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Civil War Overview

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When John Brown raided Harpers Ferry in 1859, he set in motion events that led directly to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. This summary, organized yearly through maps and chronologies, shows the course of the war from Fort Sumter in 1861 to Appomattox Court House and beyond in 1865. It is divided according to the two principal theaters in which the major military operations took place: (1) The Eastern Theater, roughly comprising the area east of the Appalachians in the vicinity of the rival capitals of Washington and Richmond, and the Western Theater, primarily between the western slope of the Appalachians and the Mississippi River. Lesser operation that took place along the coasts and inland waterways and the isolated trans-Mississippi area are included in the Western Theater. Naval encounters on the high seas between cruisers, privateers, and blockade runners have been omitted.

Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, officer of the Federal Army .
Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
Gen. Robert E. Lee
Gen. Robert E. Lee, officer of the Confederate Army .
Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
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Eastern Theater

Like a bolt of lightning out of a darkening sky, war burst upon the American landscape in the spring of 1861, climaxing decades of bitter wrangling and pitting two vast sections of a young and vigorous nation against each other. Northerners called it the War of the Rebellion, Southerners the War Between the States. We know it simply as the Civil War.

In the East, beginning in the spring of 1861, the cry from Union headquarters was "On to Richmond!" For the next four years a succession of Northern commanders struggled desperately to do just that -- get to Richmond. One well-designed effort in 1862 used the mammoth naval might of the Union to reach the vicinity of the Confederate capital by water routes. The other attempts stubbornly slogged across a narrow central Virginia corridor and sought to disperse tenacious Southern defenders who seemed always to be athwart the path. Confederate successes offered occasional opportunities to take the war north into Maryland and Pennsylvania and to threaten Washington. Both sides came to see the enemy army as the proper goal, and both recognized the obligation of the enemy army to defend its respective capital city against military threats. The consequence was four years of war fought to the death mostly in a relatively small strip of Virginia countryside between Washington and Richmond.

When the guns were finally silenced in the spring and early summer of 1865 and the authority of the Federal Government was once again restored, the Union had been permanently scarred. As Mark Twain put it, the war had "uprooted institutions that were centuries old ... transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations."

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Eastern Theater - 1861

Eastern Theater - 1861 map
Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.
The high spirits with which North and South naively go to war after the attack on Fort Sumter first meet the test of battle on a large scale in mid-July as Union troops under Brig. General Irvin McDowell clash with Confederate soldiers under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard on the plains of Manassas, Virginia. A sweeping Confederate victory in what Southerners call the First Battle of Manassas (the North calls it Bull Run) inspires the Federal Government to renewed effort and makes the South over-confident. For the rest of the year the contending armies remain static between Manassas and Washington, giving Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan plenty of time to organize and train his new Army of the Potomac. A small Federal force overwhelmed and crushed at Ball's Bluff, Virginia, in October includes a friend and ally of President Abraham Lincoln, so the political repercussions of that battle outstrip its military significance. In December, Confederate cavalry leader J.E.B. Stuart fights a small affair at Dranesville, Virginia. All of the 1861 actions combined do not equal in scope a single day of the famous battles fought later in the war.

  • Railroad Bridge across Bull Run. O. & A. R.R.
    Bull Run, Virginia. Ruins of stone bridge .
    Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
  • March 4 Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated 16th President of the United States.
  • April 12-13 Bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
  • April 15 President Lincoln calls for 75,000 volunteers.
  • April 17 Virginia secedes from the Union.
  • April 19 Confederates occupy Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia).
  • June 10 Engagement at Big Bethel, Virginia. First land "battle" in Virginia.
  • July 11 Engagement at Rich Mountain, Virginia (now West Virginia).
  • July 21 First battle of Manassas (Bull Run), Virginia.
  • July 27 George B. McClellan takes command of Union Army of the Potomac.
  • October 21 Battle of Ball's Bluff, Virginia.
  • December 20 Battle of Dranesville, Virginia.
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Eastern Theater - 1862
Eastern Theater - 1862 map.
Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.

