Abraham Lincoln inaugurated
Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated as the sixteenth President of the United States, and the nation's first Republican President. Many Southerners view his victory, determined by the free states, as the final blow in decades of sectional conflict. Between the time of Lincoln's election and his inauguration, seven states from the lower South secede. In his inauguration speech, Lincoln attempts to pacify the South by stating that he will not interfere with slavery where it exists but that the secession of states from the Union is illegal. He warns that he will respond to violence with force.
03/11/1861: Confederate Congress adopts Confederate Constitution
The Confederate Congress unanimously adopts the Confederate Constitution, which declares the sovereignty of states and forbids the passage of any bill which outlaws slavery.
04/12/1861: Fort Sumter
Responding to Lincoln's attempt to resupply Fort Sumter (one of the last remaining federal stations in the South), South Carolina's Confederate batteries, under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard open fire on the federal arsenal, in the Charleston harbor, at 4:30 a.m. Confederate President Jefferson Davis issues the order to Beauregard.
Civil War Begins
The American Civil War began at 4:30am on April 12, 1861, when General Pierre G. T. Beauregard's Confederate artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Beauregard's bombardment lasted for thirty-three hours until Union Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. The Confederates took down the stars and stripes and raised the stars and bars at Fort Sumter.
Fort Sumter represented a symbol of state sovereignty to both the United States and Confederate States of America (CSA). The Confederate Provisional Congress considered it an outpost under foreign control in an important harbor. Negotiations between the CSA and the United States over Fort Sumter failed, however. On April 9, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Beauregard to attack Fort Sumter if Anderson refused a final appeal to surrender. The Confederate attack on Fort Sumter placed responsibility for starting the Civil War on the shoulders of the Confederacy.
The fall of Fort Sumter brought the secession crisis to the breaking point. On April 15, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve in the U.S. Army for a period of ninety days. In doing so, Lincoln answered the South's challenge to civil war. Following Sumter, Lincoln believed that the insurrection was “too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary process of judicial proceedings.” It would be settled by force of arms. In the weeks that followed, four more states-Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, the South's most populous state-seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy.
Abraham Lincoln's decisive action following the fall of Fort Sumter inaugurated a wartime presidency in which the executive superseded the other two branches of the federal government. As commander in chief, Lincoln was responsible for how the war was conducted, and he transformed the President's role as commander in chief and as chief executive into a powerful new position. In several emergencies, Lincoln exercised powers not constitutionally granted to a President and ignored Supreme Court decisions ruling his conduct unconstitutional. Still he was committed to preserving the Union and thus vindicating democracy no matter what the consequences to himself, and his strong presidency helped save the Union.
04/13/1861: Major Anderson surrendors
Out of supplies and after thirty-three hours under attack, Major Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter surrenders. The federal outpost is evacuated the next day.
04/15/1861: Lincoln calls for end of rebellion
Following the incident at Fort Sumter, Lincoln calls for 75,000 militiamen (volunteer troops) to put down the rebellion. He declares that an “insurrection” exists, marking the official beginning of the Civil War. In four and a half years, nearly 5 million American men will serve as soldiers with more than 600,000 of them falling as casualties, making the Civil War the bloodiest war in American history.
04/17/1861: Virginia secedes
In response to Lincoln's decision to use force in South Carolina, Virginia secedes from the nation, followed by three other upper Southern states: North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Four border slave states remain in the Union.
04/19/1861: Lincoln orders blockage
With only 42 ships and 3550 miles of Confederate coastline to patrol, Lincoln orders a blockade of Confederate ports that will eventually weaken the Confederacy by disrupting the importation of supplies. Meanwhile, the first casualties of the Civil War occur in Baltimore, Maryland.
05/06/1861: Arkansas secedes
Arkansas secedes from the Union.
05/10/1861: Morrill Tariff
Searching for a way to finance the war, the House of Representatives passes the Morrill Tariff and excise taxes (sponsored by Senator Morrill of Vermont). The law signals a new impulse toward protectionism and the increasing centralization of the federal government. Congress becomes the regulator of imports, doubling duties and levying taxes on goods associated with manufacturers and most other professions.
05/20/1861: North Carolina secedes
North Carolina secedes from the Union.
