Relieving the Battle of Antietam: The Deadliest Day in America

The bloodiest day in the history of the United States was September 17, 1862, when the Battle of Antietam took place. Why do we say it was the bloodiest? A total of 22,717 people were affected by this battle, either dead, wounded or missing. This was how damaging this battle was.

The deadly nature of this battle could be understood from the fact that the first three hours were spent by both the sides, mainly over the possession of a cornfield that was about 24 acre in size.

During the first four hours itself, there were a total 10,000 casualties. Years later, the consequences of this American Civil War still haunt the people of the United States of America.

What Led to the Battle?

The Army of the Northern Virginia, under the leadership of Robert E Lee, had started a campaign to barge into the North. There were multiple reasons for this.

Firstly, he wanted to invade the North. Secondly, he needed resources for his army from this part of the country. Lastly, he had intended on including Maryland into the Confederacy.

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General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) poses atop his horse, Traveler, after the end of the American Civil War. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

However, his journey to the North was not very smooth. The Federal Army of Potomac, under the leadership of George McLellan, proved to be the sole obstruction for the invading army.

The Influence on American History

The latter’s army was stationed on the banks of the Antietam Creek near the town called Sharpeville in Maryland. This is what led to the deadly battle and gave rise to America’s bloodiest day. The battle that started with the fight over the possession of a cornfield went on to affect more than 22,000 people in a single day.

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Left to Right: Photograph of Allan Pinkerton (1819-1884) President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and John Alexander McClernand (1812-1900) during the Battle of Antietam. Dated 19th Century. (Photo by Universal History Archive/ UIG via Getty Images)

America was a changed place after the battle was over. It brought about some changes in the USA. Let us take a look at some of the significant impacts of this battle on this country.

The Emancipation Proclamation

Only five days after the Battle of Antietam took place, President Abraham Lincoln made a significant move by proclaiming the freedom of all slaves in the agitated territories.

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(Original Caption) President Abraham Lincoln with General George B. McClellan at his headquarters at Antietam, 1862. From left: General George W. Morell, Colonel Alexander S. Webb, General McClellan, scout Adams, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, an unidentified officer, President Lincoln, Colonel Henry Hunt, General Fitz, John Porter, unidentified officer.

Even though the methods of the army for tackling the incoming rebel territories were not as expected, the results were in their favor. Lincoln was quoted as saying, “…But they have been driven out of Maryland, and Pennsylvania is no longer in danger of invasion.”

The truth was the Proclamation papers stayed buried in the desk for a long time before the battle. However, the Union victory in the battle gave the President the confidence to release his orders to free the slaves.

Britain and France Stayed on the Sidelines

The Battle of Antietam was not a quiet one and the sounds reverberated across the globe. France and Britain during this time stayed on the sidelines. However, owing to a shortage in Southern cotton, they had come very close to identifying the independence of the Confederate States of America by getting involved in the war and bringing it to a halt.

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Bodies await burial in front of Dunker Church Antietam, Maryland, during the American Civil War. (Photo by Alexander Gardner/Getty Images)

This decision was changed very quickly and drastically when the results of the Battle of Antietam hit the world, and the Proclamation was made public. It was then that the European forces of Britain and France decided to stay out of the war and remain neutral during these proceedings.

A Reality Check for the Americans

Just after two days of the war getting over, an American photographer by the name of Alexander Gardner reached the battleground and captured the event through his lenses. The pictures that came out were so gory and depressing that they brought a reality check for the people of the country.

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Confederate troops open fire during a dawn battle at the 150th Antietam Civil War Reenactment weekend in Boonsboro, Maryland on September 9, 2012. (Photo by Mark Makela/Corbis via Getty Images)

The photographs captured how the corpses of the warriors were strewn about the battlefield, in heaps, and in twisted forms. These photographs were first made open to the public in Matthew Brady’s New York City Gallery. They made the war a lot more real, and the people started detesting it soon.

Lincoln Saved from a Midterm Election Defeat

When the war broke in Antietam, America was a few weeks away from the crucial midterm elections which could have well been the end of the Lincoln era. However, this particular event proved to be of the political advantage for the Republicans.

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Plan of the Battle of Antietam, Maryland. Sept 1862 / Made for Genl. Heitzelman; Shows the area between Keedysville, Md., to the north and the Potomac River to the south. The locations of Sharpsburg, Md., and Antietam Creek are also indicated. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

Later that year, however, during the elections, the Republicans had won many seats and maintained their majority in the House.

The Beginning of George McLellan’s End

The Battle of Antietam proved to be quite the failure on the part of General George McLellan. He had almost twice the manpower of his enemies and was gifted several opportunities to defeat them.

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17th September 1862: The battle of Antietam, Maryland. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

However, owing to his over-inflated ego, he was unable to cash in on those opportunities. After having given many chances in his career, President Lincoln finally lost his confidence in the General’s work and released him from his duties in the same year, two months later in November.

According to George McLellan, he had put up a good fight and ended up saying, “..I fought the battle splendidly & that it was a masterpiece of art.”

Keeping the Confederate Invasion at Bay

The Battle of Antietam was the first Confederate invasion of the North. Robert Lee’s forces were riding high after a few successful campaigns. However, they were pushed into fighting on the Union soil for the first time.

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The northern cornfield on June 30, 2017 at the Antietam Battlefield in Antietam, Maryland. In September of 1862 General Lee’s invasion of the north during the Civil War was stopped in rural Maryland, and over 23,000 Americans died in a single day during the battle.(Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/ Corbis via Getty Images)

Even though they were much less in number as compared to their opponents, they were rather high in spirit. “We cannot afford to be idle,” said Lee. Within just one day, Robert Lee’s army had already lost a quarter of their strength during the war.

The idea was to keep up the fight for as long as possible even if they were unable to rout their invading enemy. This tactic worked in their favor.