U.S. History Timeline: 1850–1899

Updated February 13, 2023 | Infoplease Staff
Civil War battle
Source: Getty Images

The Civil War and the Reconstruction period that followed are among the signal events of American History. The roots of the conflict run deep, and its effects are still felt in politics and culture today.

What Were the 3 Main Causes of the Civil War?

Three of the primary causes of the American Civil War were conflicts over the issue of slavery, economic differences between the northern and southern states, and disagreement over the power of the federal government relative to that of the state governments.

The Slavery Question

Until the outbreak of the Civil war in 1861, the agricultural economy of the South relied on enslaved labor. At the time the Civil War broke out, some four million people were enslaved in the southern states.

In the north, immigrants from Ireland and Germany provided a reliable supply of low-wage labor, so the economy did not depend on enslaved labor. Spurred on by the abolitionist movement, northern states gradually abolished slavery. Many sought to abolish it everywhere in the Union.

Federal v. State Powers

The slavery question fuelled the existing debate over where federal powers ended and states’ rights began. Specifically, did the government have the right to abolish slavery within individual states, or within the Union as a whole? And, as new states joined the Union, should the federal government have the power to forbid slavery there?

Economic Issues

Economic policy was also a point of contention. In 1830, a tariff levied on certain goods benefitted northern manufacturers, but made those goods more expensive in the south. South Carolina threatened to secede at this time, but President Andrew Jackson threatened to send an army to South Carolina to prevent it.

A compromise was reached, but the seeds of secession had already been planted.

What Are the Main Events of the Civil War and Reconstruction?

These are the major events of the Civil War and Reconstruction. For a more detailed picture, take a look at our 1850 to 1899 timeline below.

  • December 20, 1860: South Carolina secedes from the United States.
  • February 4, 1861: The Confederate States of America is formed.
  • April 12, 1861: Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter. This is the start of the war.
  • April 15, 1861: President Abraham Lincoln sends 75,000 troops to quell the insurrection.
  • July 7, 1862: Lincoln’s Second Confiscation Act, which emancipates slaves in the federal territory and forbids the return of fugitive slaves.
  • January 1, 1863: The Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect.
  • January 16, 1865: Field Order 15 redistributes 400,000 confiscated acres of land in Georgia and South Carolina to newly freed Black families (“40 acres and a mule”).
  • April 14, 1865: President Lincoln is assassinated.
  • May 29, 1865: President Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction plan returns confiscated property, excluding slaves, to southern Whites, and pardons them, in exchange for swearing loyalty to the Union.
  • June 2, 1865: Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner surrenders the last of the Confederate Army, the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. This is the end of the Civil War.
  • December 6, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishes slavery.
  • April 9, 1866: The first Civil Rights Act is enacted to protect the civil rights of former slaves.
  • March 2, 1867: The Reconstruction Act of 1867 outlines terms for rebel states to return to the Union.
  • July 9, 1868: The 14th Amendment to the Constitution grants American citizenship to everyone born in the United States, including formerly enslaved persons.
  • February 3, 1870: The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits states from denying citizens the right to vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
  • March 1, 1875: The Civil Rights Act guarantees African Americans equal rights in public transportation, public accommodations, and jury service. This would be overturned in 1883.
  • April 24, 1877: “The Compromise.” 12 years after the close of the Civil War, federal troops still occupied three southern states. These states disputed the election of President Rutherford B. Hayes. In exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops, the states accepted Hayes’s win. This was the end of Reconstruction.

U.S. Timeline: 1850-1899

The Civil War began in 1861, but the events that led up to it go back ten years earlier, and the aftermath would last until the turn of the 20th century.

U.S. History Timeline: 1850-1899 (Civil War and Reconstruction)




The Apache Wars. Between 1849 and 1886, the U.S. Army would fight against various bands of Apache Indians, in an attempt to force them from their lands in the southwest (recently acquired from Mexico), according to the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Large-scale battles ended with the capture of Chiricahua leader Geronimo in 1886. Skirmishes would keep occurring until 1924.

The Navajo Wars between the U.S. Army and the Navajo of the southwest ran during the same years.

Between 1950 and 1953, the U.S. Army was also at war with the Quechan (Yuma) tribe in what is today southern Arizona and southern California.

The U.S. Army would also fight against the Ute people in a series of battles between 1849 and 1923.

