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The Battle of Antietam: September 17, 1862

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On September 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, was fought. The battle was a decisive engagement in the American Civil War. It was the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, with 3,650 dead and more than 19,000 wounded, missing or captured.

Fold3 Image - Antietam, Maryland. Confederate dead in a ditch on the right wing
The battle came on the heels of the Maryland Campaign, an offensive led by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, that pushed troops northward and into Maryland in early September 1862.

Union troops, under the command of Gen. George B. McClellan, were demoralized. They had suffered defeats, including one at the Second Battle of Bull Run. The tides turned on September 13th, when Union soldiers discovered a copy of Special Order 191. The Order, issued by General Lee four days previously, outlined movement plans for Confederate troops. It was inadvertently left behind at a campsite that was later occupied by Union troops. An ecstatic General McClellan immediately planned a counter-offensive.

Four days later, the two armies met at the Battle of Antietam. During that day, Union soldiers would participate in three major attacks against the Confederacy. The first charge started that morning against Lee’s left flank in a cornfield on a farm occupied by the David R. Miller family.

In the center, a farm lane called Sunken Road (later known as Bloody Lane) became the scene of death and carnage during a fierce battle that resulted in 5,500 casualties. That afternoon, Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside led a battle for control of a stone bridge that spanned Antietam Creek. By the time Burnside took control of the bridge, more than 600 soldiers had been killed or wounded. One of those casualties was Pvt. Peter Mann. His widow Ann gave birth to a baby girl a few months after his death. She named the baby Antietam Burnside Mann. The bridge is still known as Burnside Bridge.

On September 18th, Gen. Lee withdrew his troops from the battlefield. The retreat emboldened the North and paved the way for President Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation five days later. The Emancipation Proclamation gave a dual purpose to the war; the preservation of the Union and the abolishment of slavery.

Do you have ancestors that fought in the Battle of Antietam? Search our Civil War records to learn more about this battle and other Civil War battles.

102 Comments

  1. Another revisionist attempt to re-write history. McClellan was never “ecstatic” about anything. He was a coward and incompetent.

    Burnside simply sacrificed a lot of his men at Antietam Creek, but no one cared cuz they were lowly Yankee soldiers . . .

    Lincoln was never “emboldened” by the Battle of Antietam to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. It was planned long before by Lincoln, who was doing nothing in those days but fretting about the huge losses being inflicted on the Yanks by Lee’s military prowess . . .

    • Correct, sirbenjonson, McClellan was called a coward and incompetent…..by Pres. Lincoln……also, the lowly Yankee soldiers ? They were immigrant Irish and Germans, yes, the North didn’t care

    • I was surprised that he came on as quickly as he did. Usually , it would have normally taken him at least another week doing numerous recons etc making sure the way was clear before advancing. He was probably personally more inclined to go back to DC and dig in but was afraid of being shamed and drummed out of the army if he did not follow Lee.

  2. LOOK FOR DR JOHN L. SMITH SURGEON

  3. The Emancipation Proclamation “freed no one” as implied, and only was directed only towards the Southern States in rebellion which did not recognize the document anyway. All northern slave states including the new unconstitutionally formed state of West Virginia was allowed to keep their slaves. The emancipation proclamation didn’t apply

    Lincoln himself said that “If I could save the Union without freeing “one” slave I would do it…” His wife owned slaves, Grant owned slaves and so forth. Read the Corwin amendment to the constitution signed sealed and delivered prior to the war. It allows “all” States the right to own slaves.

    Lincolns sole purpose was to “preserve the Union” by any means.

    The 14th amendment to the Constitution was the document that abolished slavery.(get the facts straight).

    As for Antietam, my great great “uncle in law” James Martin, Co. A, 30th Virginia Infantry was killed in the cross fire in the cornfields at the Millers farm. His remains were left behind to rot. His wife, my great great aunt Isabella Perry had 2 children that were killed Dec.13th when Fredericksburg was bombed. She lost her husband, children, and her mind in this “glorious” genocide of our beloved South. History is always taught by the winners but facts will never change.

    • Correct, Roy Perry. the 14th Amendment was passed because prior to it, secession was constitutional (see W.VA.); as is any law that is newly passed, it was legal beforehand.. I will forgive the U.S. Gov’t when they apologize for enslaving a race of people for economic gain, invading sovereign states after constitutionally seceding, attempting to exterminate civilians because of the state they lived in and waging unconventional war on it’s own citizens.

    • Grant had a slave by his wife whose family were slave holders.Grants family did not own slave. Grant as president did more for the constitutional rights of blacks than any other president. He also destroyed the early rise of the KKK. He was hampered by his efforts for the inequality of blacks by southern politicians .

