Civil War Timeline and History, from July to December 1861

July 1, 1861–December 31, 1861

The first year of the American Civil War continued. This timeline covers important moments that took place from July to December, including military and political events that affected the course of the war and the history of the United States.

Civil War Timeline, History, July to December 1861, AHC Original

A timeline of the Civil War, featuring rare images from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated and Harper’s Weekly.

The first year of the American Civil War continued. This timeline covers important moments that took place from July to December, including military and political events that affected the course of the war and the history of the United States.

10 Moments That Shaped the Civil War

  1. July 13 — Confederate Robert S. Garnett was killed at the Battle of Corrick’s Ford, making him the first general officer to be killed in action.
  2. July 21 — Confederate forces won the First Battle of Bull Run. 
  3. July 31 — President Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant to the rank of Brigadier General of Volunteers.
  4. August 6 — The Confiscation Act of 1861 permitted Union forces to confiscate Confederate property, including enslaved people.
  5. August 7 — The U.S. government placed an order for the construction of ironclad boats.
  6. August 10 — Confederate forces won the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, giving them control of Southwestern Missouri.
  7. September 12 — A Confederate offensive, planned by Robert E. Lee, failed at the Battle of Cheat Mountain.
  8. November 1 — George B. McClellan replaced Winfield Scott as commander of U.S. forces.
  9. November 6 — Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederate States of America.
  10. November 8 — The Trent Affair created a diplomatic crisis between the United States and the United Kingdom that threatened to lead to war.

1861, July

July 2 — Hoke’s Run

Western Virginia — On July 2, Major General Robert Patterson’s division crossed the Potomac River near Williamsport and advanced towards Martinsburg on the main road. Near Hoke’s Run, divisions led by John J. Abercrombie and George H. Thomas engaged regiments from the brigade of Thomas J. Jackson, forcing them back slowly. Jackson’s mission was to delay the Federal advance, which he accomplished by retreating in front of Patterson’s larger force. 

On July 3, Patterson took control of Martinsburg but did not make any further aggressive moves until July 15, when he moved to Bunker Hill. Instead of advancing on Winchester, Patterson turned east to Charles Town and then withdrew to Harpers Ferry. This backward movement relieved pressure on Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley, enabling Joseph Johnston to support Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard at Manassas. Patterson’s lack of action played a role in the Union’s defeat at First Manassas.

July 5 — Carthage

Missouri — Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon had pursued Governor Claiborne Jackson and approximately 4,000 State Militia from Jefferson City and Boonville. Colonel Franz Sigel led another force of about 1,000 into southwest Missouri to locate the governor and his loyal troops. 

Upon discovering that Sigel had set up camp at Carthage, Jackson took charge of his troops and devised a plan to attack the smaller Union force on the night of July 4. 

Battle of Carthage, 1861, Union Artillery
Battle of Carthage. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 3, 1861.

The following morning, Jackson positioned his troops on a ridge 10 miles north of Carthage and provoked Sigel into attacking by opening fire with artillery. Sigel initiated the attack but became concerned when he observed a sizable Confederate force, mainly unarmed recruits, moving into the woods on his left, potentially flanking him. Consequently, Sigel withdrew, and the Confederates pursued, although Sigel executed a successful rearguard action. 

By evening, Sigel reached Carthage, and under the cover of darkness, he retreated to Sarcoxie. The battle held limited significance, but Confederate supporters in Missouri celebrated it as their first victory in the war.

July 6–7 — Battle of Middle Fork Bridge

Western Virginia — A skirmish between Union and Confederate forces. Fifty soldiers from the Third Ohio Regiment, led by Captain O. A. Lawson, are detached for a scouting expedition. They met Union civilians seeking protection from Confederate forces. Lawson engaged the Confederates near Middle Fork Bridge, captured the bridge, and forced the Confederates to retreat.

July 11 — Rich Mountain

Western Virginia — In June, Major General George B. McClellan took charge of Union forces in Western Virginia. On June 27, he directed his divisions to move south from Clarksburg towards Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram’s Confederate troops. They reached the Rich Mountain area by July 9. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Thomas Armstrong Morris advanced his Union brigade from Philippi to confront the command of Confederate Brigadier General Robert S. Garnett at Laurel Hill.