June 3-11

The Nashville Convention takes place in Nashville, Tennessee. Representatives from nine slaveholding states — Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, and Tennessee — attended. They agreed to secede from the Union if Congress banned slavery in the new territories acquired through the Louisiana Purchase and following the Mexican-American War.

July 9

President Taylor dies of gastroenteritis. He is succeeded by his vice president, Millard Fillmore. During Taylor’s presidency, the question of slavery in newly admitted states and territories bitterly divides Congress.


The Compromise of 1850, a package of five bills, is passed. These bills admit California to the Union as a free state, leave the slavery question in Utah and New Mexico to be decided by popular sovereignty, and prohibit the slave trade in Washington, D.C. It also sets a stricter fugitive slave law, than the original, which was passed in 1793.


The second session of the Nashville Convention meets. Representatives agree that, following the Compromise, their states will not leave the Union.


A fire at the Library of Congress destroys 35,000 books.


Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is published. It becomes one of the most influential works to stir anti-slavery sentiments.


March 4

Franklin Pierce is inaugurated as the 14th president.

December 30

The Gadsden Purchase treaty is signed. The U.S. acquires border territory from Mexico for $10 million.


The Sioux Wars. Between 1854 and 1891, the U.S. Army would fight against different groups of the Sioux people of the Great Plains. The first two battles came about when the Sioux attacked settlements after the U.S. violated their treaty. U.S. forces mounted several massacres in response.

May 30

Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, establishing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The legislation repeals the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had struck a balance between northern states’ desire to abolish slavery, and southern states’ desire to expand it. This will fuel the existing tensions over this issue.


1855 to 1856

The Rogue River Wars. This was a series of armed conflicts and massacres between the U.S. Army and different Native American tribes in the Rogue River area of Oregon. After the war, the United States removes the tribes to reservations in Oregon and California.

1855 to 1858

The Yakima War: several battles and massacres in the Washington Territory. The war was sparked by the rape and murder of two Yakima women and an infant by prospectors, who had invaded Yakima land to look for gold. The influx of prospectors into Yakima territory also violated the U.S. treaty with the Yakima. After the end of the war, the Yakima Indians were forced onto a reservation near Yakima, Washington.


The Warakusa War was the first of the violent confrontations between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers in the newly acquired Kansas territory. These conflicts would continue until 1859, and would come to be known collectively as “Bleeding Kansas.”

Also, this year would see the end of the Cayuse War with the Cayuse tribe in the Pacific Northwest. The Cayuse would cede most of their land, and this battle would mark the first step toward the reservation system.



On May 21, pro-slavery settlers attack Lawrence, Kansas, which had been founded by anti-slavery settlers. Only one person is killed, but the incident fuels conflict in the Kansas territory.

Also in May Republican Party Senator Charles Sumner denounces the idea of slavery in Kansas on the Senate floor. South Carolina senator Andrew Butler takes exception to the language of Sumner’s denunciation. Two days later, Butler’s cousin, Preston Brooks, beats Sumner nearly to death with a cane on the Senate floor.

The Pottawatomie Massacre. On May 24, abolitionist John Brown, his sons, and his followers murder five pro-slavery men at the Pottawatomie Creek settlement, hacking them to death with broadswords.

July 4

President Pierce sends 500 federal troops to Kansas. The presiding colonel orders the dispersal of the Free State Legislature.

August 30

Thousands of pro-slavery men form armies and march into Kansas. John Brown and his followers fight some 400 pro-slavery men in the Battle of Osawatomie, which would continue for two months.


James Buchanan is inaugurated as the 15th president.

Dred Scott v. Sanford. This Supreme Court decision holds that African-born slaves and their descendants are not U.S. citizens and that Congress does not have the right to ban slavery in states.

August 11

The Panic of 1857. This, the first worldwide economic crisis, is caused by the declining international economy and the over-expansion of the domestic economy. American banks would not recover until after the Civil War.


1858 to 1859

The Mojave War. An influx of prospectors heading through Mojave territory in the southwest on their way to California sparked conflict with the Mojave people. The Mojave signed a peace treaty with the U.S., as well as with the Maricopa tribe, in 1859.

January to May

The Antelope Hills Expedition (part of the Comanche Wаr, 1836 to 1877). The Federal 2nd Cavalry, along with members of the Tonkawa, Nadaco and Shawnee tribes, led a campaign against the Comanche and Kiowa tribes in Comanche-controlled parts of New Mexico and Texas. This battle continued into the Battle of Little Robe Creek, which also involved Comanche allies the Kiowa, and other tribes allied with the Texas Rangers.

