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Antietam: A Savage Day In American History
NPR ^ | 9/17/2012 | Tom Bowman

Posted on 09/17/2012 4:22:21 AM PDT by iowamark

On this morning 150 years ago, Union and Confederate troops clashed at the crossroads town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. The Battle of Antietam remains the bloodiest single day in American history.

The battle left 23,000 men killed or wounded in the fields, woods and dirt roads, and it changed the course of the Civil War.

It is called simply the Cornfield, and it was here, in the first light of dawn that Union troops — more than a thousand — crept toward the Confederate lines. The stalks were at head level and shielded their movements.

Cannon fire opened the battle with puffs of white smoke rising from the tree line, at the precise spot where men re-enacting the battle are firing artillery today.

Just 200 yards in front of the Union forces, Confederate troops from Georgia were flat on their stomachs. They leveled their guns and waited, and when the Union troops broke out of the corn, the Georgians all rose up and fired.

"The smoke, the noise, the artillery is crashing in from all directions," says Keith Snyder, a park ranger at Antietam. "It's just a concentrated terror."

It was complete chaos in and around the cornfield, Snyder says, with people screaming and bodies everywhere. In that first phase of the battle, 10,000 soldiers are killed and wounded.

One of the men who survived the cornfield was Cpl. Lewis Reed of the 12th Massachusetts Regiment. He wrote about that day in a letter years later. He remembered all the men around him screaming for help.

"I found myself on the ground with a strange feeling covering my body ... My shirt and blouse filled with blood and I supposed it was my last day on earth. I had the usual feelings of home and friends and thousands of thoughts ran through my mind at once."

Cpl. Reed managed to stagger to the cover of nearby woods. He would live to the age of 83. As for his fellow soldiers, two of every three men in his unit would be dead or wounded by nightfall.

There was nothing special about these fields, or even this town. It had no strategic value. Gen. Robert E. Lee's plan was to push his troops north, perhaps to Pennsylvania, fight a decisive battle and pressure northern politicians to sue for peace. Union troops marched from Washington and intercepted Lee.

"The thing about Antietam is it's a very personal battle," Snyder says. "The vast majority of combat here is done at very close range — hundred yards and closer. It's savage and personal. So when you pop out the enemy is right there."

By late morning the fight in the cornfield was a stalemate. The Union shifted its attack, and actually turns south and head toward what was called the Sunken Road.

The Bloody Lane

The Sunken Road was an old country farm lane worn down by years of wagon traffic and erosion. A few hundred yards long and about 5 feet or so below ground level, it was a ready-made fort for the southerners. The Confederates — more than 2,000 — were hunkered down, waiting for the Union troops.

The Confederates peered over the top and watched the northern troops coming across an open field. As the Union soldiers came into view, the southerners rose up and fired, taking out nearly every soldier in the front rank.

One Union general saw his troops disappear into the sunken road, and was heard to say, "God save my poor boys."

But after terrible losses, the Union troops were able to encircle the Confederates, and the Sunken Road became a death trap for the men inside. Men like Sgt. James Shinn of the 4th North Carolina Regiment. He watched hundreds of his fellow soldiers flee to the rear, and later scratched this entry in his diary.

"The Minie balls, shot and shell rained upon us from every direction except the rear. Many men took this chance to leave the field entirely. Many officers were killed and wounded, and I am sorry and ashamed to say, left the field unhurt."

Almost 2,000 Confederate dead and wounded that have piled up on this road, Snyder says. The Sunken Road would forever be known as Bloody Lane, and it was a turning point in the battle.

"Once this thing collapses, the center of Lee's entire Army has been broken wide open," he says. "It is absolute desperation."

The Burnside Bridge

The battle shifted to the third and final phase, next to the waters of Antietam Creek.

Nearby, a stone bridge crosses the creek, and on the other side, there's a steep bluff, 100 feet straight up. Confederate soldiers were dug in and they had a perfect shot at any advancing troops below.

Antietam Park Ranger Keith Snyder describes it as fortress for the Confederates.

"The Union 9th Corps had to attack a castle," he says. "It's almost impossible to take this position."

The plan was to hit the Confederates from two sides. Some would cross the river downstream, while other federal troops would storm straight across the bridge. The bridge was a crucial crossing.

It took three Union assaults — and nearly three hours — to take the bridge. The final assault was led by Brig. Gen. Edward Ferraro, who led veteran soldiers from New York and Pennsylvania.

Ferraro had taken his men's whiskey ration because they got in a little trouble, so one of the soldiers said, "give us our whiskey and we'll take the bridge."

