America's Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam

Introduction

Dunker Church, Antietam, Sept. 17th 1862It was America's bloodiest day, September 17th, 1862.  The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, led by Robert E. Lee, had moved north, into Maryland, in an effort to re-supply and perhaps even to drum up support from Southern sympathizers in the state.  The foray would also allow the Confederates to take the war into Union territory and alleviate the pressure on Virginia.  The Union commander, George B. McClellan, followed Lee into Maryland with a force over double the size of the Confederate army.  A cautious general, McClellan would be emboldened by the finding of a copy of Lee's Special Order Number 191, the Confederate battle plan, near Frederick, Maryland.  With this piece of good luck, McClellan moved his forces westward, Lee, who had sent a portion of his army to capture Harpers Ferry, attempted to delay the Union commander at South Mountain, but fell back.  The two armies would establish battle positions near the town of Sharpsburg on either side of Antietam Creek.

The battle would last all day, and was the most ferocious of the war to that point.  The destruction would make famous such places as the Miller cornfield, the Dunker church, the sunken road (which would later be known as Bloody Land due to the bitter four hour struggle that raged there), and of course, Burnside Bridge.  The day ended with neither side able to gain a decisive victory.  12,410 Federal troops were lost, and Confederate losses numbered 10,700, more than any other single day of the Civil War.  The Confederates retreated back in to Virginia, and the failure to bring the war to the North prevented Great Britain's plan to officially recognize the Confederate States.

McClellan would be relieved of command for failing to pursue (and perhaps destroy) the Confederate army as it retreated across the Potomac River.  And though frustrated by the performance of his general, President Lincoln used the battle as an opportunity to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in States still in rebellion against the Union on January 1st 1863 to be free.  The war would would now not only be waged in the name of preserving the Union, but also to free the slaves.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1859-1877)

STANDARD 2: The course and character of the Civil War and its effects upon the American people.

Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront.

5-12: Compare the human and material costs of the war in the North and South and assess the degree to which the war reunited the nation. [Examine historical perspectives]
7-12: Compare the motives for fighting and the daily life experiences of Confederate with those of white and African American Union soldiers. [Evidence historical perspectives] 

Primary Resources

  1. TITLE:  Antietam, Sharpsburg, and vicinity. Constructed and engraved to illustrate "The war with the South" [Compiled by Charles Sholl] Engd. by Rae Smith.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  New York, c. 1864
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  American Memory Map Collections, 1500-2003
    RESPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  2. TITLE:  Lee's Proclamation to Maryland
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  8 September 1862/11 September 1862
    SOURCE:  The Historical New York Times Project
    RESPOSITORY: The New York Times

  3. TITLE:   McClellan's Battle and Victory at Antietam, by A. Anderson
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Philadelphia, 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets
    RESPOSITORY:  Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  4. TITLE:  Sharpsburg, MD, Principal Street
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865 
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  5. TITLE:  Sharpsburg, MD, Lutheran Church
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  September 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  6. TITLE:  Burnside's Bridge
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: September 1862  
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  7. TITLE:  Antietam Battlefield on the Day of the Battle
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  17 September 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  8. TITLE: "The Great Battle"
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  17 September 1862
    SOURCE:  The Historical New York Times Project
    RESPOSITORY: The New York Times

  9. TITLE:  Blacksmith Shoeing Horses at Headquarters, Army of the Potomac
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  September 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  10. TITLE:  Smith's Barn, Keedysville, MD, Used as a Hospital After the Battle
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  September 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  11. TITLE:  Confederate Dead by a Fence on the Hagerstown Road
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  September 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  12. TITLE:  Colonel John S. Crocker and LTC Benjamin C. Butler
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  September 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540  

  13. TITLE:  Confederate Dead in a Ditch
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  September 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE: Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  14. TITLE:  Ruins of Arsenal, Harpers Ferry, WV
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  October 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  15. TITLE:  President Abraham Lincoln and General George B. McClellan in the General's Tent
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  3 October 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY:   Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

  16. TITLE:  Letter, Mary Todd Lincoln to Abraham Lincoln Advising the Removal of McClellan from Command
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  2 November 1862
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress

  17. TITLE:  Emancipation Proclamation - Final Draft
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1 January 1863
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916.
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress

See also: Emancipation Proclamation

Additional Media Resources

The Battle of Antietam. Created by Linda Ervin for Elkton Middle School, Elkton, VA

CivilWarHome.com

Antietam on the Web

Virtual Visit: The Emancipation Proclamation

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine

Additional Instructional Resources

The Civil War in the Classroom, PBS.org.  Lesson Plan: The Battle of Antietam

Concerning Emancipation: Who Freed the Slaves?

Secondary Resources

Ayers, Edward L. and Rubin, Anne S. Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War (Orlando, 2000).

Berlin, Ira, ed. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation 1861-1867, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1982).

Davis, William C., ed. The Image of War 1861-1865, 6 vols. (Garden City, 1984).

Frassanito, William A. Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day (New York, 1976).

Miller, Francis T., ed. The Photographic History of the Civil War (Secaucus, 1987).

Sears, Stephen W. George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon (New York, 1988).

Sears, Stephan W. Landscape Turned Red (New Haven, 1983).

Ward Geoffrey C. with Burns, Ric and Burns, Ken. An Illustrated History of the Civil War (reprint: New York, 2000).

Woodward, C. Vann, ed. Mary Chesnut's Civil War (New Haven, 1981).

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Antietam National Battlefield
Sharpsburg, MD
301-432-7648
Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Blvd.Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 260-6400
Maryland Historical Society
201 West Monument Street. Baltimore, MD
(410) 685-3750
National Museum of Civil War Medicine
48 E. Patrick St. Frederick, MD
(301) 659-1864
   

Copyright and Other Restrictions

Access to materials linked within these document packets is intended for educational and research purposes. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or holders of other rights (such as publicity and privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. The responsibility for making an independent legal assessment and independently securing any necessary rights rests with persons desiring to use particular items in the context of the intended use.

Password Access to Materials

The use of any user name and password to access materials on this web site constitutes an agreement by the user to abide by any and all copyright restrictions and is an acknowledgement that these materials will be used for personal and educational use only. In most instances, the username aaco and password aaco# will work. Contact ref@mdsa.net if you have any questions or have difficulty accessing files.

Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Derrick Lapp.

 

Teaching American History | Document Packets Index

 
 
  An Archives of Maryland Online Publication • © Copyright 2001-2005 Maryland State Archives
Maryland State Archives • 350 Rowe Boulevard • Annapolis, MD 21401 • 410-260-6400 • msa.helpdesk@maryland.gov