Battle Of Antietam

Background:

Battle of Antietam was a civil war battle fought between Confederate forces led by their most famous military commander Robert E Lee and Union army under the command of General George McClellan. The battle was mainly fought on September 17th 1862 near Sharpsburg, Maryland. While North named the battle after a nearby creek called Antietam, South named it Battle of Sharpsburg.

It was the first time that a Confederate military contingent launched an offensive against Union. Before Antietam all major battles were fought on Confederate soil. Confederate president Jefferson Davis believed that a successful invasion of Union territory would mean recognition of Confederation by United Kingdom and France and a swift end to the conflict. His military commander, Robert Lee agreed with his assertion. However, Lee was against formulating war plans on this assertion. Lee and his army were brimming with confidence after recent military victories over Union army.

Battle:

Facts for Kids
Facts for Kids

Lee and his army entered Maryland State on September 3 and marched all the way to Sharpsburg. Pursuing him was Army of Potomac led by George McClellan. The two forces met near Sharpsburg on 17th September, 1862. Union force was much bigger in size than Lee’s army. Against a potent force of more than 75,000, Lee had only 38,000 available to fight. The battle started after McClellan attacked Confederate army’s left flank and was followed by a counter attack by Lee. The day saw the same sequence of Union attacking and Confederate forces counter attacking repeatedly.

Despite being heavily outnumbered, Confederate forces did not give up their position. The fighting was intense and the day is remembered as the bloodiest day in military history of United States. Almost 3500 men in total fell on the day, which included 5 general officers also (3 from Union side and 2 from Confederate side). Lee had committed all his forces against a numerically superior foe. On the next day, fighting was less intense and Lee’s men fought for survival. By now Lee had realized that his offensive was a lost cause. He started a retreat and by nightfall, he had exited Maryland and entered Virginia.

McClellan Squanders a Golden Opportunity:

George McClellan had not committed his entire force against Lee. His decisions allowed Lee to counter attack every time. Despite having an excellent opportunity to pursue and destroy Lee’s smaller and worn out force, McClellan acted rather slowly.

Even during the battle his decisions and actions were criticized. With a numerically superior force he could not achieve destruction of Lee’s army. President Lincoln also showed dismay over his lack of initiative. He believed that McClellan’s over cautious approach in battlefield resulted in a draw instead of a crippling defeat of Confederate army.

Emancipation Proclamation:

None of the two sides achieved decisive victory in the battle. Lee successfully evaded a total annihilation of his army at the hands of a much larger Union army. However, as the battle was a part of Confederate offensive which failed and Lee retreated, so it was considered a Union victory.

The victory was enough for President Lincoln to announce preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 and issued the proclamation on January 1, 1863. Through this proclamation he extended freedom to all the slaves in the ten slave states in rebellion at the time of announcement. The proclamation was perhaps the biggest outcome of Battle of Antietam.