05/21/1861: Confederate capital moves to Richmond
Following Virginia's secession, the capital of the confederacy moves from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia. Virginia is most populous of the Southern states.
06/08/1861: Tennessee secedes
Tennessee secedes from the Union.
07/21/1861: Battle of Bull Run
The Battle of Bull Run takes place near Manassas, Virginia. Confederate General Beauregard defeats the Union forces under General Irvin McDowell. Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson is nicknamed “Stonewall” for his firm stand at a crucial moment in the battle. The fighting inspires the Confederacy to create a new battle flag after confusion occurs between the Confederacy's “stars and bars” and the Union flag.
07/25/1861: The Union endorses volunteers
The Union endorses the use of volunteers for the war and offers a $100 bonus for at least two years of service.
09/14/1861: Naval engagement at Pensacola
The Civil War's first naval engagement occurs at Pensacola, Florida, between the USS Colorado and the steamer Judah. Navy Lt. John H. Russell and his crew arrive at the Navy yard at 2 a.m. and set fire to the Judah. The Union suffers three deaths and four wounded, while the Confederates suffer no casualties.
10/31/1861: General Winfield Scott retires
General Winfield Scott retires as commander in chief of the Union army at age 75.
11/01/1861: McClellan named commander
Following General Scott's retirement, President Lincoln names George McClellan, a West Point graduate, as new commander of the Union army. McClellan proves to be an extremely cautious general. His inability to win decisive battles will frustrate Lincoln, who will eventually replace him.
02/20/1862: William Wallace (Willie) Lincoln dies
William Wallace (Willie) Lincoln dies from typhoid fever. He is the second son the Lincolns have lost.
03/09/1862: Ironclad warfare
The first duel between two ironclad warships occurs. With trade suffering from the federal blockade, the Confederacy converts the wooden Merrimack into an ironclad gunship, now called the Virginia. The Union Monitor battles the Virginia to a standoff. In May, the Union forces the Confederacy to abandon Norfolk, definitively establishing the Union's naval superiority.
04/16/1862: Slavery abolished in D.C.
Slavery is abolished in District of Columbia.
06/01/1862: General Robert E. Lee appointed commander
General Robert E. Lee is appointed commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia after his predecessor is wounded.
07/1862: Organizing black troops
Major General David Hunter of the Union organizes the first black troops, among whom number many former slaves. By war's end, nearly 200,000 African Americans will have served in the Union forces, comprising roughly ten percent of the Union's total manpower. Initially, the Confederacy threatens to execute every captured black soldier; Lincoln responds by promising to execute one Confederate soldier for each black killed.
07/22/1862: Lincoln's intentions
Lincoln announces to his cabinet his intention to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. By this point, he believes the border states will remain in the Union. Lincoln decides to wait to address the nation publicly, however, hoping to introduce his proclamation after a more favorable military battle.
08/29/1862: Second Battle of Bull Run
The Second Battle of Bull Run takes place. Generals Stonewall Jackson and Lee prove too much for the Union troops under General John Pope, who retreat to Washington, D.C. The battle leads to huge Union losses.
09/17/1862: Battle of Antietam Creek
The Battle of Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, occurs, and becomes the bloodiest one-day engagement of the Civil War. General Lee invades the North in an attempt to isolate Washington, D.C., but finds himself thwarted by General McClellan and the Union forces. The Union is aided by a copy of Lee's orders, left by a Confederate soldier at a campsite. In the carnage that follows, nearly 5,000 men are killed and 18,000 wounded. McClellan fails to follow Lee's retreat, and a frustrated Lincoln consequently removes him from his command.
09/22/1862: Emancipation Proclamation
Following the Confederate defeat at Antietam, Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, to go into effect on January 1, 1863. In the document, Lincoln frees all slaves in Confederate or contested areas of the South. Slaves in non-Confederate border states and in parts of the Confederacy under Union control are not included. European public opinion sides with Lincoln and the Union.
11/1862: Midterm congressional elections
Midterm congressional elections take place. The Republicans maintain control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, with a 39-12 majority in Senate and a 103-80 majority in the House.
12/13/1862: Battle of Fredericksburg
The Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, marks a grave defeat for the Union. General Lee and his Confederate troops defeat General Burnside. Union losses number more than 12,600, while Confederate casualties rise to 5,300.
