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Battle of Antietam

Jan 20, 2020 at History Essays

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Battle of Antietam, also known as Battle of Antietam Creek, in the South, better known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, took place on September 17, 1862, near the town of Sharpsburg (Maryland) and river Antietam Creek, between federal forces of George B. McClellan and the Confederate army of General Lee. The battle was part of the Maryland Campaign of the American Civil War. It was the first major battle in the North territory. This was also the bloodiest one-day battle in American history: from both sides, 3,600 people were killed.

The Maryland Campaign

The Northern Virginian Army of General Lee (about 55,000 people) came into Maryland on September 2, 1862, after the defeat of the Federal army at Bull Run (August 29). Lee’s idea was to attract the population of the state, which has experienced some sympathy for the Confederacy. This could affect the upcoming presidential elections in the North. At the same time, it was hoped that the transfer of military operations to the territory of the North will affect the position of Great Britain and France, which have not interfered in the course of the war yet.

Knowing about the slowness and uncertainty of General McClellan, Lee ventured to divide his army into parts and to act simultaneously on many fronts. However, by chance, two soldiers of the Federation (Corporal Barton Mitchell and Sergeant John Bloss) have found a lost copy of the "Special Order 191", which described in detail the whole plan of General Lee. General McClellan saw it as an opportunity to destroy the Confederate army in parts.

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Before the main Battle of Antietam, some small battles took place: General Thomas Jackson managed to take the fort Hapers Ferry, which allowed him to transfer his troops to help General Lee. At the same time, at the Battle of South Mountain, the Southerners managed to delay the promotion of McClellan’s army and allowed Lee to concentrate his forces at Sharpsburg.

The Battle

General Lee has positioned all these available forces near the town of Sharpsburg, on the gentle hills near the river Antietam Creek on September 15. It was a convenient position, but it was not impregnable. The river was a minor obstacle reaching a width of 18-30 meters, with several stone bridges and fords. The danger was in the fact that behind the Confederate army there was the Potomac River with a single crossing (Boteler's-Ford). On September 15 General Lee had a total of 18, 000 people, a third of the size of the Federal Army.

The first two federal divisions have appeared in the afternoon on September 15, and the rest of the army - in the evening. If the feds attacked in the morning on September 16, they would have had an overwhelming numerical advantage, but the legendary caution of McClellan - who decided that Lee's army consisted of 100,000 people - has led to the fact that the attack was postponed for the day. This enabled the southerners to strengthen their positions better. In addition, Longstreet’s corps had come from Hagerstown, and Jackson's corps (excluding Hill’s division) - came from Hapers Ferry. Jackson was now defending the left flank (which rested on the Potomac), and Longstreet the right, southern flank, which rested on the Antietam. The entire defensive line stretched for 6 kilometers.

The battle began at dawn, around 05:30, on September 17 with the attack of the 1st Federal Corps of Joseph Hooker. Hooker had approximately 8,600 people, slightly more than Jackson (7,700) and the small gain was largely neutralized by strong defensive positions of the southerners.

At the same time, on a cornfield with the support of artillery the division of Ebner Dablday and George Meade from Hooker’s corps was moving forward. As soon as the first Union soldiers appeared in a cornfield, an artillery duel began. The Confederates fired with batteries of Jeb Stuart from the west and four batteries of Colonel Stephen Lee from the heights at Danker Church from the south. The Federals responded with nine batteries behind Northwood Ridge and four batteries of 20-pound guns of Parrott from positions 3 kilometers to the east of the Antietam-Creek. The exchange of fire caused substantial losses to both sides.

In the area of the cornfields the offensive of the northerners stalled, but a few hundred yards to the east their business was more successful. The shot had cut the corn stalks and the Confederates hiding among them. Soon the people of Jackson had to leave the field and take the edge of the Eastern forest from where they could clearly see the field. The enfilade fire they opened at the northerners, inflicted irreparable damage. Hundreds of people have covered the field with their bodies.

At 7 a.m. the corps of Mansfield entered the field, but his attack was repelled. As a result of this attack, Hooker was wounded, and Mansfield was killed. The command of Union forces on this flank was transferred to Meade.

Hungry (the attack of the northerners prevented them from breakfast) and evil as hell " Hood’s boys" - Wade Hampton's Legion and the 18th Georgian Regiment hurried to help the "Stonewall". The air was filled with lead, those who were at an open space faced death. Losses exceeded all imaginable limits. Wade Hampton left on the field 53 men out of 76, John Bell Hood - 372 out of 600.

The cornfield passed from hands to hands. When it all began the field with the area of thirty acres was covered with corn tall as a man. When it was all over, on the field there was not a single stalk and it was covered with human bodies so that one could cross it without ever having set foot on the ground.

