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Civil War Firsts
July 8, 1777 Vermont bans slavery in its constitution. It is the first state to do so. Vermont
  Constitution of the State of Vermont
August 1, 1789 First tariff goes into effect (Tariff of 1789)
February 17, 1819 After several days of sharp debate the House passes the Missouri statehood bill including both parts of the Tallmadge Amendment, marking the first legislation demanding the abolition of slavery. The act is sent to the Senate where the bill is never voted on. Missouri
  Missouri Compromise (Compromise of 1820)
December 3, 1847 First edition of the North Star rolls off the press. This Abolitionist newspaper was published by former slave Frederick Douglass
  Frederick Douglass
March 20, 1852 First publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  Causes of the Civil War
February 22, 1856 The first "national" meeting of the Republican Party is held in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
  Election of 1856
  Republican Party
November 10, 1860 James Chesnut becomes the first Southerner to resign from the Senate. He is quickly followed by James H. Hammond South Carolina
March 5, 1861 The First Confederate Flag, known as the "Stars and Bars," is introduced
April 12, 1861
April 13, 1861
Beginning at 4:30 am on the 12th and continuing until the morning of the 13th, Confederate batteries along the shore of Charleston Harbor fire on Fort Sumter under the command of Major Robert Anderson. Anderson arranges a surrender with Texas Senator Louis Wigfall on the morning of the 13th. South Carolina
  P. G. T. Beauregard
  Fort Sumter
  Edmund Ruffin
  Robert Anderson
April 14, 1861 During the formal surrender of Fort Sumter Private Daniel Hough dies when the cannon he was loading (for the Union's 100-gun salute to the U.S. flag) discharges prematurely. He is the first man to die in the Civil War. A second man is mortally wounded. South Carolina
  Fort Sumter
April 15, 1861 Braxton Bragg places Lt. John Worden under arrest in Pensicola, Florida, making him the first prisoner-of-war in the American Civil War
  Braxton Bragg
April 19, 1861 Southern sympathizers in Baltimore cut telegraph lines and bridges to Washington, D. C. While passing through the city, the 6th Massachusetts Regiment is attacked. They open fire on a crowd. When the dust settles, three soldiers and one civilian were dead, the first casualties during fighting in the Civil War. Maryland
  Washington D. C.
  Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
  Maryland and Secession
May 24, 1861 Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves is killed in the Marshall House Inn in Alexandria, Virginia, after he and his men removed a Confederate flag. He is generally regarded as the first officer killed while on duty in the American Civil War. New York
  Encounter at the Marshall House
May 24, 1861 Benjamin Butler uses the term "contraband" to describe slaves who have crossed into the Northern camps
  Benjamin Butler
June 3, 1861 Battle of Philippi

First land engagement of the Civil War between American and Confederate forces
West Virginia
  George McClellan
  Operations in Western Virginia
June 10, 1861 Battle of Big Bethel
  Daniel Harvey Hill
  John Magruder
  William Farrar Smith
  Battle of Big Bethel
July 13, 1861 Battle of Corrick's Ford

While directing his rear guard General Robert Garnett is shot and dies minutes later. He is the first general to die during the Civil War
West Virginia
  George McClellan
  Battle of Corrick's Ford
August 3, 1861 Off the coast of Virginia a Union naval officer ascends in a tethered balloon to look at Confederate controlled Hampton Roads. It is the first balloon ascent from a ship in naval history
September 13, 1861 Entering Confederate-controlled Pensacola harbor, Lt. John Henry Russell destroys the privateer Judah, marking the first naval action of the Civil War Florida
October 21, 1861 Battle of Leesburg [CS]
Battle of Ball's Bluff [US]
Battle of Harrison Island [US]

General Nathan Evans [CS] defeats General Charles Stone [US]. Oregon Senator Edward Baker, field commander, becomes the first (and only) sitting senator to die in battle.
  Battle of Ball's Bluff
December 21, 1861 Abraham Lincoln signs a bill creating the Navy Medal of Honor, America's first medal. It is to be presented to sailors or marines who "...distinguish themselves by their gallantry and other seamanlike qualities..."
  Abraham Lincoln
January 30, 1862 USS Monitor, the first ship featuring a turreted center gun, is launched. The design changes naval warfare forever
February 25, 1862 "Bull" Nelson enters Nashville, Tennessee, first Confederate state capital to fall into Union hands. Don Carlos Buell accepts the city's surrender. Nathan Bedford Forrest provides a rear guard for Hardee's Army of Central Kentucky as it withdraws to Alabama. Tennessee
  Don Carlos Buell
  Nathan Bedford Forrest
  William Hardee
  Fall of Nashville, February, 1862
  William 'Bull' Nelson
  John Floyd
March 9, 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads

The duel of the ironclads, The Monitor and The Merrimac (CSS Virginia). First use of a turreted gun.
  Hampton Roads
September 27, 1862 The first all-black regiment in United States history is formed in Union-controlled New Orleans from "free Negroes." While their technical name is the First Regiment Louisiana Native Guard they call themselves "Chasseurs d'Afrique". The name translates to "Hunters of Africa."
June 20, 1863 West Virginia becomes the 35th state to enter the United States, but the first to enter where the terms slave and free no longer mattered West Virginia
February 17, 1864 The CSS Hunley destroys the USS Housatonic with a torpedo in Charleston Harbor. The Housatonic sinks without a loss of life. The Hunley also sinks, killing 9 men South Carolina
April 22, 1864 The motto "In God We Trust" approved for US coinage (Coinage Act of 1864)
  In God We Trust
May 13, 1864 First soldier interred at Arlington National Cemetery Virginia
  Civil War National Cemeteries

Civil War Firsts

Most Civil War "firsts" list contain debatable facts. For example, one commonly-cited "first" is the repeating rifle. Technically, the repeating rifle had been around for years, although the design left a lot to be desired. Even the first lever-action repeating rifle, the breach-loading Spencer, was introduced in 1860. What can be said is the Civil War saw the first breach-loading, lever action repeating rifle used on a field of battle. Another is the use of "ironclads." Sorry, but the French were using ironclad vessels five years before the start of the American Civil War, however, the Civil War did feature the first battle of ironclad vessels, between the U. S. S. Monitor and the C. S. S. Virginia (The Merrimack) in March, 1862.

Photographs are also commonly cited as a "Civil War first." Don't believe it. Roger Fenton's photographic exploration of the Crimean War pre-dated any Civil War photographs and the subjects were essentially the same. Even the Library of Congress ( agrees. The largest collector of Civil War photographs states on its web site: "Because wet-plate collodion negatives required from 5 to 20 seconds exposure, there are no action photographs of the war." The site later makes the correct "first" statement, saying, "The War Between the States was the first large and prolonged conflict recorded by photography..."

Sometimes the "first" is correct, at least partially. Take the United States Medal of Honor. During the Civil War both the Army and Navy instituted a Medal of Honor, but the Navy's was first by 6 months, so the actual "first" was the Navy Medal of Honor. Now this may seem picky, but it is important to our Navy and Marines, at least.

Medicine made dramatic advances during The Civil War. Ever hear that our Civil War saw the first use of morphine as a pain-killer? Not quite. Morphine had been around since 1803 and doctors were using it as a pain-killer in the War of 1812, but it was taken orally. It wasn't until the invention of the hypodermic needle in 1853 that morphine could be injected and became the addictive medicine it is today.

One enduring argument is which is the first land battle of the Civil War, Philippi or Little and Big Bethel? The question is raised because Philippi's Colonel George Porterfield may have been part of the Virginia Militia rather than the Confederate Army. Porterfield had received instructions from the Confederate government, but the state of Virginia did not officially turn over control of its troops until after the battle.

One first rarely discussed is in the area of weather forecasting. While the science of accurately predicting weather arose before Benjamin Franklin (he thought he discovered it, then found out ship captains had been doing it for years), it evolved in the 1830's and 1840's to become more accurate (although a far cry from what we have today). Before the Civil War Army stations and the Corps of Engineers had been gathering weather data, as well as notable institutions such as the Smithsonian Institute. After the start of the Civil War commanders wanted weather forecasts and the Army responded by gathering data via telegraph and attempting to make regular short-range forecasts. They weren't very good at it, but this group would become the National Weather Bureau (later the National Weather Service).

Links appearing on this page:

Little and Big Bethel
March, 1862
The Civil War
War of 1812

Civil War Firsts was last changed on - April 15, 2008
Civil War Firsts was added in 2005

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