September 17, 1862

On this day in 1862, 23,000 soldiers died at Antietam, Maryland. That was one soldier killed every two seconds for 12 hours. It was the bloodiest battle in US history, and the beginning of the end for the Confederate Army.



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28 Responses to September 17, 1862

  1. Robertv says:

    Nothing is as easy as destruction.

  2. Dave1billion says:

    The Battle of Antietam also gave Lincoln the political cover he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

    In addition to freeing the slaves (except in states not in rebellion and areas like the the Union occupied territory around New Orleans), he wanted to discourage the French and English from intervening in the Civil War.

    He needed a big win before he issued the Proclamation so that it wouldn’t appear that he’d acted out of weakness or desperation. Antietam was the win he needed.

    Once Lincoln made the war about slavery, the British and the French were much less sympathetic to the South.

    • gator69 says:

      Yes, the Emancipation Proclamation was not about freeing slaves, it was all about destabilizing the South. I am amazed at how few people realize that Lincoln only freed Southern slaves with his famous proclamation. But then very few people know that Lincoln was a bigot who thought blacks were inferior to whites. Lincoln believed that the two races could never live together in harmony, and that blacks should be shipped back to Africa.

      Though Lincoln abhorred slavery, he was no civil rights leader. If blacks knew the truth about Lincoln, they would demand his memorial be shut down, and his likeness removed from all currency.

      • rah says:

        Did you know that prior to the emancipation proclamation even during the war southern civilians that were slave owners would cross into Union lines and demand the return of a runaway slave that had gotten away under the provisions of the Runaway Slave Act?

        Yes the proclamation was primarily an act made for the perceived needs of the war. It weakened the South.

        I made a clear policy concerning runaways.
        It was a stake driven into the heart of the Confederacies hope that Great Britain would openly help them.
        It ensured that great numbers of slaves would run towards any Union Army that penetrated into Dixie there by reducing the Confederacies labor pool and causing even more chaos.
        It politically appeased the abolitionists of New England and focused their efforts on winning the war while doing no harm to the slave owners in the Union and the border states.

        It was as masterful a stroke of pragmatic politics combined with diplomatic gain as one can find in American history.

  3. rah says:

    Bloodiest single day battle or bloodiest single day in American history. Your not far from there when in MD. Ever visit the field?

    I wouldn’t characterize it as the beginning of the end for Lee’s Army of Norther Virginia. It was the end of Lee’s first invasion of the North. I wouldn’t even give the battle at Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) the distinction of the beginning of the end.

    In my view the real beginning of the end of that Army and for the Confederacy came in March 1864, when Lincoln made U.S. Grant Commander and Chief of the Union Armies. The only real chance to survive the Confederacy had after that was the Presidential election of 1864 when the “Peace democrats” put up failed Union General (and generally arrogant butt head) George B. McClellan as their candidate. It was a very close thing until for the first time in history, soldiers in the field were allowed to vote and their vote assured Lincoln with his steadfast policy of reunification of the Union, a second term.

    That is a great lesson of history that people seemed to have never learned. It was the the long death lists posted in the north from the battles at the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor which were driving the civilian opinion to turn against the war as that election approached. The only bright spot in that time was Sherman and his Army taking Atlanta. But in the end it was those very soldiers in the field that were going through that hell and who the civilians were so concerned about that voted in great numbers to reelect Lincoln and see the war through to the end!

    • Dave1billion says:

      I have an older veteran friend that still believes that active duty soldiers should not be allowed to vote.

    • inMAGICn says:

      The beginning of the end was the firing on Fort Sumter. That turned acts of seccession into one of armed rebellion.
      Add to that the cotton export embargo, the lack of unified command/local military control, and the failure to come to terms the inherent weakness of the slave system and all the North needed was resolve.

      And it found it.

      • rah says:

        So you think they didn’t find resolve until after Gettysburg?
        The men had it all along. It was the commanders that failed, one after another in the east. Meade succeeded at Gettysburg, but it wasn’t until after Grant came along to command him and the other Army commanders and try to coordinate their actions, that the South could be subdued. Every other commander in the East prior to Meade failed. McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, and Hooker all had their shots and all were found wanting. No my friend, after 1st Manassas what the Army of the Potomac needed to win was determined and competent leadership because the long suffering troops more than showed their resolve by sticking with it time and again after having been defeated in the previous battle.