At 7.30, "Wood Buffalo" Sumner was ordered to join the fight, crossed the creek and threw a division of John Sedgwick to storm the Western Forest. There they were met by depleted corps of "Hood’s Boys" and Jackson. The sound of the fierce fire attracted the people of Mc Losey, who had just returned from Harpers Ferry. With their appearance, they literally saved Jackson's Corps from complete destruction, having destroyed a good half of the advancing northerners. By 10 a.m., the fighting on the left flank of the Confederates stopped and moved to the center.

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The division of William French from Samner’s Corps, which was also sent to storm the Western Forest, for some unknown reason turned out to be right in the center, opposite the Sunken Road. The road, which was a natural trench, was protected by Dan Hill’s Corps. Due to some reason, French decided to storm the Confederate position in the classic "European" way – with a bayonet charge. This crazy idea turned into a real murder – accompanied by warlike marches of the regimental band, the three consecutive lines of northerners, having joined bayonets to the unloaded rifles, tried to seize the road. Each volley of the southerners killed dozens of the northerners. They conducted fire not only from the front, but from the sides as well, so French’s people appeared in fire embrace. Four times the commander raised his soldiers to attack, intending to fill up a wall of fire with their bodies. Finally, he realized that the days of Austerlitz have long gone, and ordered to charge the rifles. Now the battle for the Sunken Road acquired bloody nature for both sides. The commander of the 6th Alabama Regiment John Gordon was a real "record" on the number of injuries. He was shot five times - in the right calf, right thigh, left arm and left shoulder. The fifth bullet hit him in the face, miraculously missing the jugular vein.

In addition to French’s division the Road was attacked by the corps of Israel Richardson. They managed to take a position on the flanks, opening the enfilade fire at the southerners defending the road. At the same time, to increase the killing power, the northerners charged the barrel of their rifles not only with bullets, but with ramrods as well. Half an hour was enough for them to fill the road with dead bodies in four layers. After the fight, here, as on a corn field, it was possible to walk over the bodies without stepping on the ground. Now, this road is called Bloody Lane.

Having finished their firing Richardson’s people began moving in the direction of Sharpsburg when suddenly they were hit by a single Confederate battery. This battery would never fire, if not for General Longstreet. He noticed two cannons without servants and ordered his adjutants to charge them. While the general personally held the reins of the horses of his adjutants, the latter fired at Richardson, literally not allowing him to move from the spot. Longstreet had his way - one of the shells killed the Pugnacious Dick, his men were lost, and their new commander Winfield Scott Hancock was forced to command retreat.

In the midst of the battle for the Road, Burnside started his war. He had a task to seize the central bridge over the creek. However, the narrow road leading to the bridge did not allow turning for a full frontal attack, and Burnside took time for a workaround.

It became clear that Southerners lost the battle of Antietam – an easy attack was enough to throw them into the Potomac. While the rearrangement took place, the only reserve of General Lee – Hill’s Light Division appeared in the right place at the right time. Quickly assessing the situation, Hill struck the wing of Burnside’s Corps. Confederate soldiers opened withering fire at Burnside and forced him to retreat to the east bank of the creek. In vain Burnside appealed to McClellan with requests for reinforcing. "Little Napoleon" has already composed the triumphant report to Washington and recommended not to turn the "victory" into defeat. By 5 o'clock in the afternoon the last shot of Antietam battle subsided.

During the next day, the Northern Virginian army, which lost a third of its soldiers, stood on the Antietam shore soaked with blood, determined to repel further attacks of McClellan. As Lee expected, no attack followed, and on September 19 the Southerners have moved across the Potomac. Virginia rested from war only for 17 days.

The Consequences

A surprising outcome of this battle was the fact that each side could record it into own asset. The Southerners won a moral victory - 40,000 of half-starved Johnnies withstood the pressure of 90,000 of well-fed and happy Yankees, inflicting them a significant damage. The Northerners also won a victory, but a strategic victory - after such a grinder, Lee did not have forces to carry out his plan of offensive operations.

In addition, no other battle has changed the course of the war so dramatically, as Antietam has. Considering the result of the battle to be the victory, on September 22, 1862, President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. Although this document actually has not released a single slave, it had far-reaching consequences. After this battle, the Confederation was doomed to fight alone - no European country would support the slaveholding country in the war, whose purpose from now on was the abolition of slavery.

The unintended side effects of the Proclamation were "colored troops" of the U.S. Army, consisting of blacks.

Tactically, the battle ended in a draw, because neither side has kept the conquered positions.

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