Joe Johnston's Confederates abandon their long-held lines around Manassas in early March and withdraw toward Richmond. McClellan's Army of the Potomac moves by water to Fort Monroe and Newport News at the tip of the Virginia peninsula and prepares to march on Richmond some 70 miles to the northwest. Confederate delaying tactics and heavy rains slow McClellan's advance and it is nearly two months before he comes within sight of the city's steeples. When a Southern offensive at Seven Pines on May 31-June 1 fails to dislodge the Federals and Johnston is wounded, Robert E. Lee assumes command of the Army of Northern Virginia and drives McClellan's troops away from the Southern capital in the Seven Days' Battles.

Victories during August by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson at Cedar Mountain and by Lee's army at the Second Battle of Manassas push the Federals back to the outskirts of Washington. Within nine weeks, Lee has transferred the war from his own capital to the edge of his enemy's. A Confederate offensive across the Potomac is halted and turned back after battles at South Mountain and Antietam (Sharpsburg), Maryland, in mid-September. The final action of the year ends in Federal disaster when McClellan's successor, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, throws his army against Lee's near Fredericksburg, Virginia, in a series of frontal assaults that are easily and bloodily repulsed.

  • Deck and turret of U.S.S. Monitor
    Deck and turret of U.S.S. Monitor, James River, Virginia. July 9, 1862. Note the dents from cannonballs in the lower left of turret.
    Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
  • March 9 Battle of Hampton Roads, Virginia. The USS Monitor vs. CSSVirginia was the first naval battle between ironclad vessels.
  • March 23-June 9 Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Virginia.
    • March 23 Battle of Kernstown, Virginia.
    • May 8 Battle of McDowell, Virginia.
    • May 23 Battle of Front Royal.
    • May 25 First Battle of Winchester.
    • June 8 Battle of Cross Keys.
    • June 9 Battle of Port Republic.
  • April 5-May 4 McClellan's Army of the Potomac begins advance up the Virginia peninsula toward Richmond.
  • May 15 Battle of Drewry's Bluff, Virginia.
  • May 31-June 1 Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks), Virginia.
  • June 1 Robert E. Lee assumes command of the Army of Northern Virginia.
  • June 25-July 1 Seven Days' Battles Around Richmond, Virginia. [Cemetery and handbook.]
    • June 25 Battle of Oak Grove.
    • June 26 Battle of Mechanicsville.
    • June 27 Battle of Gaines' Mill.
    • June 29 Battle of Savage's Station.
    • June 30 Battle of Glendale (Fraser's Farm).
    • July 1 Battle of Malvern Hill.
  • August 9 Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia.
  • August 28-30 Battle of Second Manassas (Bull Run), Virginia. [Handbook, reaction, and more.]
  • September 1 Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill), Virginia.
  • September 12-15 Siege and capture of Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia).
  • September 14-17 Battles of South Mountain and Antietam (Sharpsburg), Maryland. [Cemetery, handbook, reaction, and more.]
  • November 7 Ambrose E. Burnside replaces McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
  • December 11-13 Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia. [Cemetery, handbook, and more.]
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Eastern Theater - 1863

Eastern Theater - 1863 map
Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.
The 1863 campaigns open along the Rappahannock in the final days of April as Burnside's replacement, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, leads the Army of the Potomac upstream to slip around Lee's left flank. Lee responds aggressively and during the first week of May wins what has been called his greatest victory. That victory is costly, because, Stonewall Jackson is mortally wounded, but it gives the Confederate the opportunity to march northward into Pennsylvania. The Army of the Potomac follows, and, now under Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's direction, gives Lee a stinging defeat at Gettysburg on July 1-3.

After Lee's retreat into Virginia, both armies spend the next three months recuperating while the military frontier alternates between the river lines of the Rappahannock and Rapidan west of Fredericksburg. Both armies are also reduced in strength as troops are ordered west to bolster operations around Chattanooga. Lee's attempt to turn Meade's flank in October crests in defeat at Bristoe Station. A similar move by Meade south of the Rapidan culminates in stalemate at Mine Run at the end of November.

