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Collection Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress


Unless otherwise noted, the individuals and organizations noted in the timeline were affiliated with the United States or Union military during the Civil War.

  • 1860, Nov. 6

    Abraham Lincoln elected president of the United States.

  • 1860, Dec. 20

    South Carolina became the first of eleven southern states to secede from the United States. Ultimately Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia would follow.

  • 1861, Feb.

    Confederate States of America organized in Montgomery, Ala., and elected Jefferson Davis president. The Confederate capital moved to Richmond, Virginia, not long after Virginia seceded in April 1861.

  • 1861, Mar. 2

    Congress passed a joint resolution proposing a thirteenth amendment to the United States Constitution which stated that "no amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State," in essence guaranteeing constitutional protection of slavery in those states wanting to retain slave systems. The amendment was sent to the states, but not ratified.

  • 1861, Mar. 4

    Lincoln inaugurated

  • 1861, Apr. 15

    President Lincoln issued a call for troops after Confederates in Charleston, South Carolina, fired on Union-held Fort Sumter, initiating the Civil War.

  • 1861, May

    General Benjamin F. Butler declared escaped slaves who sought refuge at Fortress Monroe in Virginia to be "contraband of war" whose labor could be used by the Union. "Contrabands" became a term applied to fugitive slaves during the Civil War.

  • 1861, July 21

    First Battle of Bull Run at Manassas, Virginia

  • 1861, Aug. 6

    Congress passed the First Confiscation Act which invalidated the claims of slave owners to escaped slaves who had been used on behalf of the Confederacy; Lincoln signed into law.

  • 1861, Sept.

    General John C. Frémont, in command of the Department of the West, issued an order emancipating the slaves of disloyal citizens in Missouri. Frémont refused Lincoln's request that he modify the order with regard to slavery, and in September President Lincoln demanded Frémont to do so.

  • 1861, Nov.

    Port Royal Sound in the Sea Islands of South Carolina captured by U. S. Captain Samuel F. Du Pont. Slave owners in the area fled to the mainland, leaving thousands of slaves behind. The area around Beaufort became the scene of the "Port Royal Experiment" in which former slaves, and military authorities, abolitionists and teachers from the North first tested emancipation and the transition to freedom.

  • 1861, Dec.

    Secretary of War Simon Cameron advocated emancipation and the military employment of fugitive slaves in a draft of his annual report made public without Lincoln's approval. The final report submitted to Congress omitted these recommendations. Lincoln's annual message instead proposed compensated emancipation and colonization measures.

  • 1862, Mar. 6

    Lincoln submitted to Congress a joint resolution proposing a federally compensation emancipation plan. Both houses of Congress passed the resolution in April, but state legislatures in the effected states failed to respond.

  • 1862, Mar. 13

    Congress passed an article of war prohibiting the army from returning escaped slaves to their masters; Lincoln signed into law.

  • 1862, Apr. 16

    Congress abolished slavery in the District of Columbia with a compensated emancipation program; Lincoln signed into law.

  • 1862, May

    General David Hunter declared free slaves in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. President Lincoln quickly revoked Hunter's proclamation.

  • 1862, June

    Congress outlawed slavery in federal territories; Lincoln signed into law.

  • 1862, July 12

    Lincoln met with congressmen from the border states to encourage them to adopt gradual, compensated emancipation measures in their own states, but two days later they rejected his appeal.

  • 1862, July 13

    Lincoln discussed a possible emancipation proclamation with Secretaries William H. Seward and Gideon Welles.

  • 1862, July 17

    Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which included provisions that freed the slaves of disloyal owners, authorized the president to employ African Americans in the suppression of the rebellion, and called for exploring voluntary colonization efforts.

    Congress passed the Militia Act, which authorized the employment of African Americans in the military, freedom for those who were enslaved, and freedom for their families if owned by those disloyal to the Union. Lincoln signed into law.

  • 1862, July 22

    Lincoln presented a draft Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Secretary Seward suggested waiting for a Union military victory before issuing a proclamation.

  • 1862, Aug.

    General Benjamin F. Butler incorporated into the Union military effort several African American "Native Guard" units organized in Louisiana.

  • 1862, Aug. 20 

    Lincoln responded to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley's "Prayer of Twenty Millions" editorial in support of emancipation.

  • 1862, Aug. 25

    War Department authorized recruitment of African American soldiers in the South Carolina Sea Islands

  • 1862, Sept. 17

    Battle of Antietam considered a Union victory

  • 1862, Sept. 22

    President Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863 "all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."

  • 1862, Oct.

    Confederate Congress passed "twenty-negro law," which exempted from military service one man per plantation with twenty or more slaves.

  • 1862, Dec.

    Confederate President Jefferson Davis proclaimed that captured African American soldiers and their white officers would not be treated as prisoners of war.

  • 1863, Jan. 1

    Lincoln signed the Final Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves not residing in specified Union-controlled areas of the Confederacy, and authorized enrollment of African Americans into the military.

  • 1863, Apr.-May

    Chancellorsville campaign in Virginia

  • 1863, May

    Bureau of Colored Troops established

  • 1863, May-June

    Black troops participated in the Battles of Port Hudson and Milliken's Bend in Louisiana

  • 1863, July

    Union victories at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Vicksburg, Mississippi

    Targets of draft rioters in New York City include African Americans

    Assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston, S.C. led by black troops

  • 1863, Aug. 10

    Lincoln met with Frederick Douglass to discuss recruitment of black troops

  • 1863, Aug. 26

    Lincoln wrote public letter for James C. Conkling in which he defended his emancipation policies. The letter was read at a mass Union meeting in Springfield, Illinois.

  • 1863, Nov. 19

    Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

  • 1863, Dec. 8

    Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which established lenient terms for the return to the Union of former Confederates, but required them to "abide by and faithfully support all proclamations of the President made during the existing rebellion having reference to slaves."

  • 1864, Apr. 4 

    Lincoln explained the progress of his decisions related to emancipation in a letter written to Albert Hodges.

  • 1864, Apr.8

    United States Senate passed a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery

  • 1864, Apr. 12

    Massacre of African American soldiers captured by Confederate troops led by General Nathan Bedford Forrest at Fort Pillow, Tennessee

  • 1864, May-June

    Overland Campaign in Virginia

  • 1864, June 

    Petersburg campaign began in Virginia

  • 1864, Sept. 1

    Fall of Atlanta, Georgia

  • 1864, Nov. 8 

    Lincoln re-elected president

  • 1865, Jan. 16

    General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order 15, reserving confiscated land in coastal South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida for settlement by former slaves freed during the war.

  • 1865, Jan. 31

    United States House of Representatives passed the joint resolution proposing a thirteenth constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, which the Senate had passed in April 1864. The proposed amendment was sent to the states for ratification.

  • 1865, Mar.

    Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands ("Freedmen's Bureau") established within the War Department in March

    Confederate Congress authorized recruitment of slaves as soldiers with permission of owners

  • 1865, Apr. 9

    Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War.

  • 1865, Apr. 11

    In what was his final speech, Lincoln suggested limited voting rights for "very intelligent" African-American men and those who had served in the military.

  • 1865, Apr. 14

    Abraham Lincoln shot at Ford's Theatre by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15 (further details available in Lincoln assassination timeline).

  • 1865, Dec. 18

    Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

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