The American Civil War Timeline Quiz: What Happened First?

Gavin Thagard

Image: John Parrot/Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Even before Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, discontent with the growing debate over abolition was running rampant throughout the Southern states. As tensions ran high, division was evident, and bloodshed fell upon the United States in places like Kansas, where a border war was already being fought, and Virginia, where a slave rebellion was launched by Nat Turner. 

The Civil War, which first broke out in 1861, was the culmination of the opposing views that had been built up for decades over the issue of slavery. As Lincoln once said, "Welcome, or unwelcome, agreeable, or disagreeable, whether this shall be an entire slave nation, is the issue before us." That issue would be at the forefront of a violent four-year war that pitted neighbor against neighbor and family against family. 

Do you know how the events of the Civil War played out? From the start of the war as the first states seceded to the end when the last rebel groups finally put down their weapons, can you remember which events came before others? Here's a quiz where you can find out. 

If you're up for the challenge, get started with this Civil War timeline quiz and see how well you remember the war that divided a nation. 

Fearing the age of slavery was over, the South began seceding from the Union in 1860. Did South Carolina or Georgia secede first?

After the election of Abraham Lincoln, states across the South realized that their voice in the national government had been diminished significantly, especially when it came to the issue of slavery. In fact, South Carolina hadn't cast a single vote for Lincoln, yet he still won the election.

Was Jefferson Davis elected the President of the Confederate States of America before Abraham Lincoln was sworn into office in 1861?

Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States on March 4, 1861, replacing President James Buchanan. By the time Lincoln came into office, much of the South had already seceded, and Jefferson Davis was appointed leader of the rebel states. However, elections in the South wouldn't take place until later that year.

The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, but was this before or after Abraham Lincoln made a public call for a militia to stop the rebellion?

As the Deep South sought sovereignty from the Union, Fort Sumter remained occupied by Union forces under Major Robert Anderson, who intended on maintaining control of Charleston Harbor. When the first shots were fired, every state across the country had to pick a side, as Lincoln immediately called for a militia to put down the rebellion.

Which happened first: Robert E. Lee is offered command of the forces of Virginia or command of the Union army?

Prior to the Civil War, Robert E. Lee was a prominent member in the United States military, having graduated at the top of his class from the U.S. Military Academy. Lee never favored a rebellion, but once the war started, he sided with his home state of Virginia.

Did the Union begin its blockade of the Confederacy before crossing the Potomac River to take control of Arlington Heights?

Known as the "Anaconda Plan," the idea for the blockade of the South was put forth by General Winfield Scott. The blockade constricted the South from receiving important resources from foreign countries, as well as from exporting their most important resource, cotton.

Both West Virginia and Kansas were added as Union states during the war. Which state entered the Union first?

The admission of Kansas into the Union was a major reason for the start of the Civil War. Prior to the conflict breaking out, violence erupted in Kansas between pro slavery and anti slavery forces as both sides looked to win the popular vote over whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state.

Do you know if the First Battle of Bull Run or if the Battle of Wilson's Creek was the first major land battle of the Civil War?

The First Battle of Bull Run pitted a Union force of 35,000 soldiers against 20,000 Confederates, who were commanded by General Pierre Beauregard. The Confederates were originally forced to take the defensive as the attack raged, but a successful counter attack on the Union's right flank forced the Union army to retreat.

Which southern fort fell first to the Union: Fort Henry or Fort Hatteras?

As the Union sought to blockade the South, Fort Hatteras protected a valuable outlet to the Atlantic Ocean, which Confederates used to raid Union ships off the North Carolina coast. The North was able to successfully bombard the South's fortified position at Fort Hatteras with eight warships, forcing the Confederates to surrender.

The Army of the Potomac went through several generals early in the war. Was George McClellan or Irvin McDowell first given command?

Irvin McDowell had little field experience when he was given command of the Union army at the First Battle of Bull Run. After a disastrous defeat, he was moved to a position as a corps commander but suffered another humiliating defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run.

General Winfield Scott resigned as the general-in-chief of the Union forces on November 1, 1861, but was this before President Lincoln issued General War Order No. 1?