  • January 1 Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation.
  • January 19-23 Burnside's Mud March.
  • January 26 Joseph Hooker succeeds Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
  • April 11-May 4 Siege of Suffolk, Virginia.
  • April-May Chancellorsville Campaign, Virginia. [Handbook and more.]
    • April 29-May 8 Stoneman's Road.
    • May 1-4 Battle of Chancellorsville.
    • May 2 Stonewall Jackson wounded.
    • May 3 Second Battle of Fredericksburg. [Cemetery and more.]
    • May 3-4 Battle of Salem Church.
  • May 10 Stonewall Jackson dies at Guiney's Station, Virginia.
  • High Water Mark of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, Pa
    High Water Mark of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
    Source: National Park Service.
    June 3-July 13 Gettysburg Campaign, Pennsylvania. [Cemetery, handbook, reaction, context, and more.]
    • June 9 Battle of Brandy Station, Virginia. [More]
    • June 13-15 Second Battle of Winchester, Virginia.
    • June 28 George G. Meade replaces Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
    • July 1-3 Battle of Gettysburg.
  • July 13-16 New York City draft riots.
  • October 9-22 Bristoe Campaign, Virginia.
    • October 14 Battle of Bristoe Station.
  • November 6 Battle of Droop Mountain, West Virginia.
  • November 7 Engagement at Rappahannock Station, Virginia.
  • November 19 Lincoln delivers his Gettysburg Address. [Context]
  • November 26-December 2 Mine Run Campaign, Virginia.
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  Eastern Theater - 1864

Eastern Theater - 1864 map
Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.
The last full year of campaigning in the east begins with Federal forces east and west making a unified effort to wear down the South's will to continue fighting. Lincoln has given Ulysses S. Grant the received rank of lieutenant general and placed him in command of all Union armies. His mission: destroy Joe Johnston's Army of Tennessee and Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

Leaving Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman to deal with Johnston, Grant concentrates on Lee. Their first encounter, the Battle of the Wilderness, opens on May 5 and for the next 40 days the armies remain locked in deadly embrace. The course of the fighting leads through Spotsylvania Court House, across the North Anna River to Cold Harbor, and finally to Petersburg. There the opponents settle down to a siege, punctuated by Grant's relentless efforts to outflank the Confederates and seize vital transportation arteries. His attempt to capture Petersburg outright fails at the Battle of the Crater. Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Jubal Early's Confederate troops expel Union forces from the Shenandoah Valley and march to the outskirts of Washington, before being turned back at Fort Stevens. Outnumbered but defiant, they return to the Valley where, in a series of hard-fought engagements, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan erases Early's army from the war.

  • The "Dictator,"  a 13 inch mortar used during the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia.
    The "Dictator," a 13 inch mortar used during the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia.
    Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
  • May 5-6 Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia. [Handbook and more.]
  • May 8-21 Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia. [Handbook and more.]
  • May 9-24 Sheridan's Richmond Raid.
  • May 15 Battle of New Market, Virginia.
  • May 23-26 Battle ofNorth Anna River, Virginia.
  • May 31-June 12 Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia. [More]
  • June 5 Battle of Piedmont, Virginia.
  • June 11-12 Battle of Trevilian Station, Virginia.
  • June 15-18 Battle of Petersburg, Virginia. [Cemetery and handbook.]
  • June 17-18 Battle of Lynchburg, Virginia.
  • June 18-December 31 Siege of Petersburg, Virginia. [Cemetery, handbook, and more.]
    • July 30 Battle of the Crater.
    • August 18-25 Battles of Weldon Railroad and Ream's Station.
    • September 29 Engagement at New Market Heights. [More]
    • September 29-30 Battle of Fort Harrison (Chaffin's Farm).
    • September 29-October 2 Battle of Peebles' Farm.
    • October 27-28 Battle of Burgess' Mill (Boydton Plank Road).
  • June 23-July 25 Early's Washington Raid.
    • July 9 Battle of Monocacy, Maryland. [More]
    • July 12 Battle of Fort Stevens, near Washington, D.C. [Cemetery]
    • July 24 Second Battle of Kernstown, Virginia.
  • August 7-October 19 Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Virginia.
    • September 19 Third Battle of Winchester (Opequon Creek).
    • September 22 Battle of Fisher's Hill.
    • October 19 Battle of Cedar Creek (Belle Grove).
  • November 8 Lincoln reelected President of the United States.
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Eastern Theater - 1865

Eastern Theater - 1865 map
Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.
The year opens with both armies largely inactive and still entrenched around Petersburg. With each passing week, the hopelessness of Lee's cause becomes more apparent. Early in February, Grant sends his cavalry and infantry south and west of Petersburg in an attempt to sever the only remaining supply lines into the city and to force Lee to extend his already strained defensive positions. Confederate attempts to halt the movement are checkmated at Hatcher's Run. As March begins, Lee realizes that he cannot hold the Petersburg-Richmond lines much longer. On the 25th he makes a desperate attempt to extricate his army by attacking Federal Fort Stedman east of Petersburg. The attempt fails and Lee tells Confederate president Jefferson Davis: "I fear now it will be impossible to prevent a junction between Grant and Sherman...." Shortly thereafter, the Federals achieve the inevitable and break the thin Confederate defenses at Five Forks, southwest of Petersburg. Lee evacuates the city and Richmond falls. His forlorn retreat lasts one week until Grant cuts off the remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. Lee's surrender on April 9 signals the early end of the Confederacy.