Battle of Rich Mountain, 1861, Union Charge
Battle of Rich Mountain. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, July 27, 1861.

On July 11, Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans led a reinforced brigade on a mountain path to seize the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike behind the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram. This led to a fierce 2-hour battle that divided the Confederates. Half of them escaped to Beverly, but Pegram and his group surrendered on July 13. 

July 12 — The CSA signed the Treaty with the Choctaws and Chickasaws in Indian Territory.

July 13 — Corrick’s Ford

Western Virginia — General Robert S. Garnett, retreating with his men, ordered the 23rd Virginia to hold their ground at Corrick’s Ford while he directed the main evacuation. Garnett was shot and killed, becoming the first general officer to be killed in action during the Civil War. The Confederates continue their retreat, and the Union forces end their pursuit.

July 15 — Battle of Bunker Hill, Virginia.

July 17 — Battle of Scary Creek in Western Virginia. Confederate victory.

July 18 — Blackburn’s Ford

Virginia — The inexperienced Union army, led by Brigadier General Irvin McDowell and comprising 35,000 troops, left the defenses of Washington with the intent to engage the Confederate army concentrated near the crucial railroad junction at Manassas. The Confederate force, numbering around 22,000 men and commanded by Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, protected the Bull Run fords.

By July 18, McDowell’s forces had reached Centreville and then proceeded southwest, attempting to cross at Blackburn’s Ford. However, they were met with resistance and pushed back. This skirmish served as a reconnaissance-in-force in preparation for the upcoming major battle at Manassas, Virginia.

July 21 — Bull Run at Manassas, First Battle

Virginia — This was the first significant land battle of the war. On July 16, 1861, the inexperienced Union army, led by Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, advanced from Washington to confront the Confederate army positioned behind Bull Run near Centreville. 

First Battle of Bull Run, 1861, Union Troops Advancing
This illustration depicts advancing to the battlefield during the First Battle of Bull Run. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

On the 21st, McDowell crossed at Sudley Ford and attacked the Confederate left flank on Matthews Hill. Fierce fighting persisted throughout the day, with Confederate forces retreating to Henry Hill. In the late afternoon, Confederate reinforcements, including one brigade arriving by rail from the Shenandoah Valley, expanded their lines and broke the Union right flank. The Federal retreat rapidly deteriorated into a rout. While the Confederates emerged victorious, their disorganization prevented pursuit. Confederate Gen. Bee and Colonel Bartow were killed, and Thomas J. Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall.” 

By July 22, the Union army had retreated to Washington. This battle convinced the Lincoln administration that the war would be a protracted and costly conflict. As a result, McDowell was relieved of command, and Major General George B. McClellan assumed leadership, focusing on reorganizing and training the troops.

First Battle of Bull Run, 1861, Union Charge
This illustration depicts Union forces advancing during the First Battle of Bull Run. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 10, 1861.

July 22 — McClellan received orders to go to Washington, and Rosecrans assumed command of Union forces in western Virginia. The Union victory at Rich Mountain played a pivotal role in McClellan’s promotion to leading the Army of the Potomac.

July 27President Abraham Lincoln appointed George B. McClellan as Commander of the Department of the Potomac, replacing McDowell. The War Department issued General Orders, No. 47, merging the Department of Northeastern Virginia with the Department of Washington to create the Department of the Potomac.

Defenses for Washington, D.C.

To protect Washington, D.C. from Confederate forces in northern Virginia, a series of earthworks and forts were constructed, adding to the protection already offered by active posts such as Fort Washington on the Potomac River.

July 31 — Ulysses S. Grant is Given a Command

At the recommendation of Illinois congressmen, President Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as a Brigadier General of Volunteers. In August, Grant took command of the District of Ironton in the Western Department.

1861, August

General Robert E. Lee arrived in Western Virginia to coordinate the efforts of Brigadier Generals John B. Floyd, Henry Wise, and William W. Loring.

August 1 — First National Income Tax

On August 1, 1861, the U.S. Congress enacted a law instituting the first national income tax — a 3% tax on incomes over $800 will take effect on January 1, 1862. Although it was not enforced and later revised, it was an important moment in American history.

August 2 — Battle of Dug Springs in Missouri. Union victory. 

