Battle of Antietam (American Civil War)

The Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862, was the single bloodiest day of the American Civil War and remains the deadliest day in the history of American warfare. Total Union and Confederate casualties at Antietam, a small creek in Maryland about fifty miles northwest of Washington D.C., exceeded 23,000 men. The battle, a Union victory, halted a planned Confederate invasion of Maryland.

On September 3, 1862, Confederate general Robert E. Lee (1807 – 1870) decided to invade Maryland, a border state where slavery was still legal. Lee and Confederate president Jefferson Davis (1808 -1889) hoped that a Southern victory on Northern soil would deal a crippling blow to Union morale before the 1862 midterm elections.

Lincoln with McClellan and staff at the Grove Farm after the battle.

However, the warm welcome from Marylanders that Lee expected never materialized, and U.S. President Lincoln (1809=1865) immediately sent Union general George McClellan (1826-1885) with troops to repel the invasion. The Union troops caught up with Lee near the town of Sharpsburg on the evening of September 16.

The battle the next day lasted twelver ferocious hours. Nearly 100,000 soldiers participated in the battle – a force of greater size that the entire army that had fought the American Revolution seventy years earlier.

Although both parties suffered awful casualties, it was Lee who decided to withdraw from the fight, retreating back to Virginia. Lincoln, sensing an opportunity to finish off Lee’s army once and for all, ordered McClellan to pursue Lee into Virginia, but McClellan enraged Lincoln by dragging his feet. For the Union, McClellan’s failure to follow Lee into Virginia was one of the great lost opportunities of the war.

1.In the South, the clash is known as the Battle of Sharpsburg.
2.Six General were killed – Three on each side – during the battle.
3.After the battle, the dead were buried in shallow graves, many of which soon became exposed. In 1867 the army finally established a cemetery on the site and gave its fallen proper burials.


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