By 1865, some 180,000 blacks have served in the Union Army, over one-fifth of the adult male black population under 45.
January 16: Marching the Union Army through the South with an ever-growing number of freed slaves in its wake, General William Tecumseh Sherman issues Special Field Order 15, setting aside part of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida by settlement exclusively by black people. The settlers are to receive "possessory title" to forty-acre plots.
January 31: The Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the Union, wins Congressional approval and is sent to the states for ratification. By the end of February, 18 states will ratify the amendment; after significant delay in the South, ratification will be completed by December.
February 18: General Sherman's troops enter Charleston, South Carolina.
March: The temporary Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands is established within the War Department. The Freedmen's Bureau works to smooth the transition from slavery, providing formers slaves with immediate shelter and medical services, help in negotiating labor contracts with landowners, and more. The bureau is initially authorized for just one year, but will remain in operation until 1868.
April: In Lincoln's last speech, he mentions black suffrage for soldiers and some others. The Civil War ends when Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union general Ulysses S. Grant. Six days later, President Lincoln is assassinated, and his vice president, Southern Democrat Andrew Johnson, becomes president.
May: President Johnson announces his plan of Presidential Reconstruction. It calls for general amnesty and restoration of property -- except for slaves -- to all Southerners who will swear loyalty to the Union. No friend to the South's large landowners, Johnson declares that they and the Confederate leadership will be required to petition him individually for pardons. This Reconstruction strategy also requires states to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, ending slavery. The president's plan is implemented during the summer.
August/September: President Johnson shows growing leniency toward the white South: he orders the restoration of land to its former owners, including the land provided to freed slaves by General Sherman's January field order. Freedmen are especially reluctant to leave the land they have started farming in South Carolina and Georgia. The president starts aligning himself with the Southern elite, declaring, "white men alone must manage the South."
Fall: Southern states elect former Confederates to public office at the state and national levels, drag their feet in ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment, and refuse to extend the vote to black men. Southern legislatures begin drafting "Black Codes" to re-establish white supremacy. The laws impose restrictions on black citizens, especially in attempts to control labor: freedmen are prohibited from work except as field hands, blacks refusing to sign labor contracts can be punished, unemployed black men can be seized and auctioned to planters as laborers, black children can be taken from their families and made to work. The new laws amount to slavery without the chain.
November-December: At the request of President Johnson, victorious Union general Ulysses S. Grant tours the South, and is greeted with surprising friendliness. His report recommends a lenient Reconstruction policy.
December: President Johnson declares the reconstruction process complete. Outraged, Radical Republicans in Congress refuse to recognize new governments in Southern states. More than sixty former Confederates arrive to take their seats in Congress, including four generals, four colonels and six Confederate cabinet officers -- even Alexander H. Stephens, the former vice president of the Confederacy. The Clerk of the House refuses to include the Southern representatives in his roll call, and they are denied their elected seats.
The Union Army is quickly demobilized. From a troop strength of one million on May 1, only 152,000 Union soldiers remain in the South by the end of 1865.
Southern towns and cities start to experience a large influx of freedmen. Over the next five years, the black populations of the South's ten largest cities will double.