August 6 — Confiscation Act of 1861

The U.S. Congress passed and President Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act of 1861. It allows court proceedings for the confiscation of property used to support the Confederate war effort, including enslaved people.

August 7 — U.S. Navy Orders Ironclad Gunboats

James B. Eads of St. Louis was awarded a contract to construct ironclad gunboats for the U.S. Navy.

August 10 — Wilson’s Creek

MissouriBrigadier General Nathaniel Lyon and the Army of the West were encamped at Springfield, Missouri, while Confederate troops under Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch approached. On August 9, both sides devised plans to attack each other. Around 5:00 a.m. on the 10th, Lyon, leading two columns alongside Colonel Franz Sigel, launched an attack on the Confederates near Wilson’s Creek, approximately 12 miles southwest of Springfield. 

Battle of Wilson's Creek, 1861, Lyon's 1st Iowa Regiment
This illustration depicts the charge of Lyon’s 1st Iowa Regiment at the Battle of Wison’s Creek. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

The initial target was the Confederate cavalry, which retreated from Bloody Hill. Confederate reinforcements quickly arrived and stabilized their positions. The Confederates attempted to break through the Union line with 3 attacks during the day, but all were unsuccessful. 

Lyon was killed during the battle, and Major Samuel D. Sturgis took command. Meanwhile, the Confederates routed Sigel’s column south of Skegg’s Branch. 

Following the third Confederate assault, which concluded at 11:00 a.m., the Confederates withdrew. However, Sturgis recognized that his troops were fatigued and low on ammunition, so he ordered a retreat to Springfield. The Confederates were too disorganized to pursue.

The Confederate victory boosted the morale of Southern sympathizers in Missouri and paved the way for Sterling Price and his Missouri State Guard to push toward Lexington. In late October, a state convention, convened by Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, gathered in Neosho and passed a secession ordinance. 

Wilson’s Creek, the most significant battle in Missouri in 1861, granted the Confederates control over southwestern Missouri.

August 17Lieutenant General Winfield Scott issued General Orders, No.15 (Headquarters of the Army) announcing a further consolidation and the creation of the Department of the Potomac, again commanded by McClellan.

August 20 — McClellan issued General Orders No. 1 (Army of the Potomac), assuming “command of the Army of the Potomac, comprising the troops serving in the former departments of Washington and Northeastern Virginia, in the Valley of the Shenandoah, and in the States of Maryland and Delaware.”

August 26 — Kessler’s Cross Lanes

Western VirginiaBrigadier General John Floyd, who led Confederates in the Kanawha Valley, initiated an attack by crossing the Gauley River to engage Colonel Erastus Tyler and the 7th Ohio Regiment, stationed at Kessler’s Cross Lanes. 

The Union troops were caught off guard and suffered a decisive defeat. Afterward, Floyd retreated to the river and established a defensive position at Carnifex Ferry. 

August 28 — Hatteras Inlet Batteries

North Carolina — An amphibious operation under the command of Major General Benjamin Butler and Flag Officer Silas Stringham set sail from Fort Monroe to capture Hatteras Inlet, an important harbor utilized by blockade runners. 

On the 28th, as the naval forces bombarded Fort Clark and Fort Hatteras, Union troops landed and launched an attack from the rear of the Confederate fortifications. The next day, Colonel William F. Martin surrendered the Confederate garrison. 

Butler returned to Fort Monroe, leaving garrisons in charge of the captured forts.

1861, September

September 2 — Dry Wood Creek

Missouri — Brigadier General James H. Lane and his cavalry left Fort Scott on a mission to confirm the presence of a Confederate force. They unexpectedly met a Confederate contingent, numbering around 6,000 soldiers, near Big Dry Wood Creek. 

While the Union cavalry managed to take the Confederates by surprise, the overwhelming numerical advantage of the Confederate force soon tipped the scales in their favor. They forced the Union cavalry to withdraw and captured their mules. 

The Confederates proceeded toward Lexington. Their actions pressured the Federal forces to relinquish control of southwestern Missouri and focus on securing the Missouri Valley.

September 3 — Confederate forces under the command of Leonidas Polk invaded Kentucky.

September 6 — Union forces led by General Ulysses S. Grant captured Paducah, Kentucky, without a fight, giving the Union control of the mouth of the Tennessee River.