They did take the bridge, and later got a keg of whiskey. Thousands of union troops climbed the bluff, and then the real fight began against the main Confederate force.

Gen. Lee's reinforcements saved his forces, and the Union troops were pushed back to the bridge. But at the end of all the combat, 23,000 casualties and after 12 hours of fighting, Snyder says everyone was just about where they were when they started.

"The lines shifted [about] a hundred yards," he says.

It was basically a stalemate.

Late the next day, Gen. Robert E. Lee slipped his army across the Potomac. The Union commander, Gen. George McClellan, failed to pursue Lee. He was soon fired by President Lincoln.

The partial victory at Antietam, however, gave Lincoln what he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that would free the slaves in the Confederate states the following January.

After Antietam, the war would no longer be just about preserving the Union.


TOPICS: Education; History; Military/Veterans
KEYWORDS: antietam; civilwar; dixie
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Late the next day, Gen. Robert E. Lee slipped his army across the Potomac. The Union commander, Gen. George McClellan, failed to pursue Lee. He was soon fired by President Lincoln.

The partial victory at Antietam, however, gave Lincoln what he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that would free the slaves in the Confederate states the following January.

After Antietam, the war would no longer be just about preserving the Union.

General McClellan might have won the war then if he had pursued Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan, however, wanted a compromise peace preserving slavery. He was horrified a few days later at Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

1 posted on 09/17/2012 4:22:27 AM PDT by iowamark
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NY Times: Lee's Lost Order
2 posted on 09/17/2012 4:30:53 AM PDT by iowamark
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To: iowamark
Someone ought to forward this to Mr. Dylan.

The US playing craps with its very existence as a sovereign national entity, risking its future and the lives of everyone here... to end slavery....after the Revolution to throw off the Monarchy, that is THE defining fact of the United States of America!!

If you don't comprehend THIS about America, you don't know America.... whether or not you live here, you MUST know this!

Example: I am sure I could not claim to in the least bit understand Russia or Russians if I was not aware of their Revolution!

Yet somehow Mr. Dylan and his friends think that the us IS slavery....NOT

No one thinks of serfdom when they think of Russia... they think of the bloody and monstrous revolution the Russians made (and all the subsequent suffering and destruction they've endured since) in order to remove the Czarist system. We credit them with THAT.

Why not have the decency to credit the US with the tremendous effort, sacrifice and near suicidal risk which Americans took to accomplish just such a noble task?

3 posted on 09/17/2012 4:48:31 AM PDT by SMARTY ("The man who has no inner-life is a slave to his surroundings. "Henri Frederic Amiel)
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To: iowamark

,,,,,, a real bad day for Burnside . A creek you could wade accross and a sunken road all elements of a failed day for Americans on both sides . The bloodiest day in American history and most school children don’t even know about it thanks to our liberal public schools . History is bound to repeat itself .


4 posted on 09/17/2012 5:22:29 AM PDT by Lionheartusa1 (-: Socialism is the equal distribution of misery :-)
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To: iowamark
In the mid-70’s the park service asked for volunteers to march the route A.P. Hill's troops took from Harper's Ferry to Sharpsburg on the anniversary of the battle. I joined with about fifty others, and we followed the original route and schedule as closely as possible. We made it on time, but of course we weren't carrying muskets or gear. Still, it was quite a feat, and I remember feeling that my legs were almost detached from my hips at the end of the march. Afterward, we were supposed to get a certificate or something from the park service, but, I assume because we were acting the part of Confederate troops, they changed their mind about that.
5 posted on 09/17/2012 5:29:24 AM PDT by PUGACHEV
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To: iowamark

Antietam .... souls still wander there. Every time I’ve visited, the place really “gets” to me in a way I can’t describe.


6 posted on 09/17/2012 5:38:36 AM PDT by MissMagnolia (Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't. (M.Thatcher))
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To: iowamark
The NPS has a wide range of activities going on today and is posting live dramatic photos of the battlefield, taken at exactly the same time as the key parts of the battle depicted.

NPS Antietam National Battlefield on Facebook

Here's Farmer's Miller's cornfield this morning...


7 posted on 09/17/2012 5:54:55 AM PDT by Timber Rattler (Just say NO! to RINOS and the GOP-E)
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To: Lionheartusa1

High banks that were difficult to climb as well.


8 posted on 09/17/2012 5:59:36 AM PDT by bonfire
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To: iowamark

I’m surprised there hasn’t been a major movie made about Antietam.


