December 1861

Northern excitement had turned to anxiety concerning the British steamer Trent. Southerners were hoping that the incident would push Britain into aiding the Confederacy. The Federal blockade was having no effect on southern shipping, but southerners worried that this would soon change. Most in the South were cautiously optimistic that they would win their independence.

The Trent Affair: Awaiting Official Reactions

1 Dec – The U.S. and Great Britain awaited each other’s official reactions to the seizure of Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell aboard the neutral British steamer Trent.

The Second Session of the 37th U.S. Congress

2 Dec – The second session of the first Republican-dominated Congress opened amid growing discontent with the way the Lincoln administration was prosecuting the war.

President Lincoln’s 1861 Message to Congress

3 Dec – President Abraham Lincoln submitted his first annual message to Congress, which described the current state of affairs and reiterated his view that the Union must be preserved by all necessary means.

The New Unionist Maryland

3 Dec – The Maryland legislature assembled with most secessionists removed from office. This ensured that Washington would not be surrounded by Confederate states.

The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War

9 Dec – The U.S. Senate approved a measure creating a joint House-Senate military oversight committee whose investigative methods quickly proved controversial.

McClellan’s Secret Plan

10 Dec – General-in-Chief George B. McClellan rejected President Abraham Lincoln’s proposal to send the Army of the Potomac into northern Virginia against Centreville and Manassas Junction.

The Camp Allegheny Engagement

12 Dec – Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy’s Federal advance from Cheat Mountain led to defeat in the last significant clash of the year in northwestern Virginia.

Sibley Reaches the New Mexico Territory

14 Dec – Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico arrived at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, as part of the plan to conquer the New Mexico Territory.

The Trent Affair: British Reaction Reaches the U.S.

15 Dec – News of the British reaction to the seizure of Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell reached the U.S.

Missourians Lobby the Confederacy

16 Dec – Missouri General Sterling Price sent another message to Confederate President Jefferson Davis asking him to provide more support for their secessionist cause.

The Blackwater Creek Engagement

18 Dec – Federals under Brigadier General John Pope overwhelmed a force of Missouri State Guards and demoralized secessionists in the western part of the state.

The Dranesville Engagement

19 Dec – Federal forces won a minor victory in a struggle over foraging rights in northern Virginia.

The Stone Fleet

20 Dec – Federal Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont directed Captain Charles H. Davis to sink vessels filled with stones to obstruct Confederate blockade runners from entering Charleston Harbor’s main ship channel.

Halleck Cracks Down in Missouri

22 Dec – Federal Major General Henry W. Halleck issued General Orders No. 32 as part of his program to suppress alleged disloyalty in Missouri.

The Federal Blockade Tightens

24 Dec – The Federal blockade began tightening with the capture of more blockade runners along the coasts.

The Trent Affair: The Lincoln Administration Decides

25 Dec – President Lincoln held a lengthy cabinet meeting on Christmas Day to finally decide upon a course of action regarding Great Britain’s demands to release the Confederate envoys seized aboard the British steamer Trent.

The Battle of Chustenahlah

26 Dec – Confederate Texans and Native Americans defeated Unionists a second time this month in the Indian Territory.

The Northern Financial Crisis

30 Dec – The leading banks of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia suspended specie payments (i.e., exchanging paper money for gold or silver) due to depleted reserves. This suspension thrust the northern states into a financial crisis.

The Romney Campaign

31 Dec – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson issued orders for his Confederate forces to begin marching on New Year’s Day. Only Jackson knew that they would be embarking on a grueling campaign to capture Romney in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

The End of 1861

31 Dec – The year closed with southerners optimistic about gaining independence and northerners pessimistic about preserving the Union.

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Last Updated: 4/9/2017

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