Civil War Timeline of Events

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About the Civil War, Timeline of Events

Experience the Civil War through its key events. Many of the places mentioned in this section can be visited today. Also study and learn about the causes and origins of the Civil War, as well as:

Prelude to Civil War: The origins of the Civil War are often viewed as present at the founding of the nation. The American Constitution did not mention slavery specifically, except to protect the slave trade for 20 years (1808). It counted slaves ("all other persons") as "three-fifths" of a person for purposes of Congressional representation. The institution of slavery itself was left to the discretion of the states. As slavery disappeared from Northern states, but remained viable in the South, two very different ways of life arose in these sections (known as Sectionalism). Compromises regarding States' Rights, slavery (African Americans and the Civil War), especially its extension to the new Western territories, became more difficult to achieve. Social, political and economic power was at stake for both the North and the South.

There were a series of significant events which greatly affected States' Rights, Secession, the Union, African Americans and accelerated the American Civil War. These historical events are commonly referred to as the "Causes of the American Civil War" and are listed without significant order:
States' Rights (Bill of Rights and the 10th Amendment), High Tariffs, Nullification Crisis (South Carolina, in the 1830s, threatened to secede because of high tariffs), Sectionalism, Missouri Compromise, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Manifest Destiny, Compromise of 1850 (which included the controversial Fugitive Slave Act), Dred Scott Case, Bleeding Kansas, Crittenden CompromiseJohn Brown, and President Abraham Lincoln's election.


May 30, 1854
Kansas-Nebraska Act becomes law, Washington, D.C. This law gives the people of the two territories the authority to decide on the legal status of slavery. This effectively repeals the Missouri Compromise line of demarcation, which prohibited slavery in the states of the Louisiana Purchase above the southern boundary of Missouri.
August 1, 1854
The first settlers from the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company, supporting a Free State, arrive in Lawrence, Kansas.
November 28, 1854
Thousands of armed Southerners, mostly from Missouri, come into Kansas to vote for a Proslavery Congressional delegate. Proslavery forces win the election of 1854.

