American History Timeline (1860 to 1870)

Artist's depiction of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
An artist's depiction of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Library of Congress


  • 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 enslavement 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 "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 1, 1863: President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • July 1-3, 1863: The epic Battle of Gettysburg was fought in Pennsylvania.
  • July 13, 1863: The New York Draft Riots began, and continue for several days.
  • October 3, 1863: President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a Day of Thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday in November.
  • November 19, 1863: President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address while dedicating a military cemetery at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg.


  • January 3, 1864: Death of Archbishop John Hughes, an immigrant priest who became a political force in New York City.
  • May 13, 1864: The first burial took place at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • November 8, 1864: Abraham Lincoln won a second term as president, defeating General George McClellan in the election of 1864.


  • 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 formerly enslaved people.
  • January 31, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished enslavement 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 formerly enslaved people, 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.