September 10 — Carnifex Ferry

Western Virginia — Upon receiving news of Colonel Erastus Tyler’s defeat at Kessler’s Cross Lanes, Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans relocated 3 brigades from Clarksburg to provide support. 

On the afternoon of September 10, he initiated an advance against the encampments of Brigadier General John Floyd at Carnifex Ferry. The battle continued for several hours until darkness brought an end to hostilities. 

The Union artillery forced Floyd to order a retreat during the night. Floyd placed the blame for his defeat on his co-commander, Brigadier General Henry Wise.

September 11 — President Lincoln revoked a proclamation by General John C. Fremont that established emancipation in Missouri.

September 12 — Cheat Mountain

Western Virginia — General Robert E. Lee launched his first offensive during the Civil War against the entrenched positions of Brigadier General Joseph Reynolds on the summit of Cheat Mountain and in the Tygart Valley. 

However, the Confederate attacks were poorly coordinated, and the Federal defense proved remarkably resilient. Colonel Albert Rust, who led the Confederate assaults, mistakenly believed he was facing a strong force, even though he was up against roughly 300 Union troops. 

Recognizing the difficulties, Lee decided to call off the attack and, after some maneuvering, withdrew to Valley Head on September 17.

September 13 — Lexington, First Battle

Missouri — After their victory at Wilson’s Creek, the Confederate Missouri State Guard, under the leadership of Major General Sterling Price, regrouped in the northern and central regions of the state and marched towards Lexington. In Lexington, an entrenched Union garrison was commanded by Colonel James A. Mulligan, consisting of about 3,500 soldiers.

On September 13, Price’s forces met Union skirmishers south of the town and pushed them back into their fortifications. Price opted to delay his assault on the fortifications until he received ammunition wagons, other supplies, and reinforcements.

First Battle of Lexington, 1861, Charge of the Irish Regiment
This illustration depicts the charge of the Irish Regiment at the First Battle of Lexington. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, October 12, 1861.

By September 18, Price was prepared to attack. The Missouri State Guard advanced despite heavy Union artillery fire, pushing the enemy back into their inner defenses. On the 19th, the Confederates consolidated their positions, subjecting the Union troops to sustained artillery bombardment as they readied for the final assault.

In the early hours of September 20, Price’s men advanced with mobile breastworks made of hemp, closing in on the Union works at the Anderson House. They executed a final push, and by noon, Mulligan requested surrender terms. 

By 2:00 p.m., his men had abandoned their positions and stacked their arms. The Union stronghold had fallen, further strengthening Southern sentiment and solidifying Confederate control in the Missouri Valley west of Arrow Rock.

The battle is also known as the “Battle of the Hemp Bales,” because the Confederates used hemp bales for their breastworks .

First Battle of Lexington, 1861, Union Artillery
This illustration depicts the Union artillery at the First Battle of Lexington. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, October 12, 1861.

September 17 — Liberty

Missouri — David Rice Atchison left Lexington and headed to Liberty, where he rendezvoused with the Missouri State Guard. During the night of September 16–17, his force crossed the Missouri River to the south side and prepared for a potential engagement with reported Union troops in the vicinity.

Meanwhile, Union Lieutenant Colonel John Scott led approximately 600 men from Cameron on September 15. He departed from his camp in Centreville at 2:00 a.m. on the 17th, eventually reaching Liberty. He sent scouts to locate the enemy upon arrival and skirmishing started around 11:00 a.m. 

At noon, Scott moved towards the sounds of gunfire, approaching Blue Mills Landing. At 3:00 p.m., they engaged the Confederate pickets. Although the Union forces initially resisted, they eventually started falling back, prompting the Confederates to pursue them for some distance. The skirmish continued for an hour.

Septebmer 19 — Barbourville

Kentucky — In the summer of 1861, Union supporters in Kentucky were training recruits at Camp Andrew Johnson in Barbourville. In mid-September, Confederate Brigadier General Felix Zollicoffer ventured into Kentucky to relieve pressure on General Albert Sidney Johnston and his forces. Zollicoffer’s strategy involved conducting raids and posing a threat to Union forces and sympathizers in the region.