  • Grand Review of the Army in Washington D.C. 1865.
    The Grand Review of the Army in Washington, D.C., 1865.
    Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
  • January 1-April 2 Siege of Petersburg continued. [Cemetery and handbook.]
    • February 5-7 Battle of Hatcher's Run.
    • March 25 Battle of Fort Stedman.
    • April 1 Battle of Five Forks.
    • April 2 Petersburg lines breached.
  • April 2 Confederates evacuate Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia.
  • April 3 US forces occupy Richmond, Virginia.
  • April 6 Battle of Sayler's Creek, Virginia.
  • April 9 Lee surrenders at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
  • April 14 Lincoln shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater, Washington, D.C. [Handbook]
  • May 23-24 Grand Review of Federal armies in Washington, D.C.
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Western Theater
Union Strategy in the West 1861 - 1865 map
Union Strategy in the West 1861 - 1865
1. Mississippi River Campaigns, 1861-63
2. Campaign to Secure Missouri, 1861-62
3. Operations against Chattanooga, 1861-63
4. Red River Campaign, 1864
5. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, 1864
6. Sherman's Savannah Campaign (March to the Sea) 1864
7. Sherman's Carolinas Campaign, 1865

Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.

When the Civil War began, the Confederacy possessed fewer military resources and pursued principally a defensive posture while the Union took a more aggressive role. Northern strategy was directed at keeping the Border States of Kentucky and Missouri (along with Delaware and Maryland in the East) within the Union; starving the South by blockading her coastline from Virginia to Texas; regaining control of the Mississippi; and dividing and subdividing the Confederacy.

The Border States were secured by the spring of 1862 and a string of Union victories--Forts Henry and Donelson, Pea Ridge, Shiloh, Island No. 10, and New Orleans--caused many to believe that the Confederacy was finished. The North's blockade of Southern ports to deny the Confederates access to much-needed foreign war material and manufactured goods and to keep them from exporting cotton was slow to take effect. But each year the blockade continued to tighten and more and more Confederate ports fell to Union forces. Union amphibious operations to regain control of the Mississippi River began in 1862 and, although initially thwarted, eventually culminated in Grant's successful Vicksburg Campaign of 1863 and the subsequent fall of Port Hudson. This not only closed down the South's most important commercial waterway; it also severed the Confederacy on a north/south axis.

By 1864, with the development of a unified command system, Northern strategy focused on cutting the Confederacy along an east/west axis in order to destroy its food supply and its war-making industrial capacity in the deep South. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign and his subsequent March to the Sea achieved the desired results by the end of the year. By early 1865, with Sherman's troops pushing northward into the Carolinas, it was clear that the days of the Confederacy were numbered.

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Western Theater - 1861
Western Theater - 1861 map.
Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.

Confederate strategy in the early months is mainly defensive in the face of Federal efforts to retain control of the slave-holding Border States of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri; to tighten a blockade of the Southern coastline; and to regain control of the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois, to the Gulf of Mexico. In Missouri, in a lightning-like campaign, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon crowds the Missouri State Guard into the southwestern part of the State before being killed and his army defeated at Wilson's Creek in August. The Missouri State Guard moves on to besiege and capture Lexington, but retires into southwest Missouri when threatened by Federal columns converging from the east and west. A union army is defeated at Belmont, Missouri, early in November--the first test of battle for a rising young brigadier general named Ulysses S. Grant. Along the Southern coasts, Federals cling to several forts and employ their power afloat to seize and establish additional fortified enclaves at Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, Port Royal Sound (Fort Walker), South Carolina, and Ship Island, Mississippi. These enclaves not only provide bases for blockading squadrons but serve as spring boards for future amphibious operations.

