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Battle Of Antietam

September 17, 1862

The first major Civil War engagement on Northern soil, and one of the bloodiest days in American history.

Flushed with his recent victories, Lee was marching into Maryland, and must be met and checked by the remnants of Pope's army and the Army of the Potomac. It is touching to read of the men's joy and renewed confidence when they knew that "Little Mac" was again in command. The magnetism was like that ascribed to Napoleon. Organizing as he proceeded, he marched into Maryland parallel with Lee, who had advanced as far as Frederick. Lee was disappointed by the coolness of his reception, and on the approach of McClellan fell back to Turner's and Crampton's gaps in the South mountain, where he was defeated and driven from the former by Reno's corps, and from the latter by Franklin on 13 and 14 September McClellan was now to encounter the full force of the enemy on Antietam creek, a small tributary of the Potomac, which it joins about seven miles north of Harper's Ferry. 

By the failure of General Miles to fortify Maryland heights, and in spite of the entreaties of McClellan that Harper's Ferry should be abandoned and its garrison added to his army. Jackson captured the post on 13 September and took 11,500 prisoners. He was thus enabled to join forces with Lee at Antietam. On the 16th Lee had only two divisions across the Potomac, but the National army did not come into position till the 17th. McClellan placed Hooker and Mansfield on the right, next came Sumner, with Franklin as a support, Burnside was on the left, and Porter in the centre. Lee had placed his army in the acute angle enclosed by the Potomac and the Antietam on the heights between the two streams, to the right and left of the Boonsboro road, he had posted Long-street and Hill, with Hood on the left. In the centre of the position was the Dunker church, which seemed an objective point for both armies. 

Three stone bridges cross the Antietam, and there are also several fords. The bridge on the left was in front of Burnside, the central one in front of Porter, and the right opposite Hooker and Mansfield. McClellan's plan was for Hooker to cross and attack the enemy's left, supported if necessary by Sumner and Franklin, and upon the apparent success of that attack Burnside was to cross the bridge in his front, press the enemy's right, passing if possible to the south and rear of Sharpsburg. At daylight on the morning of the 17th Hooker, followed by Mansfield, having crossed the stream, made so furious an attack upon Hood and Jackson that they were driven back beyond the Dunker church. Re-enforced by D. It. Hill, the Confederates returned the attack, and drove Hooker back in turn. Then Sumner came up, moved forward, was driven back, and again, with Franklin's aid, forced them beyond the Dunker church. Sumner even attempted to move, with a portion of his corps, to the left upon Sharpsburg, but he could only hold his ground. But the movements on the left were less fortunate. Burnside had been ordered at 8 A. M. to take the stone bridge, and aid the general movements by occupying the heights beyond. The approach to the bridge being swept by the guns of the enemy, the order to take it was not obeyed until 1 o'clock, when the Confederates had so strengthened their position beyond it that it was impossible to dislodge them. Thus it happened that the principal fighting was on the right, where Mansfield was killed, and Hooker wounded. The desperate attempts of the enemy to pierce the National line on the right and centre were foiled. In spite of repeated orders, the failure of Burnside's corps to take the lower stone bridge invalidated McClellan's combinations, and to some extent neutralized his success. Had it been carried early in the day, Lee might have been driven pell-mell into the Potomac. As it was, when we consider all the circumstances, the forcing back of the Confederate line, and their inability to make any effect upon the National line, the engagement at Antietam, so often regarded as only a drawn battle, must be looked upon as a decided success. About 13,000 men fell on each side, but McClellan retained the field when the enemy, his plans entirely foiled, sullenly withdrew. As an offset to the disaster of Harper's Ferry, McClellan had, in this brief campaign, taken 13 guns, 39 colors, upward of 15,000 stand of arms, and more than 6,000 prisoners, while he had not lost a gun or a color. 

No swift pursuit was attempted, and Lee crossed the Potomac at his leisure on the 19th. McClellan then followed, advancing his army between Longstreet's corps and the main body under Lee, and halted at Warrenton to recruit, while the powers at Washington, withholding all praise for what he and his army had achieved, were scolding him for his delay. He needed supplies of all kinds, and with regard to the arrival of these there has since been a long controversy. He believed that what time was lost in immediate pursuit of the enemy would be more than compensated by the concentration, freshness, equipments, good spirits, and recovered morale of his army. Urgent orders were sent him to move on, and irritating insinuations were hurled upon him. At last an order from the President came on 7 November, relieving McClellan of the command, and conferring it upon General Burnside, who then (as he had before) declared his unfitness for it and his indisposition to accept it. McClellan was directed to await orders at Trenton, New Jersey, and afterward at New York.