On September 18, 1861, Zollicoffer sent a contingent of about 800 men, led by Colonel Joel A. Battle, to disrupt the training activities at Camp Andrew Johnson. At daybreak on the 19th, this force reached Barbourville only to find that the recruits had been relocated to Camp Dick Robinson. 

Encountering a small home guard unit commanded by Captain Isaac J. Black, a fierce skirmish took place. After dispersing the home guard, the Confederates proceeded to destroy the training camp and confiscate any available weapons. 

This skirmish marked the first significant engagement of the Civil War in Kentucky.

1861, October

October 3 — Greenbrier River

Western Virginia — During the night of October 2–3, Brigadier General Joseph Reynolds led two brigades on an advance from Cheat Mountain to scout the Confederate position at Camp Bartow along the Greenbrier River. Reynolds initiated the battle by engaging Confederate pickets and deploying his artillery. Although there was sporadic fighting and an unsuccessful effort to flank the Confederate right, Reynolds eventually opted to withdraw his forces to Cheat Mountain.

October 9 — Santa Rosa Island

Florida — Shortly after midnight on October 9, Confederate Brigadier General Richard Anderson led 1,200 men aboard two small steamers in a crossing from the mainland to Santa Rosa Island. Their objective was to launch a surprise attack on Union camps and capture Fort Pickens

The Confederates disembarked on the north beach, approximately 4 miles east of Fort Pickens, and organized themselves into 3 separate columns. After advancing about 3 miles inland, the Confederates managed to catch the 6th Regiment, New York Volunteers, off guard in their camp, leading to the routing of the Union regiment. 

Following this success, General Anderson assumed a defensive posture, hoping to lure the Federals out of the fort to initiate an attack. However, when Colonel Harvey Brown received reinforcements, he led a counterattack against the Confederates. Faced with increasing Union pressure, the Confederates re-embarked and returned to the mainland, ending their attempt to capture Fort Pickens.

October 21 — Camp Wildcat

Kentucky — Brigadier General Felix Zollicoffer’s Confederates had taken control of Cumberland Gap and established a position at Cumberland Ford to counter Unionist activities in the region. 

In response, Brigadier General George H. Thomas sent a detachment under Colonel Theophilus T. Garrard with orders to secure the ford on the Rockcastle River, establish a camp at Wildcat Mountain, and obstruct the Wilderness Road, which passed through the area. Colonel Garrard communicated to Thomas that unless he received reinforcements, he would be compelled to retreat due to being vastly outnumbered.

In response to Garrard’s request, Thomas sent Brigadier General Albin Francisco Schoepf with a brigade-sized force, bringing the total number of troops to approximately 7,000. 

On the morning of October 21, shortly after Schoepf’s arrival, some of his men advanced and met Confederates, sparking a skirmish. The Union forces successfully stopped the Confederate attacks, benefiting from both natural and man-made fortifications. 

The Confederates withdrew under the cover of night and continued their retreat to Cumberland Ford, which they reached on the 26th.

October 21 — Fredericktown

Missouri — Two Union columns, one led by Colonel Joseph B. Plummer and the other by Colonel William P. Carlin, undertook an advance toward Fredericktown to intercept Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson and his Confederates. 

On the morning of October 21, Thompson’s troops left Fredericktown and headed south. After traveling about twelve miles, Thompson secured his supply train in a secure position and then returned towards Fredericktown.

Upon his return, Thompson received intelligence that Union forces had occupied Fredericktown. He spent the morning trying to gather information about the enemy’s strength and disposition but was unable to do so. Nonetheless, around noon, he decided to launch an attack. 

Plummer, along with his troops and a detachment from Colonel William P. Carlin’s command, met the Confederates outside the town, leading to a two-hour-long battle. 

The superior numbers and strength of the Union forces took their toll, forcing Thompson’s men to retreat. Union cavalry pursued the retreating Confederates. The engagement at Fredericktown solidified Union control over southeastern Missouri.

October 21 — Ball’s Bluff

Virginia — Confederate Brigadier General Nathan “Shanks” Evans successfully stopped a poorly coordinated endeavor by Union forces under Brigadier General Charles P. Stone to cross the Potomac River at Harrison’s Island and seize control of Leesburg. 