  • Channel side of Fort Sumter.
    Palmetto reinforcements on the channel side of Fort Sumter .
    Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
  • April 12-13 Bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter, South Carolina. [Handbook]
  • July 5 Engagement at Carthage, Missouri.
  • August 10 Battle of Wilson's Creek. [More]
  • August 27-29 Battle of Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. [More]
  • September 12-20 Siege and capture of Lexington, Missouri.
  • November 7 Battle of Belmont, Missouri. [More]
  • November 7 Battle of Port Royal Sound (Fort Walker), South Carolina.
  • December 6 Union forces take over abandoned Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, Mississippi.
  • December 9 Engagement at Chusto-Talasah, Indian Territory
  • December 26 Engagement at Chustenahlah, Indian Territory.
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Western Theater - 1862
Western Theater - 1862 map.
Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.

From January through June, Union forces thrust deep into the South, forcing Confederates to abandon southern Kentucky, much of Middle and West Tennessee, and southwest Missouri following defeats at Mill Springs, Kentucky, Forts Henry and Donelson, Tennessee, and Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Early in April, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston's army assails Federal troops under Grant at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, but Johnston is killed and his army beaten in the two-day battle of Shiloh. In Mississippi in December, Grant directs Union forces led by General Sherman to try and directly capture the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg.

July brings a dramatic change in the tide of war as Confederate armies invade Union territory from the trans-Mississippi to the Atlantic seaboard. By early October, however, the offensives are halted, and during the last two months of the year Federal forces are again pressing ahead. In Middle Tennessee on December 31, Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans' Union army confronts Gen. Braxton Bragg's Confederate army at Stones River in a battle that lasts into the new year. In north Mississippi, Grant's attempts to take Vicksburg are thwarted by slashing Confederate cavalry raids on his supply lines. The blockade tightens as Union forces capture Roanoke Island and Fort Macon on the North Carolina sounds and bombard Fort Pulaski, Georgia, into surrender.

  • Close-up photo of Fort Pulaski's damaged wall.
    Close-up photo of Fort Pulaski's damaged wall.
    Source: NPS Southeast Archeological Center
  • January 19 Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky. [More]
  • February 6-16 Forts Henry & Donelson Campaign, Tennessee. [Cemetery]
    • February 6 Battle of Fort Henry.
    • February 13-16 Battle of Fort Donelson. [Context and more.]
  • February 8 Battle of Roanoke Island, North Carolina. [More]
  • February 21 Engagement at Valverde, New Mexico Territory.
  • March 6-8 Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. [Context, and more]
  • March 26-28 Battle of Glorieta Pass, New Mexico Territory. [More]
  • April 6-7 Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee. [Cemetery, handbook, and more.]
  • April 7 Capture of Island No. 10, Tennessee.
  • April 10-11 Bombardment and capture of Fort Pulaski, Georgia. [Handbook and more.]
  • March 23-April 26 Conflict at Fort Macon.
  • April 29-May 30 Siege of Corinth, Mississippi. [More]
  • April-August Farragut's Mississippi River Operations. [Cemetery and more.]
    • April 18-24 Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, Louisiana.
    • April 25-May 1 Capture of New Orleans.
  • June 6 Battle of Memphis, Tennessee.
  • August 5 Battle of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
  • August 29-30 Battle of Richmond, Kentucky.
  • September 19 Battle of Iuka, Mississippi.
  • September 14-17 Siege of Munfordville, Kentucky.
  • October 3-4 Battle of Corinth, Mississippi.
  • October 8 Battle of Perryville, Kentucky.
  • December 1862-January 1863 Grant's First Vicksburg Campaign, Mississippi. [Park, cemetery, and handbook.]
    • December 11-January 1 Forrest's West Tennessee Raid. [More]
    • December 17-28 Van Dorn's Holly Springs Raid.
  • December 7 Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas.
  • December 27-29 Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, Mississippi.
  • December 31 Battle of Stones River, Tennessee, begins. [Cemetery, guide, context, and more.]
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Western Theater - 1863
Western Theater - 1863 map.
Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.

Grant's efforts to capture Vicksburg are finally rewarded on July 4 when, after one of the great campaigns of military history and a 47-day siege, the Confederacy's mighty bastion succumbs to Union arms. Five days later Port Hudson surrenders and Lincoln proclaims, "The father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea." The South is cut in half along the Mississippi. Meanwhile, Rosecrans' brilliant Tullahoma Campaign forces Bragg to abandon most of Tennessee and concentrate around Chattanooga. In September Rosecrans occupies Chattanooga and pursues Bragg into Georgia, where, at Chickamauga Creek, the Confederates turn on the Northerners and drive them back.