March 13, 1855
More New Englanders (New England Emigrant Aid Company), favoring a Free State, journey to Kansas to participate in the election of the territorial legislature.
March 30, 1855
Voters elect members of the territorial legislature. Proslavery forces win the election. President Franklin Pierce recognizes this legislature, which incorporates the Missouri slave code.
Summer 1855
1200 New Englanders (New England Emigrant Aid Company) journey to Kansas. Henry Ward Beecher furnishes them with Sharp's rifles, which come to be known as "Beecher's Bibles."
October 23 - November 11, 1855
Free State advocates meet in Topeka, Kansas and adopt a state Constitution, which outlaws slavery, but also prohibits all free African-Americans from entering the state.
November 21, 1855
Wakarusa War. Charles W. Dow, a Free State advocate, is murdered by F.M. Coleman, a Proslavery advocate, over a land dispute. After Sheriff Samuel J. Jones of Douglas County arrests not only Coleman, but a Free State witness, Jacob Branson, political tensions mount on both sides. When armed Free State men rescue Branson, each side begins to increase its forces. Proslavery reinforcements come from Missouri and Free State advocates from around Kansas. They converge on Lawrence, Kansas.
December 6, 1855
Governor Wilson Shannon negotiates a settlement of the Wakarusa dispute and the combatants disperse. However, Thomas W. Barber, a Free State advocate, is killed by George W. Clarke, a Proslavery advocate, as he leaves Lawrence to return home.
December 7, 1855
John Brown and his sons arrive in Lawrence to join the Free State effort as it concludes. He is made a captain of a company in the Kansas Volunteers. He and his family stay at the Free State Hotel. Brown joined his sons at their settlement near Osawatomie, Kansas in October.
New England abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher donates 25 rifles and his parishioners donate 25 Bibles to the Free State community of Wamego, KS. Today, the title of the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church refers to this event.
May 25-25, 1856
Pottawatomie Massacre. John Brown, four of his sons and two other abolitionist Free Staters hack to death five proslavery men, supposedly in retaliation for the sacking of Lawrence and the caning of Senator Charles Sumner.
August 2, 1856
Burning of Tauy Jones House. Proslavery forces burn the original home of Free Stater Tauy Jones, from which Jones escapes. He builds a second house, still standing, in the 1860s.
September 4, 1856
Repulse of James H. Lane. The people of Lecompton, KS, with the Camp Sackett Cavalry, prevent James Lane and his forces from sacking the town to liberate Free State prisoners held there.  The prisoners are later moved to Lawrence.
Joel Grover, an abolitionist, builds a barn on his property in Lawrence, KS and uses it as a stop along the Underground Railroad. John Brown is said to have stopped there in January 1859 as he fled across Kansas with slaves taken from Missouri.
January 12-February 21, 1857
The Kansas Territorial Legislative Assembly, controlled by pro-slavery advocates, meets and calls for a Constitutional Convention.
March 6, 1857
Dred Scott Decision. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivers the decision that the slave Dred Scott's suit for freedom should be dismissed. Taney goes on in his opinion to declare that “A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.”  Furthermore, he declares that slave owners cannot be prohibited from maintaining slaves in the territories.
October 19, 1857
The Kansas Constitutional Convention meets and adopts a proslavery constitution, the Lecompton Constitution, which it submits directly to Congress for approval. The constitution approves slavery in the territory and prohibits free African Americans from living in Kansas. The constitution becomes a national issue, splits the Democratic Party and is a topic of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858.
January 4, 1858
1858 Territorial Legislature (Free State) at Lawrence, KS. The newly elected territorial legislature, with an antislavery majority, meets in session in Lecompte, organizes and then adjourns to the friendlier environment of Lawrence for its session.
May 19, 1858
Marais des Cygnes Massacre. Proslavery forces under Charles Hamilton capture 11 Free State men near Trading Post, KS and shoot them in a ravine near the site, killing five of them. The event, often referred to as a massacre, was reported nationwide.
June 7-15, 1858
Repulse of James Montgomery. Captain James Montgomery, a Free Stater, and some followers, enter Fort Scott on June 7 and try to burn down the Western Hotel, a pro-slavery headquarters. Governor James Denver negotiates an agreement to remove federal troops.
June 16, 1858
Lincoln delivers the "House Divided" speech. Accepting the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate from the state of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln delivers a now famous speech before the Republican State Convention in the Old State Capitol in Springfield, IL. In it he predicts that the country will not be able to endure half slave and half free. 
August 15-September 15, 1858
John Brown illness. John Brown stays in the cabin of his half-sister, Florella Adair, where he recovers from an illness.
August 21, 1858
1st Lincoln-Douglas debate. The first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas during the Illinois U.S. Senatorial Campaign is held in Ottawa, IL. They both address the Kansas and Nebraska Act of 1854 and the Dred Scott decision in their debate over the expansion of slavery.
August 27, 1858
2nd Lincoln-Douglas debate. The second debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas is held in Freeport, IL. The candidates discuss the fugitive slave law, admission of slave states, slavery in the territories and District of Columbia, and interstate slave trade.
September 15, 1858
3rd Lincoln-Douglas debate. The third debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas is held in Jonesboro, IL. They fight over the meaning of popular sovereignty under the Kansas-Nebraska Act as contradicted by the Dred Scott decision.
September 18, 1858
4th Lincoln-Douglas debate. The fourth debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas is held in Charleston, IL. Candidates identify their respective positions on racial equality, but they spend most of this debate in argument over a speech by Judge Lyman Trumbull, then Republican Senator from Illinois.
October 7, 1858
5th Lincoln-Douglas debate. The fifth debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas is held in Galesburg, IL. They debate over the Kansas-Nebraska bill, as a demonstration of states' rights, and the meaning of slavery in the context of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, particularly in light of the Dred Scott decision.
October 13, 1858
6th Lincoln-Douglas debate. The sixth debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas is held in Quincy, IL. The candidates continue with topics from the Galesburg debates, including further comments on the Dred Scott decision and the expansion of  slavery into the territories.
October 15, 1858
7th Lincoln-Douglas debate. The seventh and last debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas is held in Alton, IL.  Both candidates revisit their remarks at the previous debates at Galesburg and Quincy. Then, both candidates defend former statements related to the overall slavery debate. Douglas discusses his opposition to the proslavery Lecompton constitution. Lincoln defends his “House Divided” speech, in which he had criticized the Dred Scott decision as potentially making slavery national, but insists that he had not objected to its ruling against African Americans citizens.
December 16, 1858
Captain James Montgomery enters Fort Scott and frees Benjamin Rice, a Free State prisoner. J.H. Little, who fires on the party, is killed and his store raided.
December 20, 1858
John Brown slave raid. John Brown, with a company of Free Staters, raids two plantations in Missouri and frees 11 slaves, whom he brings back across the border into Kansas. One white slave owner is killed in the raid.
December 28, 1858
There is some evidence that on this date the eleven slaves freed by John Brown on December 20, 1858, and pursued across Kansas, were hiding under the Valentin Gerth cabin. Brown has to find a series of hiding places as he moves across Kansas and then North.
January 13, 1859
Battle of the Spurs. John Ritchie helps John Brown escape with fugitive slaves during the Battle of the Spurs. Brown and his men flee from Deputy U.S. Marshal John P. Wood and a posse by fording the swollen waters of Straight Creek.
On the same day the Lawrence Republican publishes John Brown’s famous Parallels essay. While hiding in Moneka, KS in early January with these fugitive slaves, John Brown writes an essay explaining that the slave raid is a parallel action for the Marais des Cygnes massacre by proslavery forces in May 1858. 
February 1859
John Brown and the fugitive slaves arrive in Tabor, Iowa.
March 10, 1859
John Brown’s fugitive slaves arrive in Detroit, MI.
March 13, 1859
John Brown ferries the fugitive slaves across the Detroit River into Windsor, Canada.
October 16-18, 1859
John Brown raid at Harpers Ferry, VA. John Brown sets out for Harpers Ferry with 21 men -- 5 African Americans, including Dangerfield Newby, who hopes to rescue his slave wife, and 16 white men, two of whom are Brown's sons. Brown and his men take the federal armory and arsenal, as well as local hostages. However, no slaves join them as they had hoped. The local militia pins Brown and his men down. Marines and soldiers are dispatched, under the leadership of then Colonel Robert E. Lee. In the end, ten of Brown's men are killed (including two African Americans and both of Brown’s sons), seven are captured (including Brown), and five escape.

