The war began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.
In December of 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. It was soon followed by six other states — Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Lousiana. On February 4, 1861, these states formed the Confederate States of America at a convention that was held in Montgomery, Alabama.
Soon after the formation of the Confederacy, the Southern states began to seize Federal forts, which President James Buchanan refused to surrender. Some of the forts that were seized were Ft. Johnson in Charleston, SC, Ft. Pulaski and Ft. Jackson in Savannah, GA and the Federal arsenal at Apalachicola, FL.
On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the sixteenth President of the United States. A little more than one month later, on the morning of April 12, 1861, Confederate forces led by P.G.T. Beuaregard opened fire on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Union forces surrendered on April 13, although the fort was formally surrendered on April 14. The following day, President Lincoln calls for 75,000 volunteers from the Northern states, the term of enlistment to be for three months. After he is offered command of the Union army by Winfield Scott, Robert E. Lee turns down the offer on April 20, refusing to take up arms against his home, Virginia. Two days later, Lee is chosen to lead the military forces of Virginia.
The first major conflict of the Civil War took place on July 21, 1861 at Manassas Junction, Virginia when General Irvin McDowell advanced on Confederate forces stationed there, under the command of Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beuaregard. While the initial push was successful, the arrival of Confederate reinforcements turned the tide and McDowell’s men were forced to retreat to Washington. Shortly after, McDowell was replaced by George B. McClellan. During the same month that Bull Run took place, the Union Navy began a blockade of Southern ports. This would cause the Confederacy to plead with foreign powers, such as Great Britain, to provide naval power to help break the blockades.
On August 1, 1861, the Federal Congress passed a law instituting the first national income tax. The tax was 3% on incomes over $800, and was to go into effect on January 1, 1862. Although the tax was not enforced and was revised, it marked a significant moment in America’s history. Later that month, ironclad gunboats are ordered from designer James B. Eads of St. Louis. Elsewhere in Missouri, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant was appointed commander of the District of Ironton. In September, the first major naval action of the war took place when Union Lieutenant J.H. Russel raids a Confederate navy yard in Pensacola, Florida and burns a privateer.
By November of 1861, President Lincoln believes that he needs a more effective leader for the Union armies and replaces the legendary Winfield Scott with George B. McClellan. The following week, on November 7, the Union Navy scores another major victory by taking two Confederate forts on Port Royal Sound in South Carolina. The forts would serve as bases from which attacks are launched along the coast.