October 1861 saw little decisive military action in the American Civil War though many skirmishes occurred. However, October 1861 did witness something that was to have a major impact on the American Civil War in later years – the promotion of General Tecumsah Sherman as commander of the Army of the Cumberland. Sherman was to make his real mark on the war in 1864. Despite their differences, Lincoln also made McClellan overall commander of the Union army.

October 1st: President Lincoln met with his Cabinet and senior army figures such as McClellan to discuss a major operation against the Confederates along the east coast. Ironically, Jefferson Davis was doing the same in Richmond regarding an attack against Unionist positions in Virginia as the public in the South were also expecting a major military campaign against the enemy. 


October 3rd: Governor Thomas More of Alabama banned the export of cotton to Europe. He hoped that this would pressurise the governments of France and Great Britain to recognise the Confederate government. Soldiers fought at Greenbriar, western Virginia, which resulted in over 100 Confederate dead while the Unionists lost just eight killed but also captured a large number of horses and cattle.


October 4th: The Confederacy signed a number of treaties with Native American tribes that brought these tribes into the war on the side of the Confederacy.


October 5th: The Cabinet in Washington DC signed a contract for a new type of warship – the Ironclad. The first was called the ‘USS Monitor’ and had a pair of heavy guns in a revolving turret.


October 6th: The Confederacy started a campaign to find crossings over the Upper Potomac that, if successful, would have allowed them to outflank the Unionist force in the capital.


October 7th: Lincoln sent the Secretary of War to Missouri to investigate what exactly was going on as more reports reached Washington DC about the incompetence of General Frémont. What Secretary of War Simon Cameron found was that it had taken Frémont seventeen days to organise troops in an effort to retake Lexington. The news was not well received by President Lincoln.


October 8th: William T Sherman was appointed commander of the Union’s Army of the Cumberland. Sherman replaced the ill General Robert Anderson. 


October 10th: Jefferson Davis, while discussing the fact that the South has a smaller population when compared to the North, ruled out using slaves in the Confederate Army.


October 12th: Two commissioners from the Confederacy left the South for Europe. Their task was to increase trade between the South and the UK and France. In Missouri many people, opposed to Frémont’s harsh rule, took part in clashes against Unionist forces.


October 14th: President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. Though he did so reluctantly, Lincoln felt that such a move was necessary to the war effort.


October 16th: Lexington in Missouri was back in the hands of the Union after Confederate forces withdrew from the town.


October 18th: Union gunboats started a move down the Mississippi River.


October 20th: McClellan believed that the Confederacy was planning a major move against Washington DC.


October 21st: A Union force suffered heavy losses at Ball’s Bluff. The Union force, commanded by Colonel Edward Baker, believed that it was attacking a small Confederate force. In fact, they advanced into four Confederate regiments. In the confusion that reigned in the Union ranks, many men tried to swim across the river at Ball’s Bluff but were drowned. 223 Unionists were killed at Ball’s Bluff, 226 wounded and 445 taken prisoner. The Confederates lost 36 men killed. There was an outcry in the North but the Confederate leader at Ball’s Bluff, Nathan Evans, was hailed as a hero by the Confederacy.


October 22nd: Lincoln’s Cabinet met to discuss the disaster at Ball’s Bluff.


October 24th: Lincoln decided to replace Frémont as Union commander in Missouri. He appointed General David Hunter as his replacement “with immediate effect”.


October 29th: A major naval force sailed from Hampton Roads – 77 ships. The ships carried 12,000 troops commanded by General T Sherman. Deliberate leaks make the Confederates believe that the naval force will target Charleston or New Orleans. In fact, it was heading for Port Royal, South Carolina.


October 31st: General Winfield Scott, head of the Union Army, retired at the age of 75. He was replaced by General George McClellan.