October 25-November 2, 1859
In Jefferson County Courthouse in Charleston, WV, John Brown is tried for his raid and insurrection of the Harper's Ferry arsenal. The trial leads to the examination and execution of Brown and his conspirators. Brown’s trial receives nationwide coverage and more sharply divides the country on the issue of slavery.

(Sources listed below.)

Highly Recommended Viewing: Ken Burns Award Winning Series, "The Civil War"


Editorial Review: The most successful public-television miniseries in American history, the 11-hour "Civil War" didn't just captivate a nation, reteaching to us our history in narrative terms; it actually also invented a new film language taken from its creator. This documentary has definitely raised the standard...Great for the classroom and family!


Highly Recommended Reading: The History Buff's Guide to the Civil War (400 pages).


Description: Exploring the Civil War can be fascinating, but with so many battles, leaders, issues, and more than 50,000 books on these subjects, the task can also be overwhelming. Was Gettysburg the most important battle? Were Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis so different from each other? How accurate is re-enacting? Who were the worst commanding generals? Thomas R. Flagel uses annotated lists organized under more than thirty headings to see through the powder smoke and straighten Sherman’s neckties, ranking and clarifying the best, the worst, the largest, and the most lethal aspects of the conflict. Major sections are fashioned around the following topics:


Recommended Reading: The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Politically Incorrect Guides). Description: Get ready for a rousing rebel yell as bestselling author H.W. Crocker, III (Robert E. Lee on Leadership) charges through bunkers and battlefields in The Politically Incorrect Guide(TM) to the Civil War. Crocker busts myths and shatters stereotypes as he profiles eminent--and colorful--military generals while taking readers through chapters such as "The Civil War in Sixteen Battles You Should Know" and culminating in the most politically incorrect chapter of all, "What if the South Had Won." Revealing little-known truths, like why Robert E. Lee had a higher regard for African Americans than Lincoln did, this is the "P.I.G." that every Civil War buff and Southern partisan will want on their bookshelf, in their classroom, and under their Christmas tree. Continued below…

From the Inside Flap: Think you know the Civil War? You don't know the full story until you read The Politically Incorrect GuideTM to the Civil War. Bestselling author and former Conservative Book Club editor H. W. Crocker III offers a quick and lively study of America's own Iliad--the Civil War--in this provocative and entertaining addition to The Politically Incorrect GuideTM series. In The Politically Incorrect GuideTM to the Civil War Crocker profiles eminent--and colorful--military generals including the noble Lee, the controversial Sherman, the indefatigable Grant, the legendary Stonewall Jackson, and the notorious Nathan Bedford Forrest. He also includes thought-provoking chapters such as "The Civil War in Sixteen Battles You Should Know" and the most devastatingly politically incorrect chapter of all, "What If the South Had Won?" Along the way, he reveals a huge number of little-known truths, including why Robert E. Lee had a higher regard for African Americans than Lincoln did; how, if there had been no Civil War, the South would have abolished slavery peaceably (as every other country in the Western Hemisphere did in the nineteenth century); and how the Confederate States of America might have helped the Allies win World War I sooner. Bet your history professor never told you:

* Leading Northern generals--like McClellan and Sherman--hated abolitionists

* Bombing people "back to the Stone Age" got its start with the Federal siege of Vicksburg

* General Sherman professed not to know which was "the greater evil": slavery or democracy

* Stonewall Jackson founded a Sunday school for slaves where he taught them how to read

* General James Longstreet fought the Battle of Sharpsburg in his carpet slippers

This is the Politically Incorrect GuideTM that every Civil War buff and Southern partisan--and everyone who is tired of liberal self-hatred that vilifies America's greatest heroes--must have on his bookshelf.


Editor's Choice: The Civil War Battlefield Guide: The Definitive Guide, Completely Revised, with New Maps and More Than 300 Additional Battles (Second Edition) (Hardcover). Description: This new edition of the definitive guide to Civil War battlefields is really a completely new book. While the first edition covered 60 major battlefields, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox, the second covers all of the 384 designated as the "principal battlefields" in the American Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report. Continued below...

 As in the first edition, the essays are authoritative and concise, written by such leading Civil War historians as James M. McPherson, Stephen W. Sears, Edwin C. Bearss, James I. Robinson, Jr., and Gary W. Gallager. The second edition also features 83 new four-color maps covering the most important battles. The Civil War Battlefield Guide is an essential reference for anyone interested in the Civil War. "Reading this book is like being at the bloodiest battles of the war..."


Connelley , William E., A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, 1918, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998, Cutler, William G., History of the State of Kansas, Chicago, IL: A.T. Andreas, 1883, electronic version on the web by the Kansas Collection, and Territorial Kansas Online by the Kansas State Historical Society and the University of Kansas.

Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward. Available online through Blue Skyways, Kansas State Library.

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