12/31/1862: The Union ironclad Monitor sinks
The Union ironclad Monitor (now Virginia) sinks off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
01/01/1863: Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. With it, he freed all slaves in Confederate or contested areas of the South. However, the Proclamation did not include slaves in non-Confederate border states and in parts of the Confederacy under Union control.
During the war, Republicans and Northern free blacks called on the President to act decisively to end slavery. Members of the Lincoln administration also hoped that an act of emancipation would make it difficult for Britain or France to officially recognize the Confederacy in view of the antislavery sentiments among their home populations–especially in Britain. In July 1862, President Lincoln announced to his cabinet that he intended to issue an Emancipation Proclamation in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the armed forces in the time of war. The Proclamation would free all slaves in areas still in rebellion, and henceforth it would be a Union objective to destroy slavery within the Confederate South. His cabinet persuaded Lincoln to wait until a Union victory, lest it appear to the world like an act of desperation.
After General George McClellan stopped Robert E. Lee's advance into Maryland at Antietam Creek in September 1862, Lincoln announced his preliminary Proclamation. The President warned that if the rebellion did not end by January 1, 1863, he would issue his presidential order of emancipation and move to destroy slavery in the rebel states once and for all. In the Proclamation, Lincoln left out occupied Tennessee and certain occupied parts of Louisiana and Virginia as well as the loyal slave states. The document declared, with the exception of those areas, that all slaves in the rebellious states were hereafter “forever free.” It also asserted that the Union Army would now receive black men into the service as regular soldiers. (The U.S. Navy had accepted black sailors from the beginning of the war.)
In a single stroke of his pen, Abraham Lincoln issued the most revolutionary measure ever to come from an American President up to that time. Still, the President was worried that the courts might void his wartime Proclamation after the war on the grounds that any confiscation of “property” required due process of law, and that such a policy could only be adopted by a law passed by Congress. Thus, Lincoln used his reelection victory in 1864 to promote a constitutional amendment that would end slavery everywhere in the nation. The Republican platform of 1864 endorsed the Thirteenth Amendment–which the U.S. Senate had passed in April. Lincoln used all the powers of his office, including patronage, to push it through the House, which adopted the amendment on January 31, 1865. The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in December 1865.
To read the full text of the Emancipation Proclamation, click here.
01/02/1863: Battle of Murfreesboro
The Battle of Murfreesboro occurs.
02/24/1863: Territory of Arizona formed
The territory of Arizona is formed from the Territory of New Mexico.
02/25/1863: National Banking Act
The National Banking Act, designed by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, creates the system for a national bank. To supervise, Congress creates the “controller of the currency” position, which is first given to Hugh McCulloch on May 9, 1863.
3/03/1863: Conscription law
Congress passes a conscription law, requiring military service. For $300, a draftee can hire a substitute; this addendum angers some who claim it is “aristocracy legislation.”
05/01/1863: Battle of Chancellorsville
Near the District of Columbia, in Virginia, the Battle of Chancellorsville takes place. General Lee wins a brilliant victory over Union General Joseph Hooker. Following his success, Lee decides to begin a second invasion into the North.
05/02/1863: General Stonewall Jackson wounded
General Stonewall Jackson is wounded in the Battle of Chancellorsville, accidentally shot by his own troops; his left arm must be amputated. Jackson catches pneumonia and dies on May 10.
05/03/1863: Territory of Idaho created
The Territory of Idaho is created from existing territories. This territory later includes the states of Montana and Wyoming.
06/20/1863: West Virginia becomes a state
West Virginia is admitted to Union as the thirty-fifth state.
07/01/1863: Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg, the war's greatest engagement, occurs. In his invasion of the North, Lee makes a bid to smash through Union forces and take Washington, D.C., from the west with 75,000 troops. General George E. Meade, who replaced McClellan, meets him accidentally at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After two days of battle, Lee makes his greatest blunder and sends General George Picket and 15,000 men on a suicidal charge across Cemetery Ridge. By July 4, both sides are exhausted; the following day, Lee's troops retreat across the Potomac, never to return to the North. The South suffers greatly with nearly 30,000 killed, wounded, or missing; the North endures 23,000 casualties. For the remainder of the war, Lee will fight on the defensive. Meanwhile, Meade fails to pursue the retreating Confederate troops, frustrating Lincoln.