These battles resulted in losses on both sides. The Texas Indian Wars, which began in 1836, would continue until 1877.

August to October

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Abraham Lincoln comes to national attention in a series of seven debates with Senator Stephen A. Douglas. The debates center on slavery and the moral, ethical, and logical arguments for and against it.


Abolitionist John Brown and 21 followers capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), in an attempt to spark a slave revolt.

Also during this year, Kansas rejects the Lecompton Constitution, a second attempt at a state constitution, which was strongly pro-slavery.


The Paiute Wаr: a series of battles between the U.S. Army and the Paiute and Shoshone tribes in Utah.

November 6

Abraham Lincoln is elected president.

Abraham Lincoln

November 10

The South Carolina legislature calls for a convention on December 17 to discuss secession.

November 14

The governors of Alabama and Mississippi call for conventions to discuss secession.

November 18

Florida and Georgia call for conventions to discuss secession.

December 8 to January 8, 1861

Members of President Buchanan’s cabinet from the southern states resign.

December 17

South Carolina’s secession convention begins.

December 20

South Carolina secedes from the Union. It demands the transfer of all federal property within the state, including Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, and Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor.

December 26-30

Major Anderson moves the federal garrison at Charleston, South Carolina from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. The next day, South Carolina troops occupy Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinkney.

President Buchanan refuses to order Major Robert Anderson and his troops to evacuate and turn over Fort Sumter to South Carolina forces, precipitating a crisis that would lead to Confederate forces firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 (and starting the Civil War).

December 28

South Carolina commissioners meet with President Buchanan to demand the withdrawal of federal troops. Buchanan refuses.

December 30

South Carolina troops sieze the Charleston arsenal.


1861 to 1875

The Yavapai Wаrs: a series of battles in the Arizona Territory between the U.S. government and the Yavapai and Tonto people.


Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana secede from the Union.

February 1

Texas holds a secession convention and votes to secede.

February 4-9

The states that have seceded send delegates to a conference in Montgomery, Alabama. There, they draft a constitution for the Confederate States of America and plan the provisional government.

February 16

Texan General David E. Twiggs surrenders the U.S. arsenal and barracks in San Antonio to replace Texan forces, avoiding armed conflict.

February 18

Jefferson Davis is elected provisional President of the Confederate States of America.

March 2

Texas secedes and is admitted into the Confederate States of America.

Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated as the 16th president.

March 11

The CSA approves the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. Confederate states ratify it.

April 12

Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter. This is the start of the Civil War.

April 15 to May 23

President Lincoln declares an insurrection and sends 75,000 troops to quell it. As a result, Arkansas, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina will later secede.

May 3

Lincoln expands the Regular Army with the addition of 43,000 volunteers. Virginia, Missouri, and Tennessee refuse to comply.

April 18

Pennsylvania answers Lincoln’s call for volunteers.

April 19-27

President Lincoln declares a blockade of the Confederate states.

May 13-June 13

The Wheeling Convention, when delegates from the northwest of Virginia met with the goal of repealing the Ordinance of Secession.

May 17

North Carolina enters the Confederacy.

May 18

Arkansas enters the Confederacy.

May 20

Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin declares Kentucky’s neutrality in the conflict and asks Confederate troops to leave.

May 24

Union forces cross the Potomac River and occupy Arlington Heights, Virginia, the home of General Robert E. Lee. The forces will also occupy nearby Alexandria, Virginia.

Later that month, Richmond, Virginia will become the capital city of the Confederacy.

June 3

The first skirmish in the east between Union and Confederate forces takes place near Philippi, Virginia.

June 8

Tennessee votes to secede.

June 13

The Wheeling Convention produces "A Declaration of the People of Virginia". This document states that the Secession Convention, its acts, and the subsequent secessionist government are illegal under the Virginia Declaration of Rights and therefore void.

June 19

The Wheeling Convention approves the "Declaration".

The Battle of Big Bethel takes place. This is the first land battle in Virginia.

June 20

The northwestern counties of secessionist Virginia break away to form Unionist West Virginia. West Virginia will be officially recognized as the 35th U.S. state on June 20, 1863.

