On This Day

What Happened in May 1861

Historical Events

  • May 1 Lee orders Confederate troops under T J Jackson to Harper's Ferry
  • May 3 General Winfield Scott presents his Anaconda Plan for the North against the South in American Civil War
  • May 3 Lincoln asks for 42,000 Army Volunteers and another 18,000 seamen
  • May 4 At Gretna, Louisiana, one of 1st guns of Rebel navy is cast
  • May 5 Alexandria, Virginia - Confederate troops abandon the city
  • May 6 Arkansas & Tennessee becomes 9th & 10th states to secede from US
  • May 7 Riot occurs between prosecessionist & Union supporters in Knoxville TN
  • May 8 Richmond, Virginia, is named the capital of the Confederacy in the US
  • May 10 Union troops march on state militia in St Louis, Missouri

Historic Event

May 13 Queen Victoria announces Britain's position of neutrality

  • May 13 The Great Comet of 1861 is discovered by John Tebbutt of Windsor, New South Wales, Australia
  • May 14 The Canellas meteorite, an 859-gram chondrite-type meteorite, strikes the earth near Barcelona, Spain
  • May 16 Major General Twiggs surrenders to Confederate Army in San Antonio, Texas (US Civil War)
  • May 16 Confederate government offers war volunteers $10 premium
  • May 16 Kentucky proclaims its neutrality

Famous Photo

May 17 First color photograph of a tartan ribbon shown by Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell to the Royal Institution in London

  • May 18 Battle of Sewall's Point Virginia - 1st Federal offense against the South
  • May 18 Friedrich Hebbel's "Kriemhildes Rache" premieres in Weimar
  • May 20 Cornerstone of University of Washington laid in Seattle
  • May 20 Kentucky proclaims its neutrality in Civil War
  • May 20 North Carolina becomes 11th and last state to secede from the Union
  • May 20 US Marshals, in search of secessionist evidence, seize the previous year's telegraph dispatches
  • May 21 Richmond, Virginia, is designated the Confederate Capital
  • May 23 3 fleeing slaves enter Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • May 23 Virginia citizens vote 3 to 1 in favor of secession from the Union
  • May 24 Alexandria, Virginia occupied by Federal troops

Historic Event

May 24 Union Major General Benjamin Butler declares slaves "contraband of war"

  • May 25 John Merryman is arrested under suspension of writ of habeas corpus it later sparks a supreme court decision protecting writ
  • May 26 US Postmaster General Blair announces end of postal connection with South
  • May 26 Union blockades towns of New Orleans and Mobile

Historic Event

May 29 Dorothea Dix offers help in setting up hospitals for the Union Army

  • May 31 General Beauregard is given command of Confederate Alexandria Line
  • May 31 Mint at New Orleans closes

Famous Birthdays

  • May 3 Emmett Dalton, American outlaw, member of the Dalton Gang in the American Old West, born in Belton, Missouri (d. 1937)
  • May 6 Motilal Nehru, Indian lawyer and freedom fighter, born in Agra, British India (d. 1931)

Rabindranath Tagore

May 7 Rabindranath Tagore, Indian philosopher, poet, writer (Nobel Prize for Literature 1913), born in Calcutta, British India (d. 1941)

  • May 11 Frederick Russell Burnham, American scout and adventurer whose friendship with Baden-Powell inspired the founding of the international scouting movement, born in Tivoli, a Dakota Sioux Indian reservation in modern-day Minnesota, (d. 1947)
  • May 12 Ivan Caryll [Félix Tilkin], Belgian composer of operetta and musical comedy (The Shop Girl; The Spring Chicken; The Pink Lady), born in Liège, Belgium (d. 1921)

H. H. Holmes

May 16 H. H. Holmes [Herman Webster Mudgett], American serial killer associated with 27 deaths, born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire (d. 1896)

Nellie Melba

May 19 Nellie Melba [Helen Mitchell], Australian operatic soprano, and face of the Australian 100 dollar note, born in Richmond, Victoria, Australia (d. 1931)

  • May 27 Victoria Earle Matthews, American author and activist, born in Fort Valley, Georgia (d. 1907)
  • May 31 Emily Bissell, American welfare worker and founder of Christmas Seals, born in Wilmington, Delaware (d. 1948)

Famous Deaths

  • May 3 Anthony Philip Heinrich, composer, dies at 80
  • May 9 Peter Ernst von Lasaulx, German philologist & politician, dies at 55
  • May 12 Christian Heinrich Hohmann, German composer, dies at 50
  • May 24 Elmer E. Ellsworth, American soldier who was the 1st Union officer killed in the American Civil War, dies at 24