To relieve the beleaguered Federal troops, the Union Government rushes reinforcement to Chattanooga, names Grant to command in the west, and replaces Rosecrans with Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. In several battles around Chattanooga between October and November, Grant's armies defeat Bragg's troops, forcing them to retreat to Dalton, Georgia, where Bragg is succeeded in command by Gen. Joseph E. Johnson. The two-week siege of Union-occupied Knoxville by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's Confederate troops ends December 3 with the approach of a relief column led by General Sherman. Charleston, under attack much of the year, enters the third winter of the war battered but unconquered.

  • Levee and steamboats in Vicksburg, Miss.
    Levee and steamboats in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
    Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
  • January 1-2 Battle of Stones River, Tennessee, continued.
    [Cemetery, guide, context, and more.]
  • January 1 Battle of Galveston, Texas.
  • January 9-11 Battle of Arkansas Post, Arkansas.
  • March 29-July 4 Grant's Second Vicksburg Campaign, Mississippi. [Park, cemetery, handbook, reaction, and more.]
    • April 11-May 3 Streight's Raid, Tennessee-Alabama.
    • April 16-22 Union fleet passes Vicksburg river batteries.
    • April 17-May 2 Grierson's Raid, Tennessee-Mississippi-Louisiana.
    • April 29 Battle of Grand Gulf.
    • May 1 Battle of Port Gibson.
    • May 12 Battle of Raymond.
    • May 14 Battle of Jackson.
    • May 16 Battle of Champion Hill.
    • May 17 Battle of Big Black River Bridge.
    • May 19-July 4 Siege and surrender of Vicksburg.
    • June 7 Battle of Milliken's Bend. [More]
  • April 7 Federal Ironclads attack Charleston, South Carolina.
  • May 21-July 9 Siege and surrender of Port Hudson, Louisiana. [Cemetery, graves database, reaction, context, and more.]
  • June 23-July 4 Tullahoma Campaign, Tennessee.
  • July 2-26 Morgan's Raid, Kentucky-Indiana-Ohio.
  • July 11 and 18 Assaults on Fort Wagner, Charleston, South Carolina. [The assault in 3 parts (1, 2, 3), the 54th regiment, and more.]
  • July 17 Battle of Honey Springs (Elk Creek), Indian Territory.
  • August-September Chickamauga Campaign, Georgia. [Handbook]
    • September 18-20 Battle of Chickamauga. [More]
  • September 8 Second battle of Sabine Pass, Texas.
  • October-November Chattanooga Campaign, Tennessee. [Handbook and more.]
    • October 28-29 Wauhatchie Night Attack.
    • November 23-25 Battle of Chattanooga. [More]
  • November-December Knoxville Campaign, Tennessee. [More]
    • November 17-December 4 Siege of Knoxville.
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Western Theater - 1864
Western Theater - 1864 map.
Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.

Ulysses S. Grant, promoted to lieutenant general and transferred East to command all Union armies, calls for a war of attrition against the Confederacy's two principal armies: Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee. Early in May, with Atlanta as his objective, Sherman, Grant's successor in the West, attacks Johnston at Rocky Face Ridge west of Dalton. For the next eight weeks the two armies grapple their way south into central Georgia. On July 17, with Sherman's armies approaching Atlanta, Confederate president Jefferson Davis fires Johnston and replaces him with Gen. John B. Hood. Hood abandons Johnston's defensive strategy and boldly sends his troops to attack Sherman in a series of costly battles that only serve to underscore the futility of such tactics.

On September 1, after a long siege by Sherman's soldiers, Atlanta is evacuated and Hood withdraws, regroups, and advances into Tennessee. Within three months his Army of Tennessee is virtually destroyed in battles at Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville. Meanwhile, in mid-November, Sherman burns Atlanta and begins his famous "March to the Sea." Elsewhere, the blockade continues to tighten as Union amphibious forces seize the forts guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay and Admiral Farragut's ocean-going squadron crushes a Confederate fleet.