July 16-21

The First Battle of Bull Run takes place near Manassas, Virginia. Confederate forces are victorious. The Second Battle of Bull Run, a year later, would also be a Confederate victory.

August 6

President Lincoln signs the Confiscation Act of 1861. This act allows court proceedings to confiscate personal property, including enslaved people, that is being used to support the Confederacy.

August 10

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, west of the Mississippi River. The U.S. Army attacks Confederate troops and state militia. Union forces are defeated.

August 28-29

Union forces capture Fort Hatteras at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. This victory will spawn additional Federal efforts to take southern ports.

September 20

Confederate forces capture Lexington, Missouri.

October 21

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff, Virginia. Colonel Edward D. Baker takes troops across the Potomac River but is forced to withdraw.

November 18

Confederate soldiers in Kentucky adopt an Ordinance of Secession and create an alternate Confederate government, even though the state is officially on the Union side.


January 3

The Battle of Cockpit Point, Virginia. This battle breaks the Confederacy’s blockade of the Potomac River.

February 6

General Ulysses S. Grant captures Fort Henry, Tennessee. This is the first victory for the Union Army.

February 22

Jefferson Davis is inaugurated President of the Confederate States of America.

March 8-9

The Battle of Hampton Roads was the first battle between ironclad warships, called the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor.

March 13

The U.S. Federal Government forbids Union army officers from returning fugitive slaves.

March 26-28

The Battle of Glorieta Pass. Union forces repel the Confederate invasion of the New Mexico Territory.

April 5

The Battle of Yorktown. Union General George B. McClellan lays siege to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Confederate forces will escape.

April 6-7

The Battle of Shiloh. Union forces under Grant defeat Confederate forces near Shiloh, Tennessee.

April 10

Use of the Parrott Rifle, a rifled canon, at the Battle of Fort Pulaski demonstrates the obsolescence of masonry forts.

April 16

The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act becomes law. This act outlaws slavery in the District of Columbia and compensates slave owners for economic loss.

April 26

Union forces under Admiral David Farragut take the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Union Forces now have secure access to the Mississippi River.

Also on this day, the Confederate garrison at Fort Macon, North Carolina, surrenders to Union Forces.

May 20

President Lincoln signs the Homestead Act. It will go into effect on January 1, 1863.

June 4

Confederate troops evacuate Fort Pillow, which will allow Union forces to capture Memphis, Tennessee. Two years later, this would be the site of the Fort Pillow Massacre.

June 6

Union forces capture Memphis, Tennessee following the Battle of Memphis.

June 19

The U.S. Congress passes legislation to outlaw slavery in U.S. territories.

June 26

In the first of the Seven Days’ Battles, Confederate General Robert E. Lee defeats Union General George McClellan near Richmond, Virginia.

August. 9

Confederate General Stonewall Jackson defeats Union forces at Cedar Mountain, Virginia. This was the first combat of the North Virginia campaign.

August 28-30

The Second Battle of Bull Run. Confederate forces win decisively.

September 5

Confederate General Lee leads 55,000 troops across the Potomac River into Maryland. This is the first Confederate invasion of the North.

September 17

The Battle of Antietam. Union forces defeat Confederate soldiers at Sharpsburg, Maryland. This would be the bloodiest battle in U.S. history, with a total of more than 22,000 casualties.

September 22

President Lincoln announces at as of January 1, 1863, enslaved people in Confederate states will be free.

October 8

The Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. Union forces repel a Confederate invasion of Kentucky.

October 24

The Tonkawa Massacre. 300 members of the Confederacy-supporting Tonkawa tribe of Native Americans are attacked by Union-supporting Native Americans. 137 Tonkawa are killed.

December 1

President Lincoln’s State of the Union Address reaffirms the necessity of the end of slavery.

December 12

Union ironclad ship the USS Cairo is sunk by a remotely detonated naval mine, also called a “torpedo.” This is the first ship to be sunk by a torpedo.

December 13

The Battle of Fredericksburg. The Union Army, attempting to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, is repelled by Confederate forces.

December 26-29

The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. The vastly outnumbered Confederate Army repels several assaults by Union forces under William T. Sherman.

December 31

President Abraham Lincoln admits West Virginia to the Union. Virginia and West Virginia are officially divided.


January 1

Under the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln frees enslaved people in ten Confederate states.

May 1-4

The Battle of Chancellorsville. General Lee defeats Union forces. Both sides sustain heavy casualties, and Stonewall Jackson dies.