    • Thank you! When I read the wording of Emancipation Proclamation in high school I realized exactly that! Maryland had slaves but were not freed by the document as the state decided to side with the Union (only because of it’s proximity to D.C.).

  4. Last time I checked, it was the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery.

    As for secession, Lincoln had himself opined years prior to the CW that the oppressed had the right to overthrow tyranny. Most assuredly, the Union had no difficulty in recognizing the secession of that section of Virginia which became West Virginia.

    True, the victors write the history books.

  5. My ancestors fought on both sides being Scottish and Irish/ German immigrants and felt they had to participate for the Union from both sides. The African men brought to this continent by shameless means fought and died for both sides. The civil war was one of the most bloody of all. What was accomplished actually when all was said and done. Black people are still persecuted every day in a country that SAYS they were set free. No acclaim to common decency here.

  6. My GG Grandfather was in Archers Brigade in A.P. Hills Light Division. They arrived at Sharpsburg from Harpers Ferry late in the afternoon to keep Lee’s army from being destroyed.

  7. The Battle of Antietam was a cat’a meow compared to the one raging at Mesa Vista Inn Healthcare-a nursing home in San Antonio, Texas. I am on one side and the facility on the other. I’m pretty sure who symbolizes the North and who symbolizes the South in this analogy. I’m just not sure which day in the 10 month- long war could be considered “the bloodiest”! Let’s see..there was the time Grady Trew, the administrator cut off my food supply everyday for 2 whole months. And I called the state abuse line and reported him. Then there was the time he tried to evict me in court. He was a no show. I won by default. I had made a motion to dismiss.grounds..case frivolous. Even though I prevailed, we’ll call that one a draw. At our first appeal hearing before judge Rowena Barnes, they were crushed! I pointed out the errors in the 30 day notice to discharge for non payment. Turns out..they are the reason medicaid didn’t pay the claim! A decisive win for me. The hearing officer..or Abe Lincoln for the sake of my quip..proclaimed in an ORDER on Aug. 22, that the snf violated the Federal Registrar and discharged me while the matter was under appeal. Like the Rough riders charging up San Juan Hill, the TX Administrative Codes came to my rescue that day as well. Grady had ignored nursing home transfer and discharge procedure. But that skirmish didn’t count as the worst day of the war. On March 28, a nurse, Mary Ann fractured my finger hitting it repeatedly and then tried to lock me in the parking lot where I was smoking a menthol. With one hand, I held the door open using my good leg for leverage. I got in..It was a hellacious stand off..but not the worst. The day my mentor, Jean Jones, a humble genious from FL by way of Mississippi, called into day one of the medical necessity for long term care medicaid appeal hearing, could be compared to us dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. Mesa Vista was stunned. Caught in a lie on an assessment by Dr Parks and Rn, Patrice Johnson. There were some bloody noses that day. But the bloodiest one-day battle occurred on August 31, 2018 at 8:20 pm 10 days after the August 22 ORDER. Instead of complying, Grady Trew, Estella, Javier, Benny, & except for my 5 compadres- 3 on staff & 2 residents-ALL staff conspired and locked me and my boxed up belongings out of the building in the parking lot. Then had security- hired that day, to guard the entrance much like angel with flaming swords guarded the garden of Eden after God kicked Adam and Eve out of it. I countered by blocking the doorway with my good foot and right wheels of, “WINGS”- the name I affectionately bestowed upon my power wheelchair. If I couldn’t get in the building. ..neither was anybody else! After 3 hrs of sitting on one side of the locked doors watching Yolanda and Raymond talking trash to the staff on my behalf and munching fried chicken in their wheelchairs…Grady relented. Other then a panic attack that gripped me in the middle of the ordeal and security leaping in front of Wings as I tried to gain entrance earlier in the evening, there was no other physical contact. Still, I call tthis Battle at Mesa Vista Inn, the bloodiest one- day battle of our ongoing war. The fact that a lone resident went toe to wheels with an entity like Mesa Vista Inn, and defeated it. In comparison, makes the Battle at Antietam look like two kittens tusseling over a ball of yarn!

  8. Pingback: The Battle of Antietam: September 17, 1862 | Fold3 BlogFold3 Blog – @CynthiaAdvocate

  9. The Union Army at Antietam contained many Irish and German immigrants but also a majority of old stock Americans .
    As for Lee’s so-called military genius in this campaign- he failed in his all his strategic goals and lost 31% of his men in a battle he did not have to fight.
    I’ve often wondered how you unreconstructed rebels feel when you look in the mirror and think ” We lost “.

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