        • inMAGICn says:

          Because of the political angle on slavery, Antietam was the watershed. And as much as Gettysburg was a violent and important conflict, so was Vicksburg and the opening of the Mississippi. My point is the rebellion had basic internal flaws that made it impossible for the South to win the war barring true battlefield/diplomatic miracles. They could perform wonders tactically, but the odds were hugely stacked against them.

          BTW, when I refer to resolve, I mean in the political sense, but also in the action of its determined commanders. and the guts of its soldiers (which wasn’t lacking on either side).

          As an aside, although relevant, Lee “wins” at Gettysburg. So what? The blue hurricane was reaching full stride.

          Lee “wins” at Antietam. The consequences would have been quite different to the course of the war.

        • rah says:

          A win for the Army at Northern Virginia at Gettysburg would have meant the Army of the Potomac fragmented and/or a good portion virtually destroyed there by exposing Washington DC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Harrisburg, PA. Had Lee listened to Longstreet our history may be quite different.

          The primary objective of Lee’s first invasion was limited. Trying to bring MD into the Confederate fold while demoralizing the Union populace before the mid term elections. While the primary objective of the second invasion which ended at Gettysburg was the destruction of the Army of the Potomac.

          Both campaigns had the additional objective of taking the fight out of Virginia into Northern states to relieve the threat to Richmond and the people of VA and the Shenandoah while gaining resupply from the rich northern farm country and industry.

        • inMAGICn says:

          Thanks for your insights, and we’ve hashed it out enough. But I do feel a win by Lee would not have shattered the Union Army. It would have been the end to an exhausting brawl on both sides, hardly leaving the north open for Lee’s further advance. Lee giving battle at Gettysburg to begin with was a greater strategic error than ignoring Longstreet. Just MHO.

        • rah says:

          Neither Lee nor Longstreet wanted battle at Gettysburg. Henry Heath ignored his orders and that is why the battle was joined there. Once joined, Lee would not disengage and attempt to flank the Union positions to the south as Longstreet advised, to get between them and Washinton, DC and thus force the Army of the Potomac to attack them on ground of their choosing advantageous to the defense. Instead Lee attacked Meade who had his units ensconced on terrain advantageous for the defense.

  4. emsnews says:

    My Great great grandad on my mother’s side of the family was a calvary officer in the West and there was one battle there and only one. Of course, he survived to continue the war against the Apaches in Arizona.

    • inMAGICn says:

      Are you referring to the New Mexico campaign? Couple of small battles there, substantial skirmishing,and a Confederate withdrawal. (Of course no battle is small if you are one of those killed or wounded.)

  5. Bad Andrew says:

    I visited the battlefield site and did a car tour there a couple winters ago. I recommend a vist.


  6. beowulftoo says:

    That is 23,000 causalities. That is KIA, wounded, and missing. I think the actual death toll 17 Sept was less than 2000. The Union had to carry the bluffs on the Potomac River at Shepardstown the next day to pursue Lee. Several units tried. The Irish did it.

    • rah says:

      From the National Parks Service Antietam site:

      Total killed – 3,650
      Total wounded – 17,300
      Total Missing – 1,770
      Total Casualties – 22,720

      Note: Any time you want to find a quick reliable reference for general information on a Civil War battle or battlefield the NPS is the place to go if they have a park that has preserved the field or at least part of it as at Antietam.

  7. Andy DC says:

    You go through these peaceful little towns like Antietam and Gettysburg and it is hard to imagine the horrible human carnage that took place there.

  8. darrylb says:

    I have a treasure from that battle, a rifle a great uncle carried.. He lost three fingers in the battle and was therefore discharged after it.
    My father got hold of it, and now I very lucky to have it.

    • darrylb says:

      I should have said a great- grand uncle. I also have a copy of his discharge papers
      His rifle was a Sharps, serial number C31961
      He ended up in a Veterans’ Home in yountville Ca. A fire in the cabin in which he was living destroyed all his positions. He died unmarried. His headstone is the distinctive Civil War Veteran type at the cemetery of the Veterans’ home.
      It is a lasting symbol of one of so many that formed a part of U. S. history
      —and like so many it is probably more recognition than anything received when alive.

  9. Douglas Hoyt says:

    My great -great-grandfather on my mother’s side was at the Antietam battle. He left the army soon after, only to rejoin later and die in South Carolina.

  10. Douglas Hoyt says:

    Forgot to mention that he was in the 16th Maine, Army of the Potomac. Later he was in an artillery regiment.

    • rah says:

      Then he was a hero extraordinaire if he was serving with the 16th Maine Vol Inf. at Gettysburg and had a fragment of their colors. It was a perfect example of just how important the colors were to the men in a good regiment.

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