May 14

The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi. Union General Grant defeats Confederate forces, which will allow Union forces to lay siege to Vicksburg.

May 18-July 4

The Siege of Vicksburg. One and a half months later, Confederate forces there will surrender.

May 28

The first African-American Union regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, leaves Boston.

June 20

West Virginia is officially admitted to the Union.

July 1-3

The Battle of Gettysburg. Union forces under the command of George G. Meade repel Robert E. Lee and his troops. This will be the largest battle of the war.

July 4

The Battle of Vicksburg. Union General Grant and his troops capture Vicksburg, Mississippi after a 47-day siege.

July 9

The Siege of Port Hudson. Union forces are victorious and now control the entire Mississippi River.

August 21

The Battle of Lawrence, Kansas. Confederate guerilla leader William Quantrill’s raiders massacre 200 men and boys.

October 29

The Battle of Wauhatchie. General Grant’s forces repel a Confederate attack, opening a supply line into Chattanooga, Tennessee.

November, 19

President Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address.

December 8

President Lincoln issues the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. This proclamation declared that all southerners, with the exception of high-ranking Confederate officers and government officials, would be offered full amnesty. In addition, all property would be returned, except for enslaved people.


1864 to 1868

The Snake War between the U.S. Army and the Northern Paiute, Bannock, and Western Shoshone Indians in Oregon, Nevada, California, and the Idaho Territory.

February 17

The Confederate submarine Hunley sinks the USS Housatonic with a torpedo, becoming the first submarine to do so.

February 20

The Battle of Olustee. Union forces are defeated near Lake City, Florida. This would be one of the Union’s costliest defeats.

February 25

500 Northern prisoners of war arrive at the prison at Andersonville, Georgia. This is the first group of prisoners to arrive there.

March 10

Union Troops reach Alexandria, Virginia, kicking off the Red River Campaign.


Numerous inconclusive battles are fought, including:

The Battle of the Wilderness.

The Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.

The Battle of Resaca.

June 5

The Battle of Piedmont. Union forces are victorious and take nearly 1,000 prisoners.

June 9, 1864 to March 25, 1865

The Siege of Petersberg. This will be the last battle between Generals Grant and Lee. Petersburg was a crucial point of a major Confederate supply line. Lee’s defeat would lead to his later surrender at Appotomax Courthouse in 1865.

June 15

Arlington National Cemetery is established on 200 acres of the grounds of the home of Robert E. Lee.


Several unsuccessful Confederate attacks on Union targets, including:

The Battle of Peachtree Creek.

The Battle of Atlanta.

The Battle of Ezra Church.

August 5

The Battle of Mobile Bay. Union Admiral David Farragut leads an attack with ships, sealing off one of the last Confederate ports.

August 31

General William T. Sherman launches an assault on Atlanta, Georgia, finally capturing the city on September 2.

October 19

The Battle of Cedar Creek. Union forces repel a surprise Confederate attack, ending the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns.

October, 25

The Battle of Mine Creek. This is one of the largest cavalry battles of the war. Union forces are victorious.

October 28

The Second Battle of Fair Oaks. Union forces under Grant are repelled at Richmond, Virginia, and withdraw.

October 31

Nevada is admitted as the 36th state.

November 8

President Abraham Lincoln is re-elected.

November 15

General Sherman’s March to the Sea begins with the burning of Atlanta. The march will destroy wide swaths of the South.

December 15-16

The Battle of Nashville. Union forces defeat the Confederate Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Nashville.

December 21

Sherman’s March to the Sea ends when his forces capture the port of Savannah, Georgia.


1865 to 1870

The Hualapai War takes place in the Arizona Territory, following incursions onto Hualapai land by white settlers. Weakened by disease, the Hualapai surrender in 1869, though small skirmishes would continue.

January 13-15

Union forces capture Fort Fisher, North Carolina following a massive amphibious assault.

February 22

Tennessee adopts a new state constitution that abolishes slavery.

March 3

The U.S. Congress establishes the Freedmen’s Bureau, an agency that aims to help freed people in the south.

March 4

Lincoln's second inauguration.

March 13

Confederate forces allow African-Americans to fight in their ranks for the first time.

March 25

Confederate forces capture Fort Steadman in Virginia. The high casualty cost, however, weakens Confederate forces to the point that their defeat is inevitable.

