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The Battle of Antietam

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The Great Battle of Antietam, Sharpsburg, Md. 1862.

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The Battle of Antietam

  1. 1. Test Your KnowledgeThe Maryland Campaign was launched 150 years ago on Sep 4, 1862Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, in an effort to relieve pressureOn the Virginia countryside, marched North in a largely improvised invasion ofThe North. Lee’s goals were to supply the Army of Northern Virginia from largelyUntouched Northern farms, Inflict a damaging blow to morale, and possibly achieveA victory that would influence the Great Powers (Great Britain and France) toIntervene in the Civil War in their favor.
  2. 2. Antietam (or Sharpsburg)President Lincoln responded to the crisis by reinstating General GeorgeMcClellan, Who was not his first choice but well regarded by the troops.McClellan reacted swiftly (for him) and assumed command of the Army ofThe Potomac, which was disorganized after the recent disastrous SecondBattle of Bull Run. McClellan was a cautious commander, and did notpursue the Confederates with vigor even when he managed to isolate oneCorps at the Battle of South Mountain. The Confederates, despite the UnionArmy having knowledge of their dispositions, were able to unite their widelyscattered army at the little town of Sharpsburg, MD.. near a little stream calledAntietam Creek. Thus the stage was set for the bloodiest day in AmericanHistory.
  3. 3. The BattleOn September 16, McClellan confronted Lee near Sharpsburg, defending a lineto the west of Antietam Creek. At dawn on September 17, Maj. Gen. JosephHookers I Corps mounted a powerful assault on Lees left flank that began thebloody battle. Attacks and counterattacks swept across the Miller Cornfield andthe woods near the Dunker Church as Maj. Gen. Joseph K. Mansfields XII Corpsjoined to reinforce Hooker. Union assaults against the Sunken Road ("BloodyLane") by Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumners II Corps eventually pierced theConfederate center, but the Federal advantage was not pressed. In theafternoon, Burnsides IX Corps crossed a stone bridge over Antietam Creek androlled up the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, A.P. Hills division arrivedfrom Harpers Ferry and counterattacked, driving back Burnsides men andsaving Lees army from destruction. Although outnumbered two to one, Leecommitted his entire force, while McClellan sent in only four of his six availablecorps. This enabled Lee to shift brigades across the battlefield and counter eachindividual Union assault
  4. 4. Aftermath. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spiteof crippling casualties—Union 12,401, or 25%; Confederate10,316, or 31%—Lee continued to skirmish with McClellanthroughout September 18, while transporting his woundedmen south of the Potomac. McClellan did not renew theoffensive.After dark, Lee ordered the battered Army of Northern Virginiato withdraw across the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley.
  5. 5. ConsequencesLee successfully withdrew across the Potomac, ending the Maryland Campaign andsummer campaigning altogether. President Lincoln was disappointed in McClellansperformance and replaced him with (if it was at all possible), and even worseCommanding General, Ambrose Burnside.Nevertheless, the North regarded Antietam as its first strategic victory, andUsed the pretext of the victory to release the Emancipation Proclamation, eventuallyfreeing the slaves.Great Britain and France, never enthusiastic about the idea, never consideredintervening in the Civil War after Antietam.The real consequences were inthe casualty numbers. Antietam Approximate Union Confederate TotalWas the bloodiest single day in NumbersAmerican History. Killed 2,100 1,550 3,650 Wounded 9,550 7,750 17,300 Missing/Capt 750 1,020 1,770 ured Total 12,400 10,320 22,720
  6. 6. “Of all the days on all the fields where American soldiers have fought, the mostterrible by almost any measure was September 17, 1862. The battle waged onthat date, close by Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg in western Maryland, took ahuman toll never exceeded on any other single day in the nations history. Sointense and sustained was the violence, a man recalled, that for a moment inhis minds eye the very landscape around him turned red. “-- Stephen Sears