Battle of Antietam
On September 17, 1862, Generals Robert E. Lee and George McClellan faced off near Antietam creek in Sharpsburg, Maryland, in the the first battle of the American Civil War to be fought on northern soil. Though McClellan failed to utlilize his numerical superiority to crush Lee's army, he was able to check the Confederate advance into the north. After a string of Union defeats, this tactical victory provided Abraham Lincoln the political cover he needed to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. Though the result of the battle was inconclusive, it remains the bloodiest single day in American history, with more than 22,000 casualties.
Fought along Antietam Creek, at Sharpsburg, Maryland, this battle brought about America's bloodiest day, the product of Confederate audacity and Union command failure.
Following Second Manassas, General Robert E. Lee advanced into Maryland, believing that the potential strategic and political gains justified his defiance of the avowed Confederate defensive policy. Lee's complex operational plan divided his outnumbered force; disaster loomed when a lost copy of that plan came to the Union commander, Major General George B. McClellan. Slow, cautious, and defensive-minded, however, McClellan wasted all the advantages of his lucky discovery and his two-to-one numerical superiority.
The battleground Lee selected was well suited for defense but dangerous as well, having the Potomac River behind him. McClellan planned to overwhelm Lee's left flank but failed to exercise command control, so the combat diffused south along the battle line.
The first four hours of fighting, much of it across farmer David Miller's thirty-acre cornfield, were indecisive. Next came a series of bloody head-on attacks against Lee's center that finally overran the area afterward called Bloody Lane. The last action of the day was against Lee's right, where Union troops pierced the line (weakened to reinforce other sections) but were stopped by late-arriving Confederate reinforcements.
Lee withdrew across the river on September 18, suffering 10,318 casualties (of 38,000 engaged) to McClellan's 12,401 (of 75,000). The draw that the Union claimed as a victory provided the Lincoln administration enough justification to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. A series of graphic battlefield photographs of the dead, taken by Alexander Gardner, brought to the home front "the terrible earnestness of war."
NOAH ANDRE TRUDEAU
The Reader's Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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Battle of Antietam
Battle of Antietam. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 7:33, May 25, 2013, from http://www.history.com/topics/battle-of-antietam.
Battle of Antietam. [Internet]. 2013. The History Channel website. Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/battle-of-antietam [Accessed 25 May 2013].
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“Battle of Antietam,” The History Channel website, 2013, http://www.history.com/topics/battle-of-antietam [accessed May 25, 2013].
“Battle of Antietam,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/topics/battle-of-antietam (accessed May 25, 2013).
Battle of Antietam [Internet]. The History Channel website; 2013 [cited 2013 May 25] Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/battle-of-antietam.
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Battle of Antietam. The History Channel website. 2013. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/battle-of-antietam. Accessed May 25, 2013.