April 1

The Battle of Five Forks in Petersburg, Virginia. This will be General Lee’s last offensive.

April 3

General Ulysses S. Grant captures Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy.

April 9

General Lee surrenders to General Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse. This is considered the end of the Civil War.

April 14

Abraham Lincoln is shot by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln will die the next day. Vice President Andrew Johnson will become the 17th president of the United States.

April 26

Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrenders to Sherman at Durham Station, North Carolina.

May 4

Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commander of the Confederate forces in eastern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, surrenders. This is the end of Confederate activity east of the Mississippi River.

May 5

Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Cabinet dissolve the Confederate government.

May 10

Jefferson Davis is captured by Union troops near Irwinville, Georgia.

May 12-13

The Battle of Palmito Ranch in south Texas. This is the last land battle of the Civil War.

June 2

Confederate forces west of the Mississippi River surrender at Galveston, Texas.

June 19

Union Major General Gordon Granger informs Texas of the Emancipation Proclamation. Today this is celebrated as Juneteenth.

June 23

The last Confederate army, under General Stand Watie, a Cherokee, surrenders at Fort Towson.


After President Andrew Johnson ordered lands confiscated from southern landowners to be returned, landowners are left with land but no one to work it. Many hire freedmen to work as sharecroppers. The practice becomes widespread at this time.

September 8-21

The Fort Smith Council. U.S. authorities informed representatives of the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Cherokee, Shawnee, Delaware, Wichita, Comanche, Great Osage, Seneca, and Quapaw tribes, who had supported the Confederacy, that previous treaties were null and void. The government set the terms for new treaties with these tribes.

December 13

Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery.

December 24

The Ku Klux Klan is established by six Confederate army veterans, with the support of the Democratic Party in Pulaski, Tennessee. The purpose was to repress newly freed Black men, as well as “carpetbaggers” (opportunistic northerners who had come to former Confederate states) and “scalawags” (white southerners who supported Reconstruction era measures).

Also starting this year, various southern states enacted the Black Codes, which aim to keep former slaves economically subjugated. Statutes vary from state to state but include separation of facilities, denial of the right to own property, and denial of the right to testify in court.


March 13

Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1866, guaranteeing certain equal protection and civil rights for former slaves.

May 1-3

The Memphis Massacre. Following an altercation between white policemen and Black veterans, a white mob rampages through Black neighborhoods, murdering, robbing, and burning down buildings.

July 24

Tennessee becomes the first state to be readmitted to the Union.


In this year, Russia sells Alaska to the United States for $7,200,000.


February 24

The impeachment of President Johnson by the House of Representatives.

May 26

Johnson is acquitted at his trial in the Senate.

July 9

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, guaranteeing African Americans citizenship, and guaranteeing due process to all citizens.

November 3

A new presidential election is held. Ulysses S. Grant is elected president.

December 25

Before Grant is inaugurated, President Johnson pardons all Civil War rebels.


February 9

Authorities drop treason charges against Jefferson Davis.

March 4

Ulysses S. Grant is inaugurated as the 18th president.


January 26

Virginia rejoins the Union.

February 3

The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, giving Black Americans the right to vote.

March 30

Texas is readmitted to the Union.

July 15

Georgia becomes the last state to rejoin the Union.


Also in 1870, radical Republicans in Georgia draft the Underwood Constitution, which expands the franchise to include males over the age of 21, as well as freedmen.


April 20

President Grant signs the Ku Klux Klan Act, a congressional act allowing the suspension of Habeus Corpus in order to combat the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist organizations.

October 8-10

The Great Chicago Fire kills 300, leaves 10,000 homeless, and destroys 17,000 buildings.


1872 to 1873

The Modoc War between the Modoc People of northeastern California and the U.S. Army. The war is started by the murder of General Edward Canby and Rev. Eleazer Thomas by the Modoc during a peace conference. The murderers are tried and imprisoned. The remaining Modoc people are moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma and held prisoner until 1909.

May 22

President Grant signs the Amnesty Act of 1872, which restored full civil rights to most Confederate sympathizers.

December 9

P.B.S. Pinchback, the first African American governor of Louisiana, takes office.


In 1873, a financial panic causes the Long Depression, a period of financial depression that will last 65 months. Wages will contract by 45 percent, and in the winter of 1873 to 1874, New York will have an unemployment rate of 25 percent. Tensions from this period would be one of the factors leading to the 1877 Railroad Strike.

