Antietam: 150 years ago today

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg, if you prefer) in 1862. It represents the bloodiest one-day battle in American history with over 23,000 casualties on both sides. Ethan Rafuse provides a wonderful post on this subject, complete with the opening to the film Glory (1989), which began with this battle.

He also noted the letter from Lt Col. Wilder Dwight, who died from wounds at the battle and the letter he wrote was featured in the documentary Death and the Civil War, which I reviewed earlier.

This battle was significant for several reasons. One was that it allowed Lincoln to justify the Emancipation Proclamation, as the tactical draw served as a psychological and strategic victory for the Union, aiding in a small way in keeping the European powers out of the conflict, though this was largely accomplished by this point in 1862.

Also, it was a major setback for Robert E. Lee, as his invasion of the North failed. It represented a series of missed opportunities and blunders that could have ended the war sooner, had McClellan acted more decisively upon finding Lee’s Special Order 191, which was his battle plan, or had McClellan pursued and destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia after the battle.

Though, 150 years old, this battle is still an important event in our history, worthy of continuing staff rides by military educational programs around the country. One of the better books on the battle that is both scholarly and great for a general audience is James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War (2002), as it discusses the larger significance of the battle as well as how it relates to the concept of freedom at the time. As we approach the anniversaries of some of the most important battles of the war, it will be notable to see how we reflect and what historians write and do to understand the importance of these events against our modern society.

This Week in the Civil War: Sep 10-16, 1862

Wednesday, September 10:  In Maryland, Federal cavalry informed General George McClellan that General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was falling back toward the Monocacy River, away from Frederick. McClellan responded by accelerating his previously sluggish pursuit. As Confederates advanced north in Kentucky, 1,000 “squirrel hunters” volunteered in Cincinnati to defend against a possible Confederate invasion.

Thursday, September 11:  In Maryland, Lee’s Confederates entered Hagerstown, and skirmishing with Federal forces increased. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin called for 50,000 volunteers to defend the state. In Kentucky, Confederates under General Edmund Kirby Smith occupied Maysville. Skirmishing intensified as the Confederates came within seven miles of Cincinnati.

Friday, September 12:  In Maryland, McClellan’s Federals reached Frederick as Lee’s Confederates began dispersing in accordance with Special Orders No. 191. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate corps approached Harpers Ferry, and skirmishing took place over the next five days. In Kentucky, Confederates occupied Glasgow as skirmishing continued. The Federal Army of Virginia was officially absorbed into McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. In Pennsylvania, assets and archives were transfered from Harrisburg and Philadelphia to New York. The Confederate Congress debated the wisdom of the northern invasion. President Jefferson Davis wrote to the governors of Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Arkansas attempting to assure them that the Trans-Mississippi theater of war was not being ignored.

Saturday, September 13:  In Maryland, two Federal soldiers found a copy of Robert E. Lee’s Special Orders No. 191. They were forwarded to George McClellan, who now knew that Lee’s forces were divided. McClellan pushed his Federals west, while Lee learned that McClellan had found his order. Skirmishing intensified. In western Virginia, Federals evacuated Charleston as Confederates under General W.W. Loring advanced from the Kanawha Valley. In New Orleans, General Benjamin Butler, commander of Federal occupation forces, ordered all foreigners to register with Federal authorities.

Sunday, September 14:  In Maryland, the left wing of George McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac advanced toward Crampton’s Gap to cut off the Confederates at Harpers Ferry and divide Lee’s army. Meanwhile, another Federal force attacked Confederates at South Mountain. After hard fighting, the Confederates withdrew; Federal General Jesse Reno was killed. This became known as the Battle of South Mountain. Meanwhile, “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates lay siege to the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry. In Kentucky, General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates reached Munfordville. Federals under General Don Carlos Buell hurried ahead of Bragg and reached Bowling Green. In Mississippi, a third phase of the overall Confederate offensive began taking shape when Confederates under General Sterling Price occupied Iuka near Corinth.

Monday, September 15:  In Virginia (now West Virginia), “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates captured Harpers Ferry, taking about 12,000 prisoners. In Maryland, Robert E. Lee’s Confederates at South Mountain fell back to Sharpsburg. Lee was hurriedly concentrating his scattered forces before George McClellan’s Federals could launch a full-scale attack. Lee originally planned to withdraw, but when he learned that Jackson had captured Harpers Ferry, he began forming a line along Antietam Creek. In Kentucky, Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederates reached Covington across the Ohio River from Cincinnati but quickly withdrew. Braxton Bragg’s Confederates lay siege to Munfordville. 

Tuesday, September 16:  In Maryland, Robert E. Lee gathered his Army of Northern Virginia and established battle lines along Antietam Creek. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates arrived on the scene after a hard march from Harpers Ferry, while one of Jackson’s divisions under General A.P. Hill remained behind to accept the garrison’s surrender. George McClellan faced criticism for not attacking today. In Kentucky, Bragg continued his siege of 4,000 Federals at Munfordville. Smith’s Confederates withdrew from the Ohio River toward Lexington. President Abraham Lincoln, unable to contact McClellan, wired Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania: “What do you hear from Gen. McClellan’s army?”

