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Description of the battle:
Antietam Creek is in Sharpsburg, Maryland (a border state). The battle takes place in
September of 1862. The Confederate army is feeling confident – the Union army has not been
able to win any decisive battles and has in fact proven to be well trained but not effective. Most
notably General McClellan’s Peninsular campaign that was designed to overtake Richmond, the
Confederacy’s capital, was a failure.
General Lee tells Jefferson Davis that it is the best time to enter Maryland and then move on to
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. If the Confederate Army won achieved this goal, it was believed that
Europe would recognize the Confederacy as a nation.
Lee’s army was a rag tag bunch without a common uniform, hungry .
McClellan had determined through intelligence that Lee was likely to march on Washington with
his target Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to take the rail center and then take Harper’s Ferry to
capture the 1200 man Union garrison.
McClellan approached this upcoming confrontation with his usual trepidation and caution and if
it wasn’t for the fact that Lee’s strategy had been found wrapped around a cigar, he would have
been off base as to where to place his troops. Yet he still did nothing for 16 days.
On September 15th, Lee’s 18,000 troops take positions on a ridge above Sharpsburg while
McClellan’s 95,000 troops gathered on the other side of the creek. Experts believe that if
McClellan had attacked at that point the war might have ended. As an aide to Lee remembered,
“There was a single item in our advantage (Civil War 154). He was referring to McClellan who
had consistently shown to be indecisive and overly cautious.
Three days of battles. Lee was saved by reinforcements and by McClellan’s unwillingness to
bring up his own reinforcements. Lee then retreated, having lost ¼ of his army. The union had
12,000 casualties. McClellan did not pursue.
Impact of Antietam
1. Union claimed a victory because even though Lee got away, he lost many men and did not take
any union territory. In addition, Lee’s troops did take Harpers Ferry (Virginia) resulting in taking
of 12,000 Federals. But the perception that this salvaged the battle was challenged even among
such notables as Jefferson Davis who was “very low down after the battle of Sharpsburg”
(Crossroads of Freedom 137).
2. Allowed Lincoln to plan on issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863. Lincoln
had been waiting for a victory to do this. He did not want to seem that he was desperate when
he did this. (He had a draft of the document written prior to the battle.
3. The outcome of the Emancipation Proclamation was:
a. Prevention of Europe recognizing the Confederacy.
b. Making it possible to enlist freed blacks into the Union army thereby providing needed
recruits and weakening southern economy. (By war’s end, 180,000 blacks fought in the
Union army.)
c. Won more ardent support for the war from abolitionists like Frederick Douglas and
opposition from Democrats in the North as well who objected to focus on slavery.
d. Border states solidified because no immediate threat of losing slaves.
e. Lincoln’s attitude about blacks changed as did the attitudes of some of the white union
soldiers that served with black soldiers. The Mass. 54th is only one example of black troops
getting praise for their service and being recognized as playing a pivotal role in the victory
over the Confederacy.
f. In the army, black soldiers petitioned for higher wages, testified in military courts (thereby
being treated as equals before the law)
Description of battle: The battle took place over a three day period in July, 1863. Lee’s army, always
struggling to feed, clothe, and arm his men, was now finding it harder to recruit due to loss of ablebodied men, increased desertion often prompted by news from home detailing food shortages and high
prices due to the successful Union blockade of Southern ports. Lee, always the risk taker and always
confident in his men and particularly his officers was convinced that now was the time to launch an
offensive in Union territory. Part of his calculation was based on a very poor showing by Union troops at
Fredericksburg, Virginia in December of 1863 (Confederates lost 5,300 and the Union lost 12,600) and
Chancellorsville, Virginia in the first few months of 1863. However, the only real bright spot for the
Union was Grant’s campaign at Vicksburg, Mississippi which had started in the Spring of 1863. A
victorious campaign would cut the confederacy in half let alone take over a critical waterway. Lee was
also motivated by staging an invasion of Pennsylvania to divert Grant’s troops and a hope that the
French might aid the Confederacy with a victory.
The battle, which lasted 3 days, did not go well for Lee. General Meade’s Union troops took the ridges
south of Gettysburg. After two days, Lee was unable to dislodge the Union stronghold on Cemetery
Ridge. On the third day he ordered Pickett’s Charge in which 15,000 troops marched 1 mile across an
open field with the intent of overwhelming the Union fortification. Only 5000 Confederate soldiers
made it up the ridge and almost all of them surrendered or retreated.
One day later, July 4th, Confederate troops surrendered at Vicksburg.
1. Lee was never to launch another offensive again.
2. Lee had lost 1/3 of his army.
3. Lincoln had hoped that General Meade would pursue Lee after the defeat but this did not
happen and the president was extremely upset. Lincoln had believed that the war would be
over shortly after the victory at Gettysburg.
4. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was delivered in November, 1863 which emphasized the
importance of the men who gave their lives to preserve a democratic republican system that
had been forged by the founding fathers. In addition, as if to recall the Emancipation
Proclamation, he states that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom..”
(Goodwin 586). Certainly this theme is to re-emerge in his 2nd Inaugural Address.