- January 4: Governor Andrew Moore ordered state troops to sieze and hold Forts Gaines and Morgan from United States troops in advance of secession.
- January 11: Alabama's constitutional convention voted 61-39 to approve an Ordinance of Secession from the United States.
- February 4: The Confederate States of America was created in the Provisional Confederate Congress, William P. Chilton, Sr of Alabama, namesake of Chilton County, presiding.
- February 18: Alabama was admitted to the Confederate States of America as the Alabama Republic.
- February 18: Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President of the Confederacy in Montgomery.
- April 5: The Alabama Insane Hospital opened in Tuscaloosa.
- The first class of military cadets graduated from the University of Alabama.
- A charter was granted to the Alabama Arms Manufacturing Company by the Confederate States of America
- Richard Wilmer became the Second Episcopal Bishop of Alabama.
- Mount Zion Baptist Church of Christ moved to downtown Sylacauga.
- December 2: John Gill Shorter became Governor of Alabama.
- Many men enlisted in the Confederate Army.
- January 16: Nathaniel Barrett, Mayor of Birmingham
- February 3: George Macon, educator
- June 17: Sumter Bethea, real estate broker
- June 29: Oliver Marble, architect
- July 2: John Carmichael, chancellor
- August: George Eubank, dentist
- September 25: E. L. Higdon, Jefferson County Sheriff
- October 17: Thomas O'Byrne, liquor distributor
- Harry Breeding, architect
- Jere Dennis, newspaper publisher
In 1861, the Taiping Rebellion continued. The Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed. Thallium was discovered. The Civil War began on April 12 with the bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina; numerous battles followed during the year. The Great Comet of 1861 was visible to the naked eye for three months. The Pony Express closed.
Books published in 1861 included Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Silas Marner by George Eliot.
Notable births in 1861 included King Ferdinand of Bulgaria; biochemist Frederick Gowland Hopkins; chewing gum industrialist William Wrigley, Jr; artist Frederic Remington; basketball inventor James Naismith; actress Lillian Russell; and explorer Fridtjof Nansen. Notable deaths included King Frederick William IV of Prussia, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, gunsmith Eliphalet Remington, and King Pedro V of Portugal.
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