Battle of Ball's Bluff, 1861, Colonel Edward Baker
Colonel Edward D. Baker. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

A well-timed Confederate counterattack compelled the Federal troops to retreat, pushing them over a bluff and into the river. During the battle, Colonel Edward D. Baker, a Senator from Oregon and a friend of President Lincoln, was killed. Union forces retreated in panic, and many soldiers drowned while trying to re-cross the icy waters of the Potomac River.

The Union defeat carried political consequences and led to the establishment of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

October 25 — Springfield, First Battle

Missouri — Major General John C. Fremont, who had achieved limited success since taking command of the Western Department with headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, devised a plan to expel Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates from the state.  Fremont also wanted to extend the conflict into Arkansas and Louisiana if circumstances allowed. 

Fremont left St. Louis on October 7, 1861, leading a combined force that ultimately grew to over 20,000 troops. Among his forces, a cavalry contingent numbering 5,000 soldiers included units such as Major Frank J. White’s Prairie Scouts and Fremont’s Body Guards, commanded by Major Charles Zagonyi.

First Battle of Springfield, 1861, Union Charge
This illustration depicts the first Union charge on the Confederate garrison at the First Battle of Springfield. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

However, Major White fell ill and transferred his command to Zagonyi. These two units operated ahead of Fremont’s main army, conducting reconnaissance and gathering valuable intelligence. As Fremont approached Springfield, the local state guard commander, Colonel Julian Frazier, requested additional troops from nearby areas in anticipation of the Union advance.

Fremont’s forces camped along the Pomme de Terre River, approximately 50 miles from Springfield. Meanwhile, Zagonyi’s column continued its advance toward Springfield. Frazier’s Confederate troops, numbering between 1,000 to 1,500, set up an ambush along the road traveled by Zagonyi’s forces. 

However, the Union troops executed a charge, causing the Confederates to scatter. Zagonyi’s men proceeded into Springfield, where they were welcomed by Federal sympathizers and released Union prisoners. Concerned about the potential for a Confederate counterattack, Zagonyi decided to leave Springfield before nightfall. 

Fremont’s main army returned to the town a few days later, establishing their presence there. However, by mid-November, after Fremont was replaced by Major General Hunter, Federal forces evacuated Springfield and withdrew to Sedalia and Rolla.

It was not until early 1862 that Federal troops reoccupied Springfield, and the town became a Union stronghold. The battle at Springfield was the only Union victory in southwestern Missouri in 1861.

First Battle of Springfield, 1861, Second Union Charge
This illustration depicts the second Union charge during the First Battle of Springfield. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

October 26 — The Pony Express announced its operations were closed.

October 30 — After accomplishing little in Western Virginia, Robert E. Lee was recalled to Richmond.

October 31 — Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson signed the bill approving Missouri’s secession from the Union. The Confederacy admitted Missouri on November 18, however, Missouri had two governments during the war and was claimed by both the United States and Confederate States. Officially, Missouri remained part of the Union.

1861, November

November 1 — McClellan Replaces Scott

Following the defeat at First Bull Run, President Lincoln decided he needed a more effective leader for the Union armies and replaced Winfield Scott with George B. McClellan. The War Department issued orders announcing Scott’s retirement and President Lincoln’s executive order proclaiming that McClellan would “assume the command of the Army of the United States.”

November 2David Hunter replaced John C. Fremont as commander of the Western Department.

November 6 Jefferson Davis was officially elected as President of the Confederate States.

November 7 — Battle of Port Royal

South Carolina — The Union Navy, under the command of Captain Samuel F. Dupont, captured two Confederate Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard on Port Royal Sound in South Carolina. These forts later served as bases for launching attacks along the coast.

Battle of Port Royal, 1861, Union Troops Landing at Fort Walker
This illustration depicts Union troops landing at Fort Walker. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

November 7 — Belmont

Missouri — Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant left Cairo, Illinois, accompanied by two gunboats, to engage Confederates in Columbus, Kentucky. However, the following morning, Grant received information indicating that Confederate troops had crossed the Mississippi River from Columbus to Belmont, Missouri. They aimed to intercept two Union detachments sent in pursuit of Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson and potentially reinforce Major General Sterling Price’s forces.

