Today, September 17, 1862: Antietam – Bloodiest One Day Battle in American History [VIDEO]

Antietam, Md. Confederate dead by a fence on the Hagerstown road. Photograph from the main eastern theater of the war, Battle of Antietam, September-October 1862.

On August 29, 1862, The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia led by General Robert E. Lee, had won the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) over the Union Army of the Potomac led by General John Pope. The Union forces were forced to retreat back to Washington DC. Afterwards, President Abraham Lincoln re-instated General George McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac, numbering nearly 100,000, which was tasked with protecting Washington DC.

On September 5, 1862, The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, numbering around 52,000 still led by General Robert E. Lee, crosses the Potomac River to head north to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Harrisburg had emerged as an important center for the manufacturing of war supplies and communication for the armies of the United States (Union).

The Confederates hoped for support from southern sympathizers and to appeal to the northern people for an end to the battle. They figured if they could win over the northern people directly, that it would bypass the staunch political conservatives in Washington DC – mainly President Abraham Lincoln and his Republican supporters. At the same time, the Confederacy has been winning a number of battles and by their army invading northern territory, they hoped to spread panic and confusion in the north and the Stock Market. If they could disrupt northern communications, manufacturing and the Stock Market, the rest of the world might take notice and actually recognize the Confederacy as a sovereign nation, bringing a quick end to the war.

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Lee separated his army into two groups, sending the smaller portion with General Stonewall Jackson with instructions to encounter Union General James Longstreet at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). The larger portion of the Confederate Army remained with Lee and headed north.

On September 14, 1862, Lee was guiding his Confederate forces though passes in South Mountain near Sharpsburg, Maryland when they were stopped by McClellan’s Union forces. Lee is forced to pull his troops back from the pass through the mountain.

On September 15 and 16, 1862, Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia gathered on one bank of Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac gathered on the opposite side of Antietam Creek.

On this day, September 17, 1862, Union Generals Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, Joseph Mansfield and Edwin Sumner mounted charges against the Confederate troops. The creek bottom was foggy in the early morning, but the fog soon burned away and was replaced with the smoke from thousands of rifles firing at each other.

Union forces seemed to make progress and advance only to be driven back by the Confederate forces. Several of the battle locations such as Miller’s cornfield and the West Woods became slaughter sites with hundreds of bodies covering the muddy ground.

Over the course of 8 hours, the Battle of Antietam was over and around 23,000 soldiers lay dead or wounded or they were missing. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single day battle in American history. Many of the houses, stores, churches and barns in the area were turned into makeshift hospitals for the wounded on both sides of the creek. There were so many wounded that disease quickly spread, claiming more soldiers and even consuming many residents of the Sharpsburg, Maryland area who also became victims of the bloodiest battle in American history.

Some sources claim that the Battle of Antietam was a much needed victory for the Union Army of the Potomac but others say that neither side won. McClellan successfully stopped Lee’s March north and thwarted the Confederate plans to reach Harrisburg but at the same token, McClellan’ Union forces suffered over 10,000 casualties and failed to defeated Lee’s army, hence if it was a Union victory, it was a costly and ineffective one. Lee was forced for take his army back to Virginia.

Today, the site of America’s bloodiest battle, the Battle of Antietam is preserved by the National Park Service as part of the National Battlefields. To plan your visit to this historic battlefield, visit their website – Antietam.


Sources for the above includes: Antietam; Battle Of Antietam; The Bloodiest One Day Battle in American History; Battle of Antietam; The Battle of Antietam; Carnage At Antietam, 1862; Antietam: A Savage Day In American History; Today, August 29, 1862: Second Battle of Bull Run


Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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