9 posted on 09/17/2012 6:01:05 AM PDT by dfwgator (I'm voting for Ryan and that other guy.)
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To: SMARTY

“The US playing craps with its very existence as a sovereign national entity, risking its future and the lives of everyone here... to end slavery.”

False statement. The US/Lincoln may have been playing craps to save the union, but they did NOT engage in war to free the slaves. If they had, Lincoln would have issued an emancipation proclamation on the first day of Sumter...and he would NOT have said:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.


10 posted on 09/17/2012 6:01:11 AM PDT by Lee'sGhost (Johnny Rico picked the wrong girl!)
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To: iowamark

The battlefied on the day of the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862

CREDIT: Gardner, Alexander, photographer. “Antietam, Maryland. Battlefield on the day of battle,” 1862. Prints
and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-DIG-cwpb-01162.

11 posted on 09/17/2012 6:03:41 AM PDT by LibFreeUSA
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To: Lee'sGhost

I get that.

But I don’t think that any southern states would have left the Union if they were not challenged over keeping slaves.

That’s what I mean.


12 posted on 09/17/2012 6:04:50 AM PDT by SMARTY ("The man who has no inner-life is a slave to his surroundings. "Henri Frederic Amiel)
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To: MissMagnolia

I would agree with you.

I spent some time all alone in the Dunker Church, which is about one third original materials from that day.

It changed hands many times during the battle, and was used by both sides as a field hospital.

The suffering and agony that occurred in there must have been monumental.it was eerie to be alone in there, but it was not due to a feeling of malice; rather it was more due to extreme sadnesses adding the place.

Unlike
Gettysburg, Antietam is not expansive—it is a rather compact battleground.

To have two large armies firing almost point blank at each other for an entire day in such a small area is almost incomprehensible.

The bravery of the men who fought that day is unequalled.


13 posted on 09/17/2012 6:11:14 AM PDT by exit82 (Pass the word: Obama is a FAILURE!! Democrats are the enemies of freedom!)
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To: SMARTY

“But I don’t think that any southern states would have left the Union if they were not challenged over keeping slaves.”

When were they challenged? BY whom and under what force?


14 posted on 09/17/2012 6:14:29 AM PDT by CodeToad (Be Prepared...They Are.)
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To: CodeToad

States declared for the South because the Union was NOT already polarized by Abolishionist rhetoric?


15 posted on 09/17/2012 6:22:06 AM PDT by SMARTY ("The man who has no inner-life is a slave to his surroundings. "Henri Frederic Amiel)
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To: Timber Rattler

I was there all day Saturday. Very moving and very well-done on everyone’s part.


16 posted on 09/17/2012 6:28:46 AM PDT by HokieMom (Pacepa : Can the U.S. afford a president who can't recognize anti-Americanism?)
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To: iowamark

Never forget.


17 posted on 09/17/2012 6:30:57 AM PDT by EternalVigilance ("The opposite of compromise is character." -- Frederick Douglass)
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To: SMARTY

That one I accept. It’s a pet peeve of mine. Our wonderful public education system no long teaches facts and too many people are ignorant of the facts. Most people actually believe that Lincoln and the remaining Union declared war on the Confederacy with a declared goal to free slaves. Simply not true. It kills them to find out that their whole view of war is false.

As you correctly allude, people can argue that slavery was the cause of the war, but they can’t say that the war started with the intent of freeing slaves. Two totally different concepts. I mean, who are they going to believe, their public school teachers or Lincoln’s own words.


18 posted on 09/17/2012 6:43:22 AM PDT by Lee'sGhost (Johnny Rico picked the wrong girl!)
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To: Lee'sGhost

It was part of the equation right from the beginning... the fact that Lincoln articulated it later, differently or possibly for different reasons that people in the South, is not the issue, historically.

The South was an agrarian economy and they were only successful and prosperous at it because they held slaves.... their way of life and consequently their politics as well was tied to slavery.

For THEM, it was a central issue right up front and only became so for everyone else, later.

That’s the way I always understood it.


19 posted on 09/17/2012 7:06:40 AM PDT by SMARTY ("The man who has no inner-life is a slave to his surroundings. "Henri Frederic Amiel)
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To: All

I’m proud to report my one and only son fought for the Rebs this past Sat at - ahem - Sharpsburg...
He was a Reb on the Bloody Lane site and said that when the Yanks assaulted, he got shivers just getting a feel for what it must have been like.
His grandfather and great grandfather are named after Gen Wade Hampton....
We are blessed with a great heritage.


20 posted on 09/17/2012 7:13:46 AM PDT by matginzac
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