07/04/1863: Vicksburg captured
After an engagement of months, General Ulysses S. Grant finally captures Vicksburg, Mississippi, a Confederate stronghold. Using the tactics of “total war,” Grant feeds his troops on Southern crops and starves Vicksburg and its defenders into submission. Capturing Vicksburg gives the Union control over the entirety of Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, Lincoln appoints Grant his lieutenant general, announcing, “Grant is my man, and I am his the rest of the war.”
07/13/1863: Rioters protest the conscription act
Angry over the draft, rioters in New York City protest the conscription act. More than one-hundred people, many of them African-American, are killed. Lincoln has units from Gettysburg rush to the city to end the fighting.
11/19/1863: Gettysburg Address
Lincoln makes his famous Gettysburg Address -- consisting of three short paragraphs -- on the bloodstained battlefield. Ceremonies take place which include the dedication of a national cemetery.
12/08/1863: Lincoln offers full pardons
Lincoln offers a full pardon to Southerners who take the prescribed oath.
05/07/1864: Spotsylvania campaign
General Grant continues his Spotsylvania campaign, hammering through Lee's forces.
06/07/1864: RNC nominates Lincoln again
The Republican National Convention nominates President Lincoln for second term. Andrew Johnson is nominated as his new vice president.
07/05/1864: Horace Greeley negotiations
Horace Greeley, a radical Republican, is eager for peace. Lincoln opens peace negotiations and tells Greeley that emissaries from Jefferson Davis are in Canada. Without proper authority, however, negotiations at Niagara Falls, New York, fail.
08/29/1864: DNC nominates McClellan
The Democratic National Convention nominates General George B. McClellan, the former Union commander, for the presidency and George Pendleton for the vice-presidency. Claiming the war effort a failure, the Democrats support a ceasefire and peace conference.
09/01/1864: Confederates evacuate Atlanta
Confederates under General John Hood evacuate from Atlanta, Georgia. The next day, Union forces led by General William Tecumseh Sherman occupy the city. Grant's colleague, Sherman will continue his run through Georgia, utilizing the tactics of “total warfare.”
10/31/1864: Nevada becomes a state
Nevada is admitted to the Union as the thirty-sixth state.
11/1864: Republicans increase their power
In congressional elections, the Republicans increase their power in both houses. They now hold majorities of 42-10 in the Senate and 149-42 in the House.
11/08/1864: Lincoln reelected
Following decisive Union victories by Admiral Farragut in Alabama and General Sherman in Atlanta, Abraham Lincoln is reelected as President of the United States, with Andrew Johnson as his vice president. Along with 55 percent of the popular vote, Lincoln wins 212 electoral votes to McClellan's 21.
11/16/1864: Sherman begins his march
After burning Atlanta, General Sherman begins his notorious 300-mile march to the sea with 62,000 men. Traveling roughly ten miles a day, the Union troops ravage the countryside, leaving a path of destruction fifty miles wide; they capture Savannah in late December. Sherman then turns toward South Carolina.
12/15/1864: Salmon P. Chase appointed
Salmon P. Chase is appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Formerly Governor of Ohio and then secretary of the treasury under Lincoln, Chase kept the nation out of financial ruin through Legal Tender Act in 1862. With this legislation, Chase issued 150 million “greenbacks” (paper money), ordering that “In God We Trust” be printed on them to encourage people to accept the money at face value. Chase had also orchestrated the first income tax in 1863.
01/31/1865: Thirteenth Amendment
With Lincoln's influence, the House of Representatives approves the Thirteenth Amendment, which calls for the emancipation of all slaves and no compensation to their owners. The amendment was passed by the Senate in 1864 but failed to receive the necessary votes in the House. By December of 1865, enough states ratify the amendment to make it constitutionally binding.
House Passes Thirteenth Amendment
On January 31, 1865, the House of Representatives passed the Thirteenth Amendment, which made slavery illegal in the United States. The Senate had passed the amendment in April 1864. With Congress's approval, the amendment then went to the states for ratification. By December 1865, enough states had ratified the amendment to make it constitutionally binding.
The Thirteenth Amendment had two sections. Section one read: “Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Section two stated that Congress had the power to pass legislation to enforce the abolition of slavery.
