May 1861

Talking about war was giving way to preparing for war. The first shots had been fired, and a frenzy of mobilization was sweeping across both North and South. However, many were still unsure what war meant. Some still hoped for a peaceful settlement, or at worst, one decisive battle to settle the dispute. Nothing was clear yet, but the people were massing for action nonetheless.

Seeking Foreign Support

3 May – Confederate envoys met with the British foreign secretary as both the U.S. and the Confederacy moved to shore up foreign support for their respective causes.

The Fall of Camp Jackson

10 May – Federal troops led by Captain Nathaniel Lyon sparked a riot in St. Louis by preëmptively seizing the allegedly secessionist Camp Jackson on the city’s western outskirts.

The Confederate Capital Relocation

20 May – The Provisional Confederate Congress approved a measure relocating the national capital from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia.

The Fall of Alexandria and Ellsworth’s Death

24 May – Federal forces invaded northern Virginia and captured Alexandria, and a promising young officer became one of the war’s first casualties.

Ex Parte Merryman

25 May – Pennsylvania militia seized John Merryman at his Maryland home for suspected secessionist activity. This provoked a controversial legal dispute between the president and the U.S. chief justice.

Benjamin Butler on the Virginia Coast

30 May – Secretary of War Simon Cameron endorsed Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s refusal to return fugitive slaves to their master. This set an important precedent in the war as both Federals and Confederates maneuvered for control of the Virginia seaboard east of Richmond.

Lyon Replaces Harney in Missouri

31 May – Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon replaced Brigadier General William S. Harney as commander of the Federal Department of the West. Lyon quickly began working to destroy secessionism in Missouri.

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Last Updated: 2/26/2017

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