The Battle of Antietam, 1862

The Battle of Antietam, 1862

The Battle of Antietam, also called the Battle of Sharpsburg, was fought on September 17, 1862. It was one of the bloodiest battles fought on the American soil. At the end, the Confederates not only lost the war, but also the hope for European recognition and support. Read on to know more about this bloody chapter.
Historyplex Staff
Issued by Abraham Lincoln, the main purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation was to free the slaves. This proclamation was drafted months before the Battle of Antietam, and was an attempt on the part of Lincoln, to avoid the war. Freeing the slaves meant that there would be fewer men to serve the Confederates―men, who were needed to produce food, weapons, and supplies of war. Left with meager resources, the Confederates would lose the war in any case.

"...if we defeat the army arrayed before us, the rebellion is crushed, for I do not believe they can organize another army. But if we should be so unfortunate as to meet with defeat, our country is at their mercy." Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan on 11 September 1862

General Lee's Confederate army stood on high grounds, west of the Antietam Creek. The center and the right position was under Gen. James Longstreet, and the left was under Stonewall Jackson. The Confederates held a strong position. The only weak spot was behind the Potomac River, which had only one crossing to Virginia, if retreat became necessary. The soldiers of the Union Army marched into positions on the 15th and 16th of September.

A piece of paper belonging to General Lee, was found by Gen. McClellan. This made it easy for the Union, as it contained all the information regarding Gen. Lee's battle plans.

With the dawn of 17th September, the 12-hour-long battle began. Union General Joseph Hooker's artillery of approximately 8,600 men attacked with a murderous fire on Jackson's 7,700 men in an area near Miller's cornfield. The Confederates were slain in the cornfields in rows, exactly as they had stood in their ranks. Hooker's troops advanced with a storm, and drove the Confederates away. A vicious battle then, took place along the Cornfield, East Woods, and the Sunken Road.

The position near the Dunker Church was held by some of Mansfield's men. This position came under attack by General John Sedgwick's division of Edwin V. Sumner's Corps. The Confederate troops were able to administer considerable casualty to Sedgwick's troops.

General William H. French's division of Sumner's Corps joined Sedgwick's division. They were pushed towards south by the Confederates under General D.H. Hill. A deadly battle was fought on old Sunken Road that separated the Roulette and Piper farms. This road came to be known as the 'Bloody Lane' after the war. General Israel B. Richardson's division supported General French, and they were able to drive the Confederates back. The battle finally came to an end here, and later on, in the northern field.

Union General Ambrose E. Burnside's troops were held up at a bridge over the Antietam Creek, by the Georgian force of the Confederates. He finally took over the bridge by 1.00 pm, and reorganized his men. He then advanced across the exhausting terrain, only to be pushed back by Gen. A.P. Hill's men.

Although both the armies held on to their positions on the 18th, General Lee began to retreat across the Potomac River. He failed to recruit new men in Maryland, the only slave-holding state left in the Union. The following year, General Lee was back on the battlefield with the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The Battle of Antietam ended with over 2,108 dead, 9,540 wounded, and 753 missing from a total of 12,401 Union men. The Confederates suffered casualties of 1,546, approximately―7,752 were wounded, and 1,018 missing from a total 10,318 men.

The battle is associated with another painful memory. Charlie King, a 13-year-old drummer boy with the Confederates, was killed during the afternoon battles. He was the youngest soldier who laid down his life.

Abraham Lincoln released The Emancipation Proclamation, six days after the battle had ended. None of the men who sacrificed their lives on the field that fateful day knew why the war started. But, their sacrifices saved the United States from the British and the French, who would have allowed the Southern states to leave the Union. If the Confederates had won the Battle of Antietam, the American nation would have been divided forever.

President Lincoln, on 1st January, 1863, looked at the Secretary of State, William H. Seward, and said, "I have been shaking hands since nine o'clock this morning, and my right arm is almost paralyzed. If my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it. If my hand trembles when I sign the Proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say, 'He hesitated.' The President signed the Proclamation, and said, "That will do."
Bloody Lane
separated the Roulette and Piper farms
Long vicious battle
General McClellan With paper
west of the Antietam Creek