Prior to becoming president, Abraham Lincoln had compromised on the slavery issue in the political arena. Although Lincoln clearly hated slavery, he assumed the presidency promising not to interfere with it. During the American Civil War, President Lincoln noted again and again that his purpose in fighting the South was to save the Union, not to free the slaves. But as the war dragged on and more and more slaves from the South fled to the Union Army, Lincoln began to reconsider slavery, and he came under more and more pressure to free the slaves.
In July 1862, the president announced to his cabinet that he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation in his capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces in time of war. The Proclamation would free all slaves in areas still in rebellion, and henceforth it would be a Union objective to destroy slavery within the Confederate South. After the Union Army defeated the Confederates at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation and warned that if the war did not end by January 1, 1863, the Emancipation would go into effect and the Union would move to destroy slavery in the rebel states forever.
During his reelection campaign of 1864, President Lincoln promoted a constitutional amendment that would end slavery throughout the country. Lincoln used all the powers of his office to have Congress pass the amendment. Lincoln, however, did not live to see the Thirteenth Amendment become part of the Constitution. The president was assassinated in April 1865, and the amendment was ratified in December of that year.
02/06/1865: Robert E. Lee given overall command
The Confederate Congress in Richmond gives Robert E. Lee overall command of the Confederate armies. Previously, President Jefferson Davis had served as commander.
3/03/1865:Freedman's Bureau created
Congress creates the Freedmen's Bureau to help Southern blacks affected by the war. The Bureau supplies blacks with food, clothing, and medical care, and will orchestrate the placement of freedmen on abandoned lands.
03/04/1865: Abraham Lincoln inaugurated
Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated as president for his second term while Andrew Johnson succeeds Hannibal Hamlin as vice-president.
03/13/1865: Confederates recruit slaves
Desperate for manpower, the Confederate Congress approves the recruitment of 300,000 slaves for military involvement. Jefferson Davis declares that all volunteers and their families will be given freedom.
04/03/1865: Richmond is evacuated
04/09/1865: Surrender at Appomattox
After Union forces capture much-needed Confederate supplies at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders to General Grant, marking the end of the Civil War.
04/14/1865: Lincoln shot
Actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth shoots President Lincoln at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., at around 10:15 p.m.
04/15/1865: Abraham Lincoln dies
Abraham Lincoln dies at 7:22 a.m. in the home of William Petersen. Vice President Andrew Johnson is sworn in as the seventeenth President of the United States.
President Abraham Lincoln Dies
On April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died. He had been shot by an assassin the night before and died of a head wound early on the morning of the 15th.
President Lincoln had been sworn in to his second term of office on March 4, 1865. On April 9, he oversaw the end of the American Civil War when the Confederate Army surrendered to the Union. It had been a remarkable spring for the commander in chief.
On April 14, Lincoln sat in Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., watching a play when a man burst into the presidential box and shot the President in the back of his head. The assassin, John Wilkes Booth, leaped from the box to the stage to make his escape, shouting “Sic semper Tyrannis! (Thus always to Tyrants) The South is avenged!”
The President died at 7:22 a.m. the next morning in the home of William Petersen. A few hours after Lincoln's death, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase swore Vice President Andrew Johnson in as President of the United States.
The assassin, Booth, was an actor and an ardent Confederate sympathizer who had planned to kill Lincoln along with accomplices who were supposed to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and General Ulysses S. Grant. However, the plan went array, and only Booth carried out his part of the plan. Four of his co-conspirators were convicted and hanged for taking part in the plot or for having known about it in advance. Booth was discovered in a barn in rural Virginia ten days after Lincoln's assassination after frantic searching by the Army and the Secret Service. As they attempted to capture Booth, the barn was set on fire, and Booth either shot himself or was killed in a shoot-out.
Lincoln's death stunned the country and muted its joy over the end of the Civil War. After seven days of official mourning in the Capitol, Lincoln's coffin was carried on a slow-moving funeral train back to Springfield, Illinois. As the procession traveled through the country, people in small towns and villages, in big cities, and throughout the countryside gathered to see the train pass and offer their last respects to Lincoln. Thousands of Americans remembered the sight of the passing funeral train as one of the most deeply emotional events of their lives.