Battle of Belmont, 1861, Grant Directing Troops
This illustration depicts General Ulysses S. Grant (lower left, pointing) directing troop movements Battle of Belmont. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

To avoid the range of Confederate artillery positioned at Columbus, Grant’s forces landed on the Missouri shore and commenced a march towards Belmont, about a mile away. At 9:00 a.m. the battle started. The Union troops successfully drove the Confederates out of their cantonment at Belmont and proceeded to destroy the Confederate supplies and equipment they discovered since they had no way to transport them.

As the scattered Confederates regrouped and received reinforcements from Columbus, they launched a counterattack. In response, the Union forces withdrew, reembarked on their vessels, and returned to Cairo. 

November 8 — Ivy Mountain

Kentucky — While engaged in recruiting efforts in southeast Kentucky, Confederates under the command of Colonel John S. Williams were short on ammunition in Prestonsburg. Consequently, they withdrew to Pikeville to replenish their dwindling supplies. 

Brigadier General William Nelson, stationed near Louisa, responded by sending a detachment under Colonel Joshua Sill. Simultaneously, Nelson initiated a movement from Prestonsburg with a larger force, intending to “cut off or encircle the Rebels.”

Williams anticipated the need to evacuate Pikeville, hoping for enough time to reach Virginia. He sent a cavalry unit to meet Nelson approximately 8 miles from Pikeville. The Confederate cavalry successfully evaded capture, allowing Nelson to proceed with his advance. Meanwhile, Williams and Nelson met at a location northeast of Pikeville, situated between Ivy Mountain and Ivy Creek.

In a tactical move, the Confederates lay in wait near a narrow bend in the road, launching a surprise attack on the Union ranks. A skirmish ensued, but neither side gained a decisive advantage. As the battle dwindled, Williams’s forces obstructed the road by felling trees and burning bridges in an attempt to slow Nelson’s pursuit.

As night fell, accompanied by rain, and faced with these obstacles, Nelson’s troops decided to establish a camp. Meanwhile, Williams retreated into Virginia, eventually reaching Abingdon on the 9th. Although Sill’s forces arrived too late to influence the outcome, they did engage in skirmishes with the remnants of Williams’s retreating troops before occupying Pikeville on the same day.

The Confederate forces eventually withdrew back into Virginia to regroup and resupply, allowing Union forces to consolidate their control in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

November 8 — Trent Affair

Charles Wilkes, a U.S. Navy Officer, captured two Confederate envoys — James Mason and John Slidell — aboard the British mail ship, the Trent. The incident created a diplomatic crisis when Great Britain accused the United States of violating British neutrality. The British demand an explanation.

Charles Francis Adams, the U.S. Minister to Great Britain, assured the British that the United States did not want war. Adams advised President Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward to respond.

On December 26, Seward presented an official note summarizing the administration’s position to Lord Lyons, the British Minister to the United States. Seward defended Wilkes’ action but conceded Wilkes had made a mistake by not seizing the Trent and letting a court affirm the legality of taking the envoys as prisoners. 

Seward agreed to release the prisoners and Lyons, under orders from London, accepted the explanation, diffusing the diplomatic crisis and avoiding war.

November 19 — Battle of Round Mountain in Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma.

November 21 — President David appointed Judah P. Benjamin as Secretary of War.

1861, December

December 9 — Chusto-Talasah

Indian Territory — Following his defeat at Round Mountain, Chief Opothleyahola and his force of Indians loyal to the Union retreated. On December 9, the force found itself at Chusto-Talasah, also known as Caving Banks, on the Horseshoe Bend of Bird Creek.

Around 2:00 p.m. on that day, Colonel Douglas H. Cooper led 1,300 Confederate troops in an attack against Chief Opothleyahola. Having been aware of Cooper’s approach,  Opothleyahola positioned his troops in strong defensive positions at Horseshoe Bend.

For nearly 4 hours, the Confederates attacked and attempted to outflank the Union troops. They finally succeeded in driving the Union forces eastward across Bird Creek before darkness fell. 

The Confederates camped there for the night but did not pursue the retreating Union forces due to a shortage of ammunition. Chief Opothleyahola and his men continued their search for a more secure location.

December 10 — Kentucky was admitted into the Confederacy.

December 13 — Camp Allegheny

Western Virginia — Confederates commanded by Colonel Edward Johnson assumed control of the summit of Allegheny Mountain to safeguard the Staunton-Parkersburg Pike. Responding to this Confederate presence, a Union force led by Brigadier General Robert Milroy launched an attack against Johnson on December 13.

