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.
I have not been to Brandy Station, so that will be new for me. I have been to Gettysburg, parts of which are pretty creepy. We’re also stopping in Aldie and Winchester.
Well, the difference at GettysBurg, I think, was Meade, who was not only competent (unlike his predecessors) but was a close personal friend of Lee (most people don’t know this) and knew his idiosyncracies, and had in fact learned the hard way from previous battles. Consequently, he out Lee’d Lee during the battle.
While in Gettysburg, be sure to stop by Spangler’s Srping near Culp’s Hill. It’s a dark, haunted place as well.
I too tend to reject broad cultural interpretation when it comes to tactical military history. But I think the statistics bear McWhiney out. And on a more anecdotal level, every historian notes that people like Lee and Forrest were brash and audacious, whereas the long line of Union generals before Grant are all characterized as soft and vacillating.
“The thing about this is eventually the North figured it out and kept their men in the center”
The North didn’t really need its reserves in the center, anyway. Lee’s plan was doomed by Union artillery. There is no way you can march for a mile under heavy fire and expect to break fresh troops.
Lee had factors strategic as well as a tactic to consider. It is all very well who accuse Lee of having made the wrong decision, but it is not right to do it for the wrong reasons. Lee had one of the finest eyes for ground of any captain in that or any of our wars.
More telling of the man at Gettysburg was his behavior in defeat. He went down into the cornfield approaching his wretched refugees from Pickett's charge, tears coursing down his cheeks, saying, "it's my fault, it's all my fault."
Thanks for the history - I have to get there sometime soon. The Gettysburg Battlefield was a life-changing experience.
Prior to Antietam most units North and South consisted of men who signed up in their home towns and fought together. After Antietam this changed because literally all men or most men from a single unit were killed wiping out a substantial part of the male population from many small towns. The reassigned men from units to ensure this was not as likely to happen again.
I was at Antietam at High Noon in the spring, and the Cornfield was just sprouting well, so I probably missed something.
Out in Montana, however, it was just stretching into dusk, and the sage was actually turning purple. To see the ragged track of headstones trailing off down toward the river...
Then, to see photos of those Code Pinkos, I'm troubled by VERY un-Christian, unpeaceful urges.
I've never been to Custer Hill though.
The group I go with every fall (not re-enactors, just people who love history) is actually going to be there for three years running. I expect we’ll visit the spring next year.
Behavior on a day was driven by factors external to the soldiers' martial fiber. The Yankees at First Bull Run were hampered by bad generalship, lack of training and the task of an untrained force to take a field in the age of rifles. The rebs that day had the easier task of holding their ground. By the time of Chattanooga, the rebs there were handicapped by a bad commanding general and mass weariness and disgust for fighting for an unworthy cause. On that day the American farmers of the Northwest routed their cousins, the American farmers of the Southwest.
I think you have to give it to the South that their boys were more experienced in camping, riding, and shooting—in the beginning. However, war depends on more than the fundamentals (would a nation really good at marching be unbeatable? hardly). What does it profit you to have killed a thousand rabbits as a boy, when you are running toward a column of smoke with thousands of people screaming and dying around you?
Personally, I think the South’s audacity stemmed from the fact that they were in the more desperate situation. They were being invaded, and they lacked the men, the industry, and the “legitimacy” of the Union.
In a period of rifles and no offensive momentum builders such as tanks or aircraft, it was a lot easier for a 19th Century soldier to display his martial valor when repelling invasion than when forcing the action tactically and strategically.
I have the exact same feelings. It’s the most humbling place I’ve ever been.
Heck he should have destroyed Lee during the battle itself.
The new visitors center is spectacular.
The lady who runs the Old Court House museum in Winchester is great to talk to. If she’s not a freeper she certainly shares our views.
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