BATTLE OF ANTIETAM
Throughout the first seventeen months of the Civil War, not a single battle had taken place on Northern soil. That would change at the Battle of Antietam, which would be the first to be fought in the North, and become the single most deadly day in American history. The Battle of Antietam would end up having 23,000 casualties and pit two of the most notable names of the war against each other, George McClellan of the Union, and famous Rebel leader Robert E. Lee in the South. The fight is comparable to a boxing prize fight, and the battle would unfortunately live up to the epic billing.
After the Second Manassas, General Lee felt confident due to recent victories, so he advanced his troops into Maryland, but after splitting his troops to attack with a risky, yet advantageously complex alignment, he was at the mercy of the North if they recognized his plans. McClellan even was given a lost copy of the plan to which he could have used to defeat Lee’s army swiftly, but like so many other times in the war, McClellan’s cautious mentality derailed him.
The fighting, which all occurred on September 17th, 1862 happened along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Prior to the fighting the two armies aligned themselves on either side of the Creek, preparing for the fight. McClellan was going to attempt an attack on both flanks, with the intention that if either attack was successful, he could send the rest of the troops through the center of the line to crush the remaining part of the line. The attacks lasted hours, starting at dawn, and continuing through nightfall. The attack on the left line was unorganized and easily stymied by none other than Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The Union attack on the right flank did enjoy more success led by General Ambrose Burnside. The General’s men were able to take over the bridge which is now named after the General around 1 pm, but were unable to hold the bridge once they were forced to retreat and regroup. This is largely how the entire battle went, with both sides giving blows, only to have to retreat back to where they began the day. With almost nothing accomplished, the day ended with a combined 23,000 casualties, including 4,000 deaths. The next morning, both sides buried their dead and Robert E. Lee withdrew his troops back to Virginia.
With casualty totals as high as they were, that will forever be the legacy of the Battle of Antietam, but more important to the entire legacy of the Civil War was that the retreat by Lee’s army led to a break in the fighting. With the break, it provided an opportunity for President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which called for the order to release slaves in all states. With the famous document issued, the war became less about North vs. South, and officially became a war against slavery.