March 4

President Grant is inaugurated for the second time.

March 22

Emancipation Day in Puerto Rico. Enslaved people are freed.


March 1

The second Civil Rights Act is passed. It prohibits racial discrimination in public accommodations and jury service.

March 3

The Page Act bans the immigration of Chinese women on the presumption that they will be used as prostitutes.



The Great Sioux War. The discovery of gold in North Dakota’s Black Hills brings an influx of prospectors and settlers. Followers of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse mount a defense of the sacred hills. Several battles ensue, the most famous of which is the Battle of Little Big Horn, which sees the defeat of U.S. General Custer and his forces. The war ended in 1877, with the surrender of Crazy Horse.

Sitting Bull

March 5

Rutherford B. Hayes is inaugurated as the 19th president. At this time, three southern states are still occupied by federal troops. These states dispute Hayes’s election. A year later, these states will recognize the results of the election in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops. This is the end of Reconstruction.



The Nez Perce War between U.S. forces and the Nez Perce and Palouse tribes. The war starts when the U.S., in violation of the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla, attempt to remove the tribes to a reservation in the Idaho Territory. At the end of the war, 418 Nez Perce surrender, while others escape to Sitting Bull’s camp in Canada.

July 14

The Great Railroad Strike. In Martinsburg, West Virginia, Railroad workers strike for 52 days after their wages are cut. Railway workers in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, and Missouri also strike. Strikers burn down buildings and vehicles. The strikes are put down by militia, and around 100 people die.


The Crow War in Montana. The Crow medicine man, Sword Bearer, leads a retaliatory raid against the nearby Blackfoot tribe. The Indian Agent assigned to the Crow reservation misinterprets their celebration as an attack and wires the U.S. Army at Fort Custer for help. Sword Bearer and his group flee to the Big Horn Mountains. Armed conflict ensues. Many Crow surrender. Sword Bearer is murdered by police during the march out of Big Horn.


June to August

The Bannock War. A two-month battle between Bannock warriors and the U.S. Military. An influx of aggressive settlers threatens this group of Native Americans living on the Snake River Plain in Idaho. They agree to move to a reservation near Boise. Terrible conditions on the reservation cause internal strife. A switch in U.S. policy toward closing reservation borders exacerbates tensions with the outside world. The murder of a federal agent by Fort Hill Indians sparks the violence that started the war.


Thomas Edison creates the first lightbulb for commercial sale.


Gold is discovered in Juneau, Alaska. Over the next twenty years, discoveries in Nome, as well as in Klondike in neighboring Canada, would bring hordes of prospectors to Alaska.


March 4

James A. Garfield is inaugurated as the 20th president.

July 2

President Garfield is shot by Charles Guiteau in Washington, D.C.

September 19

President Garfield dies from complications of his wounds in Elberon, New Jersey. His vice president, Chester Alan Arthur, succeeds him in office.

Also in this year, Helen Hunt Jackson publishes "A Century of Dishonor", about the injustices perpetrated upon Native Americans.


May 6

President Arthur signs the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers (but excluding diplomats, teachers, and visitors). It would remain in effect until 1943.


Five civil rights cases, including U.S. v. Stanley, establish the legality of racial segregation, on the grounds that the 13th and 14th amendments do not prohibit acts of racial discrimination by private individuals.


March 4

Grover Cleveland is inaugurated as the 22nd president.


October 28

The Statue of Liberty is dedicated.

Statue of Liberty


February 8

The Dawes Act, aka the General Allotment Act, allows communal Native American lands on reservations to be subdivided into individual allotments and given to heads of household, in an attempt to force Native Americans to adopt a private property model of living.


February 22

President Grover Cleveland admits North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington as U.S. states.

March 4

Benjamin Harris is inaugurated as the 23rd president.

April 22

The Oklahoma land rush. Two million acres of land from the former Indian Territory (which was made available after tribal communal lands were extinguished by the Dawes Act) are opened to settlers. At noon on April 22, 50,000 people line up to stake their claim.

Among these were many African Americans, seeking to create communities where they could prosper, free of racism. Today’s Kingfisher Township is one of the resulting communities.

By the end of the day, the two million acres are claimed. "Harper’s Weekly" reports that Oklahoma City and Guthrie had become cities of some 10,000 people each.

September 18

Activist Jane Adams founds Hull House, a community center for the poor, and a center for social reform, including the women’s suffrage movement. Adams would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.