This Week In The Civil War: Sep 3-9, 1862

Wednesday, September 3:  General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia began moving to relieve Federal pressure on Virginia by invading the North. The troops moved west toward Leesburg and occupied Winchester. In Washington, Federal General John Pope conferred with President Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. Pope delivered a report accusing General Fitz John Porter of disobeying orders and General George McClellan of failing to support him in the Battle of Second Bull Run. In the Dakota Territory, Sioux Indians unsuccessfully attacked Fort Abercrombie as part of their uprising against Federal authority. In Kentucky, Confederates under General Edmund Kirby Smith continued their invasion by occupying the state capital of Frankfort.

Thursday, September 4:  Lee’s Confederates began crossing the Potomac River into Maryland; the crossing continued for three days. Various skirmishes ensued as politicians conferred in Washington, Federals evacuated Frederick, Maryland, and McClellan began reorganizing the Army of the Potomac. In Minnesota, Federals skirmished with Sioux Indians at Hutchinson. In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate raiders joined Edmund Kirby Smith’s men. In western Virginia, Confederates under General A.G. Jenkins crossed the Ohio River for a brief northern invasion.

Friday, September 5:  In Washington, Halleck informed Pope that his Army of Virginia would be consolidated into McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. McClellan began gathering Federal troops around Washington as Robert E. Lee continued advancing on Frederick, Maryland. In Indiana, Governor Morton called on citizens to form militias along the Ohio River in defense of a potential Confederate invasion. At Sparta, Tennessee, Bragg proclaimed, “Alabama is redeemed. Tennesseans! your capital and State are almost restored without firing a gun. You return conquerors. Kentuckians! the first great blow has been struck for your freedom.” Meanwhile, General Don Carlos Buell’s Federals abandoned northern Alabama, falling back to Murfreesboro and Nashville.

Saturday, September 6:  In Maryland, Confederates under General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson occupied Frederick. Federal cavalry skirmished with the Confederate invaders over the next nine days. Robert E. Lee had expected to gain recruits in Maryland, but Frederick was abandoned and an observer wrote, “everything partook of a churchyard appearance.” In Virginia, Federals evacuated the important supply center at Aquia Creek near Fredericksburg. John Pope was assigned to command the new Department of the Northwest, which consisted of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Nebraska and Dakota territories. His main task was to suppress the Sioux Indian uprising. In the Dakota Territory, the Sioux unsuccessfully attacked Fort Abercrombie a second time.

Sunday, September 7:  George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac began slowly moving northward from Washington, protecting the capital and Baltimore while unaware of Robert E. Lee’s location. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Hagerstown, Maryland experienced “tremendous excitement,” with frantic people preparing for a Confederate invasion. The Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry was isolated by Lee’s forces. President Lincoln worried about events in both the eastern and western theaters, asking “Where is Gen. Bragg” and “What about Harper’s Ferry?” U.S.S. Essex battled Port Hudson batteries on the Mississippi River. Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote to Robert E. Lee, Braxton Bragg, and Edmund Kirby Smith that they should inform northerners “That the Confederate Government is waging the war solely for self-defence, that is has no design of conquest or any other purpose than to secure peace and the abandonment by the United States of its pretensions to govern a people who have never been their subjects and who prefer self-government to a Union with them.”

Monday, September 8:  Apprehension intensified in Maryland and Pennsylvania, as Robert E. Lee’s Confederates continued advancing. Lee proclaimed to Maryland residents: “The people of the Confederate States have long watched with the deepest sympathy the wrongs and outrages that have been inflicted upon the citizens… We know no enemies among you, and will protect all, of every opinion. It is for you to decide your destiny freely and without constraint. This army will respect your choice, whatever it may be.” President Lincoln asked George McClellan at Rockville, Maryland, “How does it look now?” General Nathaniel Banks assumed command of the Washington defenses. Various skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Tuesday, September 9:  At Frederick, Robert E. Lee issued Special Orders No. 191, calling for “Stonewall” Jackson to attack Harpers Ferry and General James Longstreet’s corps to advance on Boonesborough, Maryland. These orders would later be found by Federal troops and forwarded to George McClellan. General Samuel P. Heintzelman was given command of the Washington defenses south of the Potomac.

Source: The Civil War Day-by-Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1971)

This Week in the Civil War: Aug 27-Sep 2, 1862

Wednesday, August 27:  In Virginia, the Federals under General John Pope withdrew from the Rappahannock River after being outflanked by advancing Confederates. Pope shifted his troops north toward the railroad junction at Manassas, where General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates were destroying Federal supplies. Pope was confused about Jackson’s purpose, and at the same time General Robert E. Lee was moving north with the rest of his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to join Jackson. President Abraham Lincoln had no communication with Pope because all telegraph lines to Washington had been cut, and half of Lee’s army was between Pope and the Federal capital. Meanwhile, General George McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac began trickling into Washington from the Virginia Peninsula. In Tennessee, skirmishing intensified as Confederate General Braxton Bragg began an excursion to recover eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as to counter the Federal threat to Chattanooga.

Thursday, August 28:  In Virginia, Confederates under “Stonewall” Jackson withdrew to positions west of the old Bull Run battlefield, while John Pope’s Federals arrived at Manassas to find Jackson gone. Pope received conflicting reports about Jackson’s whereabouts, so he decided to concentrate at Centreville, erroneously thinking Jackson was there. When a Federal division accidentally clashed with Jackson at Groveton, Pope believed Jackson was retreating and redirected his forces against him. In Tennessee, Braxton Bragg’s Confederates advanced into central Tennessee.

Friday, August 29:  In Virginia, John Pope’s Federals attacked “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates concentrated in a railroad cut north of Groveton and the Warrenton Turnpike. The Federals were dispersed and tired from hard marching in the heat, and their piