Political and Military Events – Adapted from The Civil War Almanac, John S. Bowman, ed.
May 1st: Union soldiers killed in the April 19th Baltimore Riots are honored at ceremonies in Boston, Massachusetts; In the Nebraska Territory, a call for volunteers to support the Union is publicized; Confederal troops under Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson are sent to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia by Robert E. Lee for its strategic value to the southern cause; Union warships capture two Confederate ships in the Atlantic Ocean and the Navy continues to blockade the South, now including the mouth of the James River in Virginia.
May 3rd: President Lincoln sends out a call for 42,000 army and 18,000 navy volunteers; The Department of the Ohio is formed and would be commanded by George B. McClellan; General-in-Chief Winfield Scott explains his idea of strangling the Confederate states via naval blockades in what would be known as the Anaconda Plan; The Confederacy has sent commissioners to London, England to meet with the British Foreign Minister in the attempt to gain recognition for their government. The Union complains to the British Ministry about the meeting although it is an unofficial one, according to the British, who are not interested in upsetting their relations with the United States.
May 5th: State troops abandon, temporarily, the city of Alexandria, Virginia, which lies across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
May 6th: The Arkansas state legislature votes 69-1 in favor of secession; Tennessee votes to set a public referendum on secession for June 8th. In the state’s legislature, a vote finds 66-25 are in favor of secession; Jefferson Davis gives approval to the Confederate Congressional bill declaring war between the United States and the Confederate States.
May 7th: Major Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter fame is assigned to recruit troops for the Union cause in Kentucky and West Virginia; Knoxville, Tennessee is the site of a riot between pro-secessionists and pro-unionists, resulting in injuries and one fatality.
May 9th: The USS Constitution and steamer Baltic prepare to set up the United States Naval Academy at Newport, Rhode Island since Annapolis, Maryland is no longer stable enough to be stationed there; James D. Bullock is charged with purchasing arms and vessels from the British for the southern cause; the Virginia blockade precipitates gunfire between the Confederate Batteries on shore at Gloucester Point and the Union vessel Yankee.
May 10th: Jefferson Davis orders the purchase of warships and munitions for the Confederacy. His Naval Secretary Stephen Mallory suggests that ironclad ships are logical additions to the small Confederate Navy, hoping this move will favor the southerners in future naval engagements; In St. Louis, Missouri a riot breaks out between Union soldiers and pro-secessionist militia. About 29 are killed or fatally injured.
May 11th: Wheeling, Virginia and San Francisco, California are scenes of pro-Union demonstrations, even though a strong secessionist element remains in the latter area; civil unrest continues in St. Louis, Missouri and seven more people are killed. Eventually, Federal control is resumed and the secessionists slowly back down there.
May 13th: General Benjamin F. Butler moves Federal troops into Baltimore, Maryland without official authorization. Butler has received notice of possible riots there; Queen Victoria announces her nation’s position of neutrality. She states that the British will assist neither side, but will give each the rights accorded belligerents.
May 14th: General Butler continues his occupation of Baltimore; In the Western Theater, Major Robert Anderson receives word from President Lincoln that Kentucky Unionists are to be given aid, despite their state’s neutral position.
May 16th: In Washington, D.C. orders go out to Commander John Rodgers to take charge of the United States naval operations on river in the West; The Kentucky state legislature proposes its intention to retain neutral status.
May 18th: The Union army engages rebel batteries at Sewall’s Point, Virginia in its first offensive against the South; The blockade of Virginia is complete as the Rappahannock River is sealed off.
May 20th: North Carolina assembles a convention at Raleigh to discuss and vote for secession; United States marshals in the North appropriate the previous year’s telegraph dispatches to reveal pro-secessionist evidence; Confederate Provisional Congressmen vote to relocate the southern national capital to Richmond, Virginia.
May 23rd: In a vote of 97,000 to 32,000, Virginia moves in favor of secession. Virginia’s western population is more pro-Union and will contemplate a formal break with the rest of the state to remain pro-Union.
May 24th: Federal troops occupy Alexandria, Virginia. Virginia troops display little resistance. The first Union combat fatality of the Civil War occurs during these movements: 24-year-old Elmer Ellsworth, Colonel of the Eleventh New York Regiment dies while trying to remove a Confederate flag from a hotel roof. He is shot by an innkeeper, James Jackson, who then is killed by a Union soldier nearby. Both men are viewed as martyrs by their own sides; In an action provoking questions as to the disposition of slaves by the North, General Benjamin F. Butler holds three slaves at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Butler declares the slaves contraband. The issue will be ruled on by Secretary of War Simon Cameron in July 1861.
May 26th: United States Postmaster General Montgomery Blair announces the cutting of postal connections with the Confederate States as of May 31st, 1861; Additional naval blockades are established, notably at Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana.
May 27th: In a case concerning the legality of Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney decrees the arrest of John Merryman illegal. Merryman was imprisoned for recruiting Confederate soldiers, an arrest made by General George Cadwalader, who argued that Lincoln’s proclamation allowed such action. It is Lincoln’s view that in time of rebellion such moves are required to preserve public safety.
May 29th: In Washington, D.C. Dorothea Dix is received by Secretary of War Simon Cameron, who accepts her offer of help in setting up hospitals for the Union Army.
May 30th: Grafton, Virginia is occupied by Union forces who are sent to protect the citizens and guard the vital Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line.
May 31st: Union troops that evacuated the Indian Territory forts, effectively leaving the “Five Civilized Tribes” under the influence and mercy of the Confederacy, reach For Leavenworth, Kansas. The path they travel is later known as the Chisholm Trail after one of their guides, Jesse Chisholm; General P. G. T. Beauregard is given command of the Confederate Army of the Potomac in northern Virginia, otherwise known as the Alexandria Line.
by: Will Sullivan