General Winfield Scott's career in the United States army spanned more than 50 years and included service in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War. He served as the Commanding General of the United States Army beginning in 1841 until his retirement from military service.

Did the Battle of Ironclads occur after the Confederates suffered their first loss on the Mississippi River during the Battle of Island Number Ten?

The Battle of Ironclads marked the first time in history that two ironclad warships met one another in battle. Though both ships managed to survive the attack, this event changed the future of sea warfare for the entire world.

North Carolina and Tennessee were the last two states to side with the Confederacy. Which of these two states was the first to secede from the Union?

The secession of North Carolina crippled the state for years to come once the war concluded. Aside from the 40,000 soldiers lost in battle, the state's economy took a major blow that it wouldn't overcome until the turn of the century.

Were black soldiers allowed into the Union army before the Trent Affair occurred between the United States and Britain?

Fearful that the Confederacy would find an ally overseas, the United States captured Southern diplomats on their way to Europe before they were forced to release them by Britain. Had the Trent Affair played out differently, the United States would have found itself at war with both the South and Britain.

Can you recall if Richmond, Virginia or Montgomery, Alabama was the first capital of the Confederacy?

The Confederacy originally set up its capital in Montgomery, miles away from any Union army advancing South. However, Richmond was much more important to the South historically, partly for its role in the American Revolution, so they turned to it when Virginia decided to leave the Union.

Was General Joseph E. Johnston removed from command of the Confederate army before the Battle of Seven Pines?

Though the Confederacy failed to achieve a decisive victory at the Battle of Seven Pines, the loss of Joseph Johnston set the stage for Robert E. Lee to take over the Confederate army. Lee would prove to be a very capable commander, particularly early in the war, as he strung together several victories.

The Confederacy divided their forces during the Second Battle of Bull Run. Who engaged the Union forces first: "Stonewall" Jackson or James Longstreet?

The Second Battle of Bull Run was the result of Robert E. Lee's decision to hit the Union army before it could be reinforced. To accomplish this, Lee had to divide his forces, sending "Stonewall" Jackson to Manassas where he stole Union supplies before setting up a position in the surrounding woods.

Did Abraham Lincoln appoint Henry Halleck as the commander in chief of the Union armies before first serving in the position himself?

In many ways, Abraham Lincoln, a man with little military experience, knew more about how to defeat the South than the generals he appointed. Throughout the war, Lincoln sought a general who was willing to fight instead of giving the Confederates an opportunity to regroup, as was often the case.

The Maryland Campaign marked the first Confederate invasion of the North, but was the Battle of Harpers Ferry or the Battle of Antietam the first engagement of the campaign?

Robert E. Lee hoped a victory on Northern soil would diminish the morale of the North to continue the struggle against the South. To secure this victory, Lee sent "Stonewall" Jackson to Harpers Ferry, which he used as a supply route back to the South once it was captured.

Fed up with his reluctance to fight, Abraham Lincoln replaced George McClellan before or after the Battle of Fredericksburg?

Early in the war, George McClellan was extremely successful at organizing the Army of the Potomac. However, he never used the army as Abraham Lincoln planned, forcing Lincoln to pull McClellan from command.

1862 would end another year in the bloody conflict. Do you know if the Emancipation Proclamation was issued before the year ended?

The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in states that had rebelled against the Union. The proclamation didn't extend to other slave states because Abraham Lincoln didn't want to face further secession.

During the Battle of Shiloh, did General Pierre Beauregard halt the Confederate advancement before or after the death of General Albert Johnston?

General Pierre Beauregard took over the Army of Mississippi after General Albert Johnston died from blood loss after being shot in the leg. Though his army was winning the advancement, Beauregard decided to halt his forces, giving the Army of Tennessee enough time to regroup and launch a counter offensive.

Were Union forces able to secure a victory at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg before "Stonewall" Jackson was shot by friendly fire at the Battle of Chancellorsville?

