January 9, 1861- An attempt to resupply Fort Sumter fails when shots are fired on the ship Star of the West. The ship is undamaged.
January 1861- Six additional southern states (Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas on February 1) secede from the Union.
February 8-9, 1861- The southern states that seceded create a government at Montgomery, Alabama, and the Confederate States of America are formed.
February 18, 1861- Jefferson Davis is appointed the first President of the Confederate States of America at Montgomery, Alabama, a position he will hold until elections can be arranged.
March 4, 1861- Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated as the sixteenth president of the United States in Washington City.
April 12, 1861- Southern forces fire upon Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The Civil War has formally begun.
April 15, 1861- President Lincoln issues a public declaration that an insurrection exists and calls for 75,000 militia to stop the rebellion. As a result of this call for volunteers, four additional southern states secede from the Union in the following weeks. Lincoln will respond on May 3 with an additional call for 43,000+ volunteers to serve for three years, expanding the size of the Regular Army.
May 24, 1861- Union forces cross the Potomac River and occupy Arlington Heights , the home of future Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It is during the occupation of nearby Alexandria that Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, commander of the 11th New York Infantry and a close friend of the Lincolns, is shot dead by the owner of the Marshall House just after removing a Confederate flag from its roof.
June 3, 1861- A skirmish near Philippi in western Virginia, is the first clash of Union and Confederate forces in the east.
June 10, 1861- Battle of Big Bethel, the first land battle of the war in Virginia.
June 20, 1861-At the culmination of the Wheeling Convention, the region that composed the northwestern counties of Virginia broke away from that state to form West Virginia, officially designated and accepted as the thirty fifth state of the Union on June 20, 1863.
July 21, 1861- The Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas), is fought near Manassas, Virginia. The Union Army under General Irwin McDowell initially succeeds in driving back Confederate forces under General Pierre Gustav Toutant Beauregard, but the arrival of troops under General Joseph E. Johnston initates a series of reverses that sends McDowell's army in a panicked retreat to the defenses of Washington. It is here that Thomas Jonathan Jackson, a professor at VMI, will receive everlasting fame as "Stonewall" Jackson.
July 1861-To thwart the Confederate threat in northern Virginia, a series of earthworks and forts are engineered to surround the City of Washington, adding to protection already offered by active posts such as Fort Washington on the Potomac River.
August 10, 1861- Battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri.The Union Army under General Nathaniel Lyon, attack Confederate troops and state militia southwest of Springfield, Missouri, and after a disastrous day that included the death of Lyon, are thrown back. The Confederate victory emphasizes the strong southern presence west of the Mississippi River.
August 28-29, 1861- Fort Hatteras at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, falls to Union naval forces. This begins the first Union efforts to close southern ports along the Carolina coast.
September 20, 1861- Lexington, Missouri falls to Confederate forces under Sterling Price.
October 21, 1861- Battle of Ball's Bluff, Virginia. Colonel Edward D. Baker, senator from Oregon and a friend of President Lincoln, led troops across the Potomac River only to be forced back to the river's edge where he was killed. The ensuing Union withdrawal turned into a rout with many soldiers drowning while trying to re-cross the icy waters of the Potomac River.