February 18

The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) is formed from the merger of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. Its membership would eventually reach two million, making it the largest volunteer organization of its time, and critical to the battle for U.S. women's rights.

May 2

The Oklahoma Territory is organized.

July 2

The Sherman Antitrust Act is signed into law, prohibiting commercial monopolies.

December 29

The Wounded Knee Massacre. U.S. Army soldiers massacre some 300 Lakota Sioux men, women, and children. One version of the story holds that violence broke out over a misunderstanding when the Army was attempting to disarm the Lakota.

The U.S. Census Bureau announces that the West has been settled and the frontier is closed.


July 1

The Homestead Strike. Steelworkers in Homestead, Pennsylvania, strike due to cuts in wages, and the company’s withdrawal of its previous recognition of the workers’ union. The company sends strikebreakers, and the Governor of Pennsylvania sends in the National Guard to protect the strikebreakers. The defeat of the strikers is a turning point in U.S. labor relations.


The Panic of 1893. This financial panic would result in a depression that lasts for the next four years. Another result would be the political realignment, in which the Republican party would become dominant for years to come.

March 4

Grover Cleveland is inaugurated a second time, as the 24th president. He is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.


May to July

The Pullman Strike by American Railway Union against the Pullman Company, in response to layoffs and wage cuts. The strike and boycott would shut down rail traffic west of Detroit, Michigan, and would affect hundreds of towns and cities across the country. This would be another turning point in U.S. labor relations, and President Cleveland would designate Labor Day as a national holiday after the strike ends.

August 27

The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act establishes a federal income tax.


January 4

Utah is admitted as a state.

May 18

Plessy v. Ferguson. This landmark Supreme Court decision holds that racial segregation is constitutional, paving the way for the repressive Jim Crow laws in the South.

Also during this year, Henry Ford builds his first automobile.


March 4

William McKinley is inaugurated as the 25th president.

William McKinley

August 12

The Yaqui Uprising. Earlier, in February the Mexican revolutionary Lauro Aguirre planned to overthrow the Mexican government. The Yaqui, inspired by the idea, organize a plan to capture the Nogales customs house. The battle ensues for several days. The attack is repelled by Mexican infantry, local police, American militia, and Buffalo Soldiers.


February 15

The USS Maine is blown up in Havana harbor. A board of inquiry determines that the cause of the explosion is an underwater mine, but U.S. Navy officers instead believe that the cause was a spontaneous fire in a coal bunker. U.S. newspapers declare that Spain is responsible for the disaster.

April 21 to August 3

The U.S. declares war on Spain, kicking off the Spanish-American War. The U.S. intervenes in the Cuban War of Independence and acquires Spain’s holdings in the Pacific. The war would also lead the U.S. to intervene in the Philippines Revolution, which would lead later to the Philippine-American War.

October 5

The Battle of Sugar Point. This was the last Native American uprising in the United States. It was sparked by a dispute between the Pillager band of Chippewa and the U.S. Indian Service, on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota.


April 28

The Teller Amendment establishes that the U.S. will withdraw its military from Cuba and help Cuba to become independent.

July 7

The U.S. annexes Hawaii by an act of Congress. Hawaii will be admitted as a state in 1959.

December 10

The Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the Spanish-American War. Spain gives up control of Cuba, which becomes an independent republic, and cedes Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the U.S., for $20 million.


February 4, 1899, to July 2, 1902

The Philippine-American War. After the Philippines declare independence, the United States annexes it under the 1898 Treaty of Paris, rather than recognizing the declaration. The First Philippine Republic declares war against the U.S. Both sides commit atrocities, and, in combination with famine and a cholera epidemic, at least 200,000 Filipino civilians die. Thousands more die in U.S. concentration camps. The Philippines would achieve independence after the Second World War.

July 18 to August 22

The Newsboys Strike. Newspaper sellers in New York City strike, effectively stopping the circulation of the two major newspapers, run by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. As a result, the Pulitzer and Hearst organizations change the way newspaper sellers are compensated, increasing the amount of money they earn.

December 2

The U.S. acquires American Samoa by treaty with Great Britain and Germany.




What Happened in America Between 1850 and 1899?

The short answer is, a lot!

The Civil War was a complex event with numerous causes. Its repercussions can still be felt in the United States today. How well do you know your Civil War facts? Take our American Civil War quiz and find out!

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