  • Major General W. T. Sherman and horse near Atlanta.
    Major General W. T. Sherman and horse near Atlanta, Georgia.
    Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
  • February 3-March 4 Meridian Expedition, Mississippi.
    • February 22 Battle of Okolona.
  • February 20 Battle of Olustee (Ocean Pond), Florida.
  • March 12-May 18 Red River Campaign, Louisiana. [Cemetery and more.]
    • March 14 Conflict at Fort DeRussy.
    • April 8 Battle of Mansfield.
    • April 9 Battle of Pleasant Hill.
    • May 18 Conflict at Yellow Bayou.
  • April 3-30 Camden Campaign/Expedition, Arkansas.
    • April 3-4 Conflict at Elkin's Ferry.
    • April 9-13 Conflict at Prairie D'Ane.
    • April 18 Conflict at Poison Spring.
    • April 25 Conflict at Marks' Mills.
    • April 30 Battle of Jenkins' Ferry.
  • April 12 Fort Pillow Massacre, Tennessee. [More]
  • May 7-September 2 Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, Georgia. [Defenses and more.]
    • May 13-15 Battle of Resaca.
    • May 25-26 Battle of New Hope Church.
    • May 26-June 1 Battle of Dallas.
    • May 27 Battle of Pickett's Mill.
    • June 27 Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. [Guide, context, and more.]
    • July 20 Battle of Peachtree Creek.
    • July 22 Battle of Atlanta.
    • July 28 Battle of Ezra Church.
    • August 31-September 1 Battle of Jonesboro.
    • September 2 Union troops occupy Atlanta. [More]
  • June 10 Battle of Brice's Cross Roads, Mississippi.
  • July 14 Battle of Tupelo, Mississippi.
  • August 5 Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama. [Battle plan, context, quote, and more.]
  • August 29-December 25 Price's Raid, Arkansas-Missouri-Kansas-Indian Territory-Texas.
    • September 27 Conflict at Fort Davidson.
    • October 15 Conflict at Glasgow.
    • October 23 Conflict at Westport.
    • October 25 Conflict at Mine Creek.
    • October 28 Conflict at Newtonia.
  • November 15-December 21 Sherman's Savannah Campaign (March to the Sea).
    • November 22 Engagement at Griswoldville, Georgia.
    • November 30 Engagement at Honey Hill, South Carolina.
    • December 13 Capture of Fort McAllister, Georgia. [More]
    • December 21 Savannah, Georgia, occupied.
  • November 29-December 27 Hood's Tennessee Campaign.
    • November 29 Affair at Spring Hill.
    • November 30 Battle of Franklin.
    • December 15-16 Battle of Nashville. [More]
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Western Theater - 1865
Western Theater - 1865 map.
Source: The Civil War at a Glance brochure, National Park Service.

The year begins with Union forces capturing Fort Fisher, which guards the approaches to the Cape Fear River and Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilmington is occupied February 22, the same day that Joseph E. Johnston is restored to the command of what is left of the Army of Tennessee and given the impossible task of stopping Sherman's armies then sweeping northward through South Carolina. Sherman's troops occupy Columbia on February 17 and compel the evacuation of Charleston that evening. Entering North Carolina, Sherman defeats Johnston at Averasboro and at Bentonville.

At Goldsboro, Sherman is joined by Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield's force, fresh from victory at Kinston. The outnumbered Johnston surrenders his troops to Sherman on April 26, at Durham Station. Meanwhile in Alabama, Mobile falls to Federal forces while Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson's Union cavalry corps sweeps through Selma and Montgomery and on to Columbus and Macon, Georgia. Near Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10, his troopers capture Confederate president Davis, who had fled Richmond when that city was evacuated on April 2. From Jonesboro, Tennessee, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman and his 4,000 cavalrymen raid eastward across the Appalachians into southwest Virginia and North Carolina's Piedmont region. By June 23, the last Confederate army has surrendered and the long war is finally over.