Robert E. Lee referred to "Stonewall" Jackson's death as losing his right arm, because that's how important Jackson had been in the Confederate victories. Without Jackson, the Confederate army failed to move forces as quickly during battle, resulting in several delayed actions.

Abraham Lincoln once again replaced the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Joseph Hooker, on June 28, 1863. Was this before the Battle of Gettysburg?

Joseph Hooker was replaced as the commander of the Army of the Potomac by George Meade as Confederate forces advanced north to Gettysburg. Meade would achieve a major victory at Gettysburg, but again, a Union general failed to pursue the weakened enemy.

Do you remember if the Confederate army first attacked the Union flanks or the Union center during the Battle of Gettysburg?

After failed attacks on the Union flanks, Robert E. Lee focused his attention on the enemy's center line. Known as "Pickett's Charge," Lee sent over 12,000 men into open fire as they sought to split Union forces, but they were ultimately repelled, ending the battle.

What happened first: the Siege of Vicksburg began or the Battle of Gettysburg ended?

Vicksburg was a vital position for the South to hold because it gave them control of the Mississippi River, which they used to give and receive supplies from western states. Once Vicksburg fell, the Union was able to split the South while also gaining access to the sea through the Mississippi Delta.

Had the black regiment under Colonel Robert Shaw attacked Fort Wagner before the anti draft riots ended in New York City?

Realizing they needed forces to successfully end the war against the South as quickly as possible, the North issued a draft that wasn't well received by Northern natives. Most of these Northerners were upset that the rich could purchase an exemption, while they were stuck fighting the war.

Was Abraham Lincoln able to give the Gettysburg Address before the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863?

Though the Battle of Gettysburg was a decisive defeat against the Confederacy, it was also the bloodiest battle of the war. To honor those who fell in the battle, Abraham Lincoln delivered his famed Gettysburg Address, where he stressed the importance of preserving the Union.

The Union suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, but did the defeat come before the Siege of Chattanooga?

The Battle of Chickamauga helped Southern morale for a moment, but the victory wouldn't turn the war in their favor. Not long after the battle, the Confederate forces who won the battle were pushed out of Tennessee by Union reinforcement under Ulysses S. Grant.

Can you recall if Abraham Lincoln was re-elected before he issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction?

Large portions of the South had already been recaptured by Union forces when Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. One of the proclamation's biggest points was providing southern rebels with a pardon if they agreed to Union demands.

One of the most horrific prison camps in American history, was Andersonville Prison Camp fully constructed before Union officers escaped from Libby Prison?

The escape from Libby Prison involved weeks of digging with over 100 soldiers involved in the plan. Half of the soldiers who escaped were eventually recaptured, but around 59 of them made it back to Union lines.

Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant commander of all Union armies, but do you recall if this was before the Battle of Sabine Crossroads?

Initially, Abraham Lincoln feared giving Ulysses S. Grant the appointment to commander of all Union armies because Grant's popularity was already at an all-time high, and Lincoln didn't want a political opponent in the next election. Grant, however, did not want the presidency, though the job would find him once the war ended.

What happened first: Abraham Lincoln was reelected or Atlanta fell to General Sherman?

The Union army began the Atlanta campaign as early as May of 1864, with the majority of the fighting staying on the outskirts of the city. When Atlanta was finally captured in September, Sherman ordered most of the city to be burned as he headed further south.

Do you know if General William Sherman was able to reach Savannah, Georgia before the Union captured Richmond, Virginia?

Savannah was the final point that William Sherman reached on his famous March to the Sea. During the campaign, Sherman destroyed much of the area from Atlanta to Savannah, but he saved the city of Savannah as a Christmas present for Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln's assassination and Robert E. Lee's surrender occurred within a week of one another, but which came first?

General Robert E. Lee was reluctant to surrender his army, but he had been forced into a retreat that he could no longer maintain. Running out of supplies, Lee finally met with Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865 to discuss the terms of surrender.

Was slavery officially abolished across the United States before the war ended?

The 13th Amendment put an end to slavery, but it would continue to maintain servitude as a form of punishment for a crime. This part of the amendment had lasting implications, as the prison system became a form of slavery in itself.

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