American History Timeline from 1860 to 1870

Casualties of War on the Field at Gettysburg
Dead soldiers lie on the battlefield at Gettysburg, where 23,000 Union troops and 25,000 Confederate troops were killed during the Civil War. July 1863. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images


  • February 27, 1860: Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer from Springfield, Illinois, gave a speech at Cooper Union in New York City. Lincoln delivered a forceful and well-reasoned argument against the spread of slavery, and became an overnight star and a leading candidate for the upcoming presidential election.
  • March 11, 1860: Abraham Lincoln visited the Five Points, the most notorious slum in America. He spent time with children at a Sunday school, and an account of his visit later appeared in newspapers during his presidential campaign.
  • Summer 1860: Candidates did not actively participate in campaigning in the mid-1800s, though Lincoln's campaign used posters and other images to inform and win over voters.
  • July 13, 1860: Albert Hicks, a pirate convicted of murder, was hanged on present day Liberty Island in New York Harbor before thousands of spectators.
  • August 13, 1860: Annie Oakley, sharpshooter who became an entertainment phenomenon, was born in Ohio.
  • November 6, 1860: Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States.
  • December 20, 1860: In response to Lincoln's election, the state of South Carolina issued an "Ordinance of Secession" and declared it is leaving the Union. Other states would follow.


  • March 4, 1861: Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the president of the United States.
  • April 12, 1861: In the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina, Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederate guns.
  • May 24, 1861: Death of Col. Elmer Ellsworth, an event which energized the North in the war effort.
  • Summer and Fall, 1861: Thaddeus Lowe began the U.S. Army Balloon Corps, in which "aeronauts" ascended in balloons to view enemy troops.
  • December 13, 1861: Prince Albert, the husband of Britain's Queen Victoria, died at the age of 42.


  • May 2, 1862: Death of writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden.
  • September 17, 1862: The Battle of Antietam was fought in western Maryland. It becomes known as the "America's Bloodiest Day."
  • October, 1862: Photographs taken by Alexander Gardner were put on public display at Mathew Brady's gallery in New York City. The public was shocked by the carnage depicted in the photographic prints.




  • January 16, 1865: General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15, which was interpreted as a promise to provide "forty acres and a mule" to each family of freed slaves.
  • January 31, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in America, was passed by the United States Congress.
  • March 4, 1865: Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated for his second term as president of the United States. Lincoln's second inaugural address is remembered as one of his most notable speeches.
  • April 14, 1865: President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre and died the next morning.
  • Summer 1865: The Freedmen's Bureau, a new federal agency designed to help the freed slaves, began operation.


  • Summer 1866: The Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, was formed.


  • March 17, 1867: The annual parade for St. Patrick's Day in New York City was marred by violent clashes. In the following years the tone of the parade was changed and it became a symbol of the emerging political power of the New York Irish.


  • March 1868: The Erie Railroad War, a bizarre Wall Street struggle to control shares of a railroad, played out in the newspapers. The protagonists were Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
  • May 30, 1868: The first Decoration Day was observed in the United States. The graves of Civil War veterans were decorated with flowers at Arlington National Cemetery and other cemeteries.
  • February 1868: Novelist and politician Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister of Britain for the first time.
  • Summer, 1868: Writer and naturalist John Muir arrived in Yosemite Valley for the first time.


  • March 4, 1869: Ulysses S. Grant was inaugurated as president of the United States of America.
  • September 24, 1869: A scheme by Wall Street operators Jay Gould and Jim Fisk to corner the gold market nearly took down the entire U.S. economy in what became known as Black Friday.
  • October 16, 1869: A weird discovery on an upstate New York farm became a sensation as the Cardiff Giant. The huge stone man turned out to be a hoax, but still fascinated a public which seemed to want a diversion.