Antietam National Cemetery
About the Civil War, Timeline of Events

  • Lead-in to the War
  • The War Years
  • Aftermath

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 three fifths of the slave population ("all other persons") 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. Compromises regarding slavery, 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.

Several historical events can be seen as efforts to resolve an issue which was ultimately resolved only by secession and war. These include the Missouri Compromise (1820), the Compromise of 1850, including the Fugitive Slave Act, and finally, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. This last piece of legislation allowed for "popular sovereignty," that is, a decision by settlers in Kansas and Nebraska whether their new states would be slave or free. The struggle to determine the future of Kansas (known as "Bleeding Kansas") precipitated a level of violence that would not abate. This web page (appearing in 2005) begins with commemorative activities in the midst of that crisis.


Jamestown settlers purchase 20 Africans from a Dutch ship.
U.S. Constitution drafted.Slaves are counted as three-fifths of a person, slave trade will end (1808), and fugitive slaves will be returned to owners. Congress passes the Northwest Ordinance, prohibiting slavery north of the Ohio River.
Lead by black abolitionist Robert Purvis, the Underground Railroad is formally organized.
Former slave, Frederick Douglass, publishes his autobiography - "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass."
War with Mexico adds territory to the United States.

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 1.

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 (now WV).  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, VA (now 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.


The Civil War began with a successful Confederate assault on Fort Sumter. The first major battle followed at Manassas, Virginia, also a Confederate victory.  Soon both sides realized the war would be both brutal and lengthy.  Every state and territory sent recruits, in some instances to both sides.  A recent Congressionally mandated study by the National Park Service resulted in a list of 384 major battles among approximately 10,000 military actions.   We present all 384 battles on this timeline, to indicate the scope and intensity of the war, with political as well as military outcomes.  The period is divided into years for easier access.

Most of the war was fought in the South, although the largest single battle was in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. While begun as a contest between unity and secession, slaves soon fled through Union lines and forced the issue of emancipation.


January 9 - February 1 - Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana
and Texas secede from the Union.

February 8 - Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States
is adopted by seceding states.

February 11 - President elect Abraham Lincoln leaves Springfield, Illinois,
on his trip to Washington, D.C., arriving on Saturday, February 23.

March 4 - Abraham Lincoln inaugurated as sixteenth president of the United States

March 6 -Confederate Congress authorizes the use of 100,000 volunteer soldiers.

April 12 - Fort Sumter is fired upon by the Confederates, and surrenders
on Apr 13 - The War begins.

April 15 - President Lincoln issues a proclamation announcing an
"insurrection," and calls for 75,000 troops.

April 20 - 23 - Robert E. Lee resigns from the U.S. Army and takes
command of the Virginia state forces.

April 17 - June 8 - Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee
secede from the Union.

April 19 - 6th Massachusetts Infantry attacked by Baltimore mob.

May 13 - Baltimore occupied by U.S. troops.

May 9 - St. Louis riots.

May 20 - Confederate Congress votes to move capital to Richmond.

July 21 - First Battle of Manassas

August 10 - Battle of Wilson's Creek. 


February 6 - Battle of Fort Henry

February 12 - 16 - Battle of Fort Donelson

March 23 - June 9 - Stonewall Jackson Valley Campaign

March 7 - 8 - Battle of Pea Ridge

March 26 - 28 - Battle of Glorieta Pass

April - August - The Peninsular Campaign

June 26 - July 2 - Seven Days' Battle

April 6 - 7 - Battle of Shiloh

April 11 - Fort Pulaski captured by Union

April 25 - New Orleans falls to Union

May 20 - U.S. Congress passes the Homestead Act of 1862, offering 160 acres of land to any male settler who will migrate and become a homesteader in the Western United States.

May 30 - Corinth, Mississippi, taken by Union

June 19 - President Abraham Lincoln signs legislation prohibiting slavery in the territories of the United States.

August 9 - Battle of Cedar Mountain - first documented battle at which Clara Barton, "Angel of the Battlefield," serves on the field. Arriving on August 13, she spends two days and nights tending the wounded.

August 28 - 30 - 2nd Battle of Manassas

September 15 - Fall of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, to Confederates

September 17 - Battle of Antietam

September 22 - Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation issued.

October 3 - 4 - Battle of Corinth

December 13 - Battle of Fredericksburg

December 31 - January 2 - Battle of Stones River


January 1 - Emancipation Proclamation takes effect.

January 9 -11 - Battle of Arkansas Post

March 13 - 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment,
United States Colored Troops, authorized

April 2 - Richmond bread riots

May 1 - July 4 - Vicksburg Campaign

July 4 - Vicksburg surrenders

May 1- 4 - Battle of Chancellorsville

July 1-3 - Battle of Gettysburg

July 13 - 16 - New York City draft riots

August - December - Ft. Sumter bombarded by Union

September 19 - 20 - Battle of Chickamauga

November 19 - Gettysburg Address

November 23 - 25 - Battle of Chattanooga


February 27 - First Federal prisoners are delivered to Andersonville Prison in Sumter County, Georgia.

May 4 - 6 - Battle of the Wilderness

May 7 - September 2 - Atlanta Campaign

September 2 - Atlanta occupied by Union troops

May 8 - Battle of Spotsylvania, Virginia

May 16 - Battle of Drewry's Bluff, Virginia

June 1 - 3 - Battle of Cold Harbor

June 10 - Battle of Brices Cross Roads

June 15 - April 2 - Siege of Petersburg by Union

July 30 - Battle of the Crater

April 2 - Final Union assault on Petersburg

April 3 - Petersburg occupied by Union forces

July 9 - Battle of Monocacy, Maryland

July 11 - Battle of Ft. Stevens, Maryland

October 19 - Battle of Cedar Creek

November 8 - Lincoln reelected

November 16 - December 21 - Sherman's March to the Sea

November 29 - 30 - Sand Creek Massacre


January 15 - Ft. Fisher falls to Union

January 31 - Congress passes 13th Amendment to
U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery.

March 4 - Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address

April 2 - 3 - Richmond evacuated by Lee and occupied by Union forces

April 6 - 9 - Appomattox Campaign

April 9 - Lee surrenders

April 14 - Lincoln shot

April 15 - Lincoln dies

May 23 - 24 - Grand Review of the Armies, Washington, D.C.



The assassination of Abraham Lincoln at the war’s end dramatically affected the early postwar period. Andrew Johnson, as a Southerner, was suspected by a Republican Congress who wanted to deal harshly with the defeated Confederate states.The Reconstruction period marked a time when Confederate states gradually accepted federally mandated constitutions which abolished slavery and pledged loyalty to the Union.  

With federal troops in the South, the period became one of advancement, as the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments of the Constitution were implemented, freeing all slaves and guaranteeing them full citizen rights. Some African Americans were elected to local as well as federal office. However, it was also a period of chaos in the South, corruption and deep resentment. White Southerners organized efforts, through the Ku Klux Klan and other groups, to destroy property, intimidate and  kill freedmen who would attempt to exercise their new Constitutional rights. Other acts of individual violence became a regular part of the landscape.  Only federal troops provided any protection against these crimes.  However, federal troops were withdrawn in 1877 as part of a compromise ensuring the election of Rutherford B. Hayes.

The major result was more than a century of African American struggle for civil rights, including the return of federal troops in 1957.





* 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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