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    Battle of Antietam

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    Battle of Antietam
    Part of the American Civil War

    Battle of Antietam by Kurz and Allison.
    Date September 17, 1862
    Location Near Sharpsburg, Maryland
    Result Tactically inconclusive; strategic Union victory.
    Flag of the United States United States (Union) Flag of Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
    George B. McClellan Robert E. Lee
    87,000 45,000
    Casualties and losses
    (2,108 killed
     9,540 wounded
     753 captured/missing)
    (1,546 killed
     7,752 wounded
     1,018 captured/missing)

    The Battle of Antietam (also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, particularly in the South), fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek, as part of the Maryland Campaign, was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Northern soil. It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with about 23,000 casualties.[1]

    After pursuing Confederate General Robert E. Lee into Maryland, Union Army Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan launched attacks against Lee's army, in defensive positions behind Antietam Creek. At dawn on September 17, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker's corps mounted a powerful assault on Lee's left flank. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller's cornfield and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church. Union assaults against the Sunken Road eventually pierced the Confederate center, but the Federal advantage was not followed up. In the afternoon, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside's corps entered the action, capturing a stone bridge over Antietam Creek and advancing against the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill's division arrived from Harpers Ferry and launched a surprise counterattack, driving back Burnside and ending the battle. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout September 18, while removing his battered army south of the river.[2]

    Despite having superiority of numbers, McClellan's attacks failed to achieve concentration of mass, allowing Lee to counter by shifting forces along interior lines to meet each challenge. Despite ample reserve forces that could have been deployed to exploit localized successes, McClellan failed to destroy Lee's army. Nevertheless, Lee's invasion of Maryland was ended, and he was able to withdraw his army back to Virginia without interference from the cautious McClellan. Although the battle was tactically inconclusive, it had unique significance as enough of a victory to give President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, which discouraged the British and French governments from potential plans for recognition of the Confederacy.




     Background and the Maryland Campaign

    Maryland Campaign, actions September 3 to September 15, 1862.      Confederate      Union

    Maryland Campaign, actions September 3 to September 15, 1862.      Confederate      Union

    Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia—about 55,000 men[3]—entered the state of Maryland on September 3, 1862, following their victory at Second Bull Run on August 29. Lee's strategy was to seek new supplies and recruits from the border state of Maryland, which had considerable pockets of Confederate sympathizers, and to affect public opinion prior to the upcoming elections in the North. (As it turned out, the social impact of Lee's actions was mixed; Marylanders were not as thoroughly won over by the sounds of Maryland, My Maryland from the bands of the Army of Northern Virginia as Lee had hoped, and the weak strategic victory of the Union's Army of the Potomac at Antietam diminished any successes Lee may have had in winning the hearts and minds of the people of Maryland.) Some Confederate politicians, including President Jefferson Davis, believed the prospect of foreign recognition would increase if they won a military victory on Northern soil; such a victory might gain recognition and financial support from Great Britain and France, although there is no evidence that Lee thought the South should base its military plans on this possibility.[4]

    While McClellan's 90,000-man Army of the Potomac was moving to intercept Lee, two Union soldiers (Corporal Barton W. Mitchell and First Sergeant John M. Bloss[5] of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry) discovered a mislaid copy of Lee's detailed battle plans—Special Order 191—wrapped around three cigars. The order indicated that Lee had divided his army and dispersed portions geographically (to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and Hagerstown, Maryland), thus making each subject to isolation and defeat if McClellan could move quickly enough. McClellan waited about 18 hours before deciding to take advantage of this intelligence and reposition his forces, thus squandering an opportunity to defeat Lee decisively.[6]

    There were two significant engagements in the Maryland campaign prior to the major battle of Antietam: Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's capture of Harpers Ferry and McClellan's assault through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Battle of South Mountain. The former was significant because a large portion of Lee's army was absent from the start of the battle of Antietam, attending to the surrender of the Union garrison; the latter because stout Confederate defenses at two passes through the mountains delayed McClellan's advance enough for Lee to concentrate the remainder of his army at Sharpsburg.[7]


     Opposing forces



    Further information: Antietam Confederate order of battle

    General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was organized into two large infantry corps.[8]

    The First Corps, under Maj. Gen. James Longstreet, consisted of the divisions of:

    The Second Corps, under Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, consisted of the divisions of:

    The remaining units were the Cavalry Corps, under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, and the reserve artillery, commanded by Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton. The Second Corps was organized with artillery attached to each division, in contrast to the First Corps, which reserved its artillery at the corps level.



    Further information: Antietam Union order of battle

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