The engagement at Camp Allegheny persisted for much of the morning, with both sides maneuvering to gain the upper hand. Ultimately, Milroy’s troops faced a repulsion, prompting their retreat to their encampments located near Cheat Mountain.

As the year drew to a close, Colonel Edward Johnson maintained his position at Camp Allegheny with 5 regiments, while Henry Heth was stationed at Lewisburg with two regiments.

December 17 — Rowlett’s Station

Kentucky — After Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell took command of the Department of the Ohio in early November, he started to consolidate control by organizing and deploying troops. 

One of his directives was to send Brigadier General Alexander McDowell McCook and the 2nd Division, to Nolin, Kentucky. Meanwhile, Confederates established a defensive line along the Green River near Munfordville.

On December 10, McCook initiated a movement towards the Confederate positions, prompting the Confederates to respond by partially destroying the Louisville & Nashville Railroad bridge spanning the Green River. 

To prevent any surprises, the Union sent two companies from the 32nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment across the river. They also started building a pontoon bridge to allow wagons and artillery to cross the river.

After the bridge was finished on December 17, 4 more companies from the 32nd Indiana crossed the river. The combined force advanced to a hill south of Woodsonville, where they observed enemy troops in the woods ahead of them during the afternoon. 

Two Union companies moved toward the woods, causing the Confederates to withdraw. However, Confederate cavalry launched an attack, leading to a larger-scale engagement as 8 Union companies confronted a significantly larger Confederate force.

Concerned that the enemy might outflank their right flank, Colonel August Willich, who commanded the regiment, ordered a withdrawal to a more fortified position to the rear. The Confederates, aware of McCook’s approach, also withdrew from the battlefield. 

Although the battle’s outcome was inconclusive, Union troops successfully occupied the area, ensuring the unimpeded movement of their personnel and supplies along the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.

December 20 — Dranesville

VirginiaBrigadier General J.E.B. Stuart commanded a brigade-sized force comprising cavalry, infantry, and artillery, tasked with safeguarding a foraging expedition near Dranesville. As Union Brigadier General Edward O.C. Ord advanced along the Georgetown Pike, his forces came into contact with Stuart’s cavalry.

Both sides quickly deployed their troops, and a firefight ensued as additional units joined the fray. Amid the action, Stuart decided to withdraw from the battlefield in the mid-afternoon, but not before ensuring the safety of his wagons, which had been positioned to the rear.

Battle of Dranesville, 1861, Union Artillery
Battle of Dranesville. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

December 26 — Chustenahlah

Indian Territory — Confederate forces in Indian Territory looked to defeat Union sympathizers led by Chief Opothleyahola. After battles at Round Mountain and Chusto-Talasah, Opothleyahola and his men camped at a cove on Battle Creek.

The Confederate expedition was led by Colonel James McQueen McIntosh and Colonel Douglas H. Cooper, who commanded the Indian Department. They planned to carry out a combined attack, with each column approaching the Indian camp from different directions. Stand Watie, a Cherokee, was with the Confederate forces.

McIntosh set out from Fort Gibson on December 22 with a force of 1,380 men. On December 25, he learned that Cooper’s force would be delayed in joining him, however, McIntosh decided to proceed with the attack on the 26th

The Confederate attack started around noon on the 26th. The Indians were positioned in the thick underbrush along the slope of a rugged hill. As the Confederates moved forward, the Indians started to retreat. As they fell back, they would pause, take cover, and fire on the Confederates, before falling back further. 

Eventually, the Indians were pushed back to their camp. They tried to make a stand but were overwhelmed by the Confederates. Many of the Indians fled, and some of the survivors made their way to Kansas, where they found refuge with Unionists. 

This defeat ended the resistance of Chief Opothleyahola and his band of Creeks and Seminoles.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Civil War Timeline and History, from July to December 1861
  • Date July 1, 1861–December 31, 1861
  • Author
  • Keywords Civil War Timeline, Civil War History, Civil War 1861, Western Virginia Campaign, First Battle of Bull Run, Confiscation Act of 1861, Battle of Wilson's Creek, Trent Affair
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 14, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024