May 1861 saw developments in the American Civil War whereby it became clear that neither side was going to climb down from its position. The two political leaders in the American Civil War both made it clear that they would not be willing to compromise their stand.

May 1st: Confederate troops were sent to seize Harpers Ferry.


May 3rd: Lincoln called for 42,000 men to volunteer for three years service in the Federal Army. He called for 18,000 men to volunteer for the Federal Navy for three years. The head of the Federal Army, General Winfield Scott, announced his ‘Anaconda Plan’. This was a plan to attack down the length of the River Mississippi to cut in two the Confederacy. Scott envisaged two main theatres of war – the Eastern and the Western. He believed that the Union had the industrial strength to overpower the Confederacy. Scott believed that the success of the naval blockade was vital in cutting off any form of foreign help to the Confederacy. On the same day, the government in Washington DC protested about an “unofficial” meeting held between the British Foreign Minister and Southern commissioners who were attempting to get international recognition for the Confederacy.


May 6th: Jefferson Davis approved a bill from the Confederate Congress that confirmed that a state of war existed between the Confederacy and the Union. Arkansas announced that it had voted to secede from the Union. Only one out of seventy men in the state legislature voted to remain in the Union.


May 7th: Tennessee formed an alliance with the Confederacy. While this was not an official secession from the Union, it was viewed as such by both sides.


May 9th: The Union gunboat ‘Yankee’ exchanged shots with Confederate guns on Gloucester Point, Virginia. The Federal Naval Academy was moved north from Annapolis, due to the uncertain nature of Maryland’s allegiance.


May 10th: The Confederacy announced its intention to buy Ironclads from Great Britain.


May 11th: A large pro-Union demonstration was held in San Francisco.


May 12th: General Benjamin Butler started a Federal occupation of Baltimore on the pretext that he feared an uprising there that would threaten the capital.


May 13th: Great Britain announced that it would remain neutral in the war. The British government also refused to give the Confederacy diplomatic recognition.


May 15th: General Butler continued to occupy Baltimore.


May 16th: The Confederate Provisional Congress authorised the recruitment of 400,000 volunteers. The state legislature in Kentucky announced that the state would remain neutral during the conflict.


May 18th: Union forces made their first ‘formal’ attack on Confederate forces based at Sewall’s Point, Virginia. The Unionist Navy sealed off the River Rappahannock, Virginia, which completed the blockade of the state.


May 19th: A start was made to massively improving the defences of Washington DC.


May 20th: North Carolina announced it would secede from the Union.


May 21st: The Confederacy moved its capital to Richmond.


May 22nd: General Butler arrived with his troops at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Control of this large fort was vital to the Union if it was to control the water-borne commerce to Virginia.


May 23rd: The people of Virginia gave their support, via a vote, to the state legislature to join the Confederacy. However, western Virginia had a large population that was pro-Union and there occurred a real prospect that the state might split in two.


May 24th: 13,000 Union troops crossed the Potomac River and occupied the Arlington Heights – on the Virginia side of the capital. This helped to secure Washington from attack. On this day, Elmer Ellsworth, the commander of the Zouaves of the 11th New York Regiment, was shot dead while trying to take down a Confederate flag flown outside a hotel in the city. The hotel’s owner, James Jackson, was in turn shot dead by troops. Both Ellsworth and Jackson became martyrs to their causes.


May 25th: General Butler started a move inland from Fort Monroe. His men occupied Hampton and this meant that Union forces were just 78 miles from Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.


May 27th: Along with the threat of Butler, General George McClellan moved his men into western Virginia to support the people there who were loyal to the Union.


May 29th: The expectation of a large number of casualties led to the Union setting up military hospitals under Dorothea Dix. Butler’s men occupied Newport News, a further eight miles inland and just 70 miles from Richmond. His force numbered 12,000 troops.


May 30th: McClellan continued his move through western Virginia.


May 31st: General Pierre Beauregard was appointed commander of the Confederate Army of the Potomac. A former commandant at West Point, Beauregard had commanded the men who had attacked Fort Sumter on April 12th. He was the Confederate’s first brigadier-general.