May 1861

Federal volunteers rushed to answer President Abraham Lincoln’s call to arms, and Federal forces were successful in Missouri. The U.S. Chief Justice rendered an opinion on Lincoln’s disregard for civil liberties. The first northern martyr was mourned in the North, and a Federal general issued controversial orders regarding fugitive slaves. In the South, the new Confederate government sought foreign recognition as its capital was moved to a more accessible location. More states contemplated secession.

The “Anaconda” Plan

A young Federal officer suggests a quick strike against the Confederacy, but General Scott prefers a more methodical approach.

From William B. Darst, 21st Virginia

A letter from William B. Darst, 21st Virginia Volunteer Infantry, to his mother.

Forced to be Enemies of Great Britain

Confederate envoys try to garner foreign support as the U.S. State Department warns the foreign powers not to recognize Confederate independence.

The Tennessee Secession

The Tennessee legislature votes to secede from the Union and joins the Confederacy before the popular vote on the matter takes place.

Vigorous Measures are Anticipated

Federal troops pour into Washington and talk quickly turns from defense to offensive operations.

Now Let the Sword Do the Work

The Confederacy gears up for war by increasing the military, while pundits weigh the chances for Confederate independence.

Bitter Feuds of Long Standing

Confederates capitalize on Native American animosity toward the U.S. to form a tentative alliance.

Extraordinary and Unscrupulous Conduct

Nathaniel Lyon and his Federal Home Guard cause controversy in Missouri by forcing the surrender of an allegedly pro-Confederate state militia force.

Escaping the Fury of the Dutch

A riot breaks out in St. Louis as Federal forces struggle to maintain order and Missourians flee their state.

Where Unyielding Patriotism Rallied

Confederates keep a tenuous hold on hostile northwestern Virginia while Unionists consider seceding from the rest of the state.

Federals Capture Baltimore

Benjamin Butler oversteps his authority and sends his Federal troops to seize the troublesome city of Baltimore.

An Uneasy Hold on Harpers Ferry

Joseph E. Johnston takes command of Confederates at Harpers Ferry, Va., and soon learns that the place is highly vulnerable to attack.

A Matter of the First Necessity

The Confederacy turns to a new form of naval warfare, expels the last Federal troops from Texas, and continues its military buildup.

The Arkansas Secession

Delegates to the Arkansas State Convention vote to secede from the Union.

The North Carolina Secession

North Carolina becomes the 10th state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.

The Confederate Capital Relocation

The Confederate Congress votes to adjourn after approving the relocation of the national capital from Montgomery, Ala., to Richmond, Va.

Federals Capture Alexandria

Federal troops cross the Potomac River and seize the strategic town of Alexandria, but it comes at a tragic cost.

Ex Parte Merryman

Federal forces arrest a suspected secessionist, prompting a sharp response from the U.S. Chief Justice regarding civil liberties.

The Western Virginia Incursion Begins

George B. McClellan orders Federal troops across the Ohio River to begin anticipated incursion into predominantly Unionist western Virginia.

From Thomas Lightfoot, 6th Alabama

Letter from 2nd Lt. Thomas Lightfoot, 6th Alabama Volunteer Infantry, to his cousin.

Contraband of War

Benjamin F. Butler causes another controversy, this time by refusing to return fugitive slaves to their masters. This sets a wartime precedent.

Chained Down by a Merciless Tyranny

William S. Harney is ousted as Federal commander in Missouri, leaving his successor free reign to make war on secessionists in the state.

Last Updated: 5/31/2021

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