Skip to comments.This Day In Civil War History September 17th, 1863 Battle of Antietam
Posted on 09/17/2008 6:08:42 AM PDT by mainepatsfan
GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE'S first invasion of the North culminated with the Battle of Antietam, in Maryland (or Sharpsburg, as the South called it). The battle took place on Wednesday, September 17, 1862, just 18 days after the Confederate victory at Second Manassas, 40 miles to the southeast in Virginia.
Not only was this the first major Civil War engagement on Northern soil, it was also the bloodiest single day battle in American history.
To view the magnitude of the losses, consider that Antietam resulted in nine times as many Americans killed or wounded (23,000 soldiers) as took place on June 6, 1944--D-day, the so-called "longest day" of World War II.* Also consider that more soldiers were killed and wounded at the Battle of Antietam than the deaths of all Americans in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, and Spanish-American War combined.
The loss of human life at Antietam shocked both sides doing battle that day. And it nearly resulted in Lee's entire army, with its back to the Potomac River, being cut off from retreat across the Potomac (through Shepherdstown) and being captured by the stronger Union forces.
The battle also became a turning point, an engagement that changed the entire course of the Civil War. Antietam not only halted Lee's bold invasion of the North (see Why Lee Invaded Maryland) but thwarted his efforts to force Lincoln to sue for peace. It also provided Lincoln with the victory he needed to announce the abolition of slavery in the South. And with that proclamation of Emancipation, Lincoln was able to broaden the base of the war and may have prevented England and France from lending support to a country that engaged in human bondage. The battle sealed the fate of the Confederacy.
Ugh. That date should be September 17, 1862.
“The battle sealed the fate of the Confederacy”
That’s unlikely. Lee would invade the North again, and the Union had yet to find a general (Grant) who could win consistently. Most people would say the Confederacy’s fate was sealed July 4, 1863, when federal troops carried the day at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
Visiting Antietam is always an emotional experience for me. I get a very distinct sense that there are some soldiers from the battle still on and around the fields ..... and I’m not into ghosts, etc. Rather than being ‘scary’, I feel a very deep sense of reverence. It’s happened every time I’ve been there.
I would say the fate of the Confederacy was sealed with the death of Stonewall Jackson after the battle of Chancellorsville. The Army of Nothern VIrginia, and thus the South, never recovered from that tragic loss.
Lee could only buy so much time before he was finally overwhelmed, and Beuaregard/Van Dorn/Bragg/Johnston/Hood all let him and Jefferson Davis down repeatedly.
But Antietam gave Lincoln the victory he needed to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. By injecting an end to slavery into the Union war effort it ended forever the possibility of European intervention on the side of the confederacy. Without that intervention the confederacy was doomed.
I got the same feeling at Gettysberg.
And that fate was sealed by repeating the same mistake that the Britsh had at the Battle of Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War: you don’t attack someone who has a commanding higher geographic position. Pickett’s charge on July 4, 1863 resulted in essentially wiping out a huge fraction of the Confederate Army, and the British suffered 1,000 casualties (that’s a lot by the standards of war in 1775!) trying to take Breed’s Hill near Boston. You’d think General Lee would have read up on the bloody assault on Breed’s Hill and didn’t repeat that mistake a second time.
This is also the 221st anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution by the convention in Philadelphia.
I haven’t been there yet so I’m thinking the same thing will happen.
And McClelland really erred here by allowing the Confederate Army to escape back across the Potomac. If they had been cut off the war may have been over in 1862!
Wow - such beautiful photos. I have a keen interest in the Civil war, especially the photographs from that era. Absolutely fascinating stuff.
I’ll have to agree with you on that, except I’d push it back a month or so to the little battles of Fort Donelson, and Fort Henry, I think the turning point came when Abraham Lincoln started telling his generals you will move against the enemy or be fired. Oh one last thing, it appears that the confederates sacrificed the Western front to save the Eastern front, after their Western front fell, the game was up.
Lee should have known from personal experience, having massacred a good part of his army on Malvern Hill just a year prior and having watched Burnside slaughter his troops assaulting Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg six months before.
Going to Gettysburg this weekend. Actually, we start at Brandy Station and then follow the route to Gettysburg.