  • Gun with muzzle shot away, Fort Fisher, North Carolina. January 1865.
    Gun with muzzle shot away, Fort Fisher, North Carolina. January 1865.
    Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
  • January 13-14 Attack and capture of Fort Fisher, North Carolina. [More]
  • January 14-April 26 Sherman's Campaign of the Carolinas.
    • February 17 Sherman's troops occupy Columbia, leading to the evacuation of Charleston.
    • March 8-10 Battle of Kinston, North Carolina. [More]
    • March 16 Battle of Averasboro, North Carolina.
    • March 19-21 Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina. [Casualties, research, and more.]
    • April 13 Raleigh, North Carolina. occupied.
    • April 26 Surrender of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate forces near Durham Station, North Carolina.
  • February 22 Capture of Wilmington, North Carolina.
  • March 22-April 22 Wilson's Alabama and Georgia Raid.
    • April 2 Battle of Selma, Alabama.
  • March 23-April 23 Stoneman's North Carolina and Virginia Raid
  • March 25-April 12 Mobile Campaign, Alabama.
    • March 27-April 8 Siege of Spanish Fort.
    • April 2-9 Siege and Capture of Fort Blakely.
    • April 12 Surrender of Mobile.
  • Late April Camp Sumter (Andersonville), Georgia. Surviving prisoners of war are released from the notorious military prison. [Cemetery and maps drawn by a prisoner (1, 2, 3).]
  • May 4 Surrender of Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor's Confederate forces at Citronelle, Alabama.
  • May 12-13 Battle of Palmito Ranch, Texas. Last Civil War land engagement.
  • May 26 Surrender of Lt. Gen. E. Kirby Smith's Confederate forces at New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • June 23 Surrender of Brig. Gen. Stand Watie's Confederate Indian forces at Doaksville, Indian Territory.
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Where the Armies Fought

More than 10,000 military actions of one kind or another took place during the Civil War. Only a small percentage were big battles like Gettysburg or Vicksburg; most were relatively small affairs, many of them forgotten today. The following breakdown by State shows where most of these events took place.

Virginia 2,154
Tennessee 1,462
Missouri 1,162
Mississippi 772
Arkansas 771
West Virginia 632
Louisiana 566
Georgia 549
Kentucky 453
Alabama 336
North Carolina 313
South Carolina 239
Maryland 203
Florida 168
Texas 90
Indian Territory 89
California 88
New Mexico Territory 75
From the Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac, 1861-1865. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971.
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Civil War Battlefields in the National Park System
* Fort Sumter, South Carolina (April 12-14, 1861)
* First Manassas, Virginia (July 21, 1861)
* Wilson's Creek, Missouri (August 10, 1861)
* Fort Pickens (Santa Rosa Island), Florida (October 9, 1861)

* Fort Donelson, Tennessee (February 11-16, 1862)
* Pea Ridge, Arkansas (March 6-8, 1862)
* Glorieta Pass, New Mexico (March 26-28, 1862)
* Shiloh, Tennessee (April 6-7, 1862)
* Fort Pulaski, Georgia (April 10-11, 1862)
* Seven Days' Battles Around Richmond, Virginia (June 25-July 1, 1862)
* Mechanicsville (Beaver Dam Creek), Virginia (June 26, 1862)
* Gaines' Mill, Virginia (June 27, 1862)
* Malvern Hill, Virginia (July 1, 1862)
* Second Manassas, Virginia (August 28-30, 1862)
* Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (September 12-15, 1862)
* Antietam, Maryland (September 16-18, 1862)
* Fredericksburg, Virginia (December 11-15, 1862)

* Stones River, Tennessee (December 31,1862-January 2,1863)
* Arkansas Post, Arkansas (January 9-11, 1863)
* Chancellorsville, Virginia (April 30-May 6, 1863)
* Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (July 1-3, 1863)
* Vicksburg, Mississippi (May 18-July 4, 1863)
* Chickamauga, Georgia (September 18-20, 1863)
* Chattanooga, Tennessee (November 23-25, 1863)

* The Wilderness, Virginia (May 5-7, 1864)
* Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia (May 8-21, 1864)
* Brice's Cross Roads, Mississippi (June 10, 1864)
* Cold Harbor, Virginia (May 31-June 12, 1864)
* Petersburg, Virginia (June 15-18, 1864)
* Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia (June 27, 1864)
* Monocacy, Maryland (July 9, 1864)
* Fort Stevens, District of Columbia (July 11-12, 1864)
* Tupelo, Mississippi (July 14-15, 1864)

* Appomattox Court House, Virginia (April 9, 1865)
 

Adapted from the National Park Service brochure The Civil War at a Glance , dated 1995, posted online by the U.S. Government Services Administration's Federal Citizen Information Center as:The Civil War at a Glance

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Major Battles of the Civil War

 

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