Issued by Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation would free the slaves. This proclamation drafted months before the Battle of Antietam, was part of the war measure undertaken by Lincoln. Freeing the slaves meant that there would be fewer men to serve the Confederates, as they would be needed to produce food, weapons and supplies to wage a war. If they continued fighting, less of these would be produced. Either way, the Confederates would lose the war.
“…if we defeat the army arrayed before us, the rebellion is crushed, for I do not believe they can organize another army. But if we should be so unfortunate as to meet with defeat, our country is at their mercy.” Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan on 11 September 1862
General Lee’s army stood on the high grounds west of Antietam Creek. The center and the right position was under Gen. James Longstreet and the left was under Stonewall Jackson. The Confederates held a strong position. The only weak spot was behind the Potomac River which had only one crossing to Virginia, if retreat became necessary. The Men in Blue of the Union Army marched into positions all day on the 15th and 16th of September.
A piece of paper belonging to General Lee, was found by Gen. McClellan. This made it easy for the Union as it contained all the information regarding Gen. Lee’s battle plans.
With the dawn of 17th September, the 12-hour battle began. Union General Joseph Hooker’s artillery of approximately 8,600 men attacked with a murderous fire on Jackson’s 7,700 men in an area near Miller cornfield. The Confederates were slain in the cornfields in rows, exactly as they had stood in their ranks. Hooker’s troops advanced with a storm and drove the Confederates away. A vicious battle took place along the Cornfield, East Woods and the Sunken Road.
The position near Dunker Church was held by some of Mansfield’s men. This position came under attack by General John Sedgwick’s division of Edwin V. Sumner’s Corps. The Confederate troops were able to administer considerable casualty to Sedgwick’s troops.
General William H. French’s division of Sumner’s Corps joined Sedgwick’s division. They were pushed towards the south by the Confederates under General D.H. Hill. A deadly battle was fought on the old Sunken Road separating the Roulette and Piper farms. This road came to be known as Bloody Lane after the war. General Israel B. Richardson’s division supported General French and they were able to drive the Confederates back. The battle finally came to an end here and later on in the northern field.
Union General Ambrose E. Burnside’s troops were held up at bridge over the Antietam Creek by the Georgian force of the Confederates. He finally took over the bridge by 1.00pm and reorganized his men. He then advanced across the exhausting terrain only to be pushed back by Gen. A.P. Hill’s men.
Although both the armies held on to their positions on the 18th, General Lee began to retreat across the Potomac River. He failed to recruit new men in Maryland, the only slave-holding state in the Union. The following year, general Lee was back on the battlefield with the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The Battle of Antietam ended with over 2,108 dead, 9,540 wounded and 753 missing from a total of 12,401 Union men. The Confederates suffered casualties of 1,546, approximately, 7,752 were wounded and 1,018 missing from a total 10,318 men.
The battle is associated with another painful memory. Charlie King, a 13 year old drummer boy with the Confederates, was killed during the afternoon battles. He was the youngest solider who laid down his life.
Abraham Lincoln released The Emancipation Proclamation, six days after the battle had ended. None of the men who sacrificed their lives on the field that fateful day knew why the war started. But their sacrifices saved the United States from the British and French who would have allowed the Southern states to leave the Union. If the Confederates had won the Battle of Antietam, the American nation would have been divided forever.
President Lincoln, on January 1, 1863, looked at the Secretary of State, William H. Seward, and said, “I have been shaking hands since nine o’clock this morning, and my right arm is almost paralyzed. If my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it. If my hand trembles when I sign the Proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say, ‘He hesitated.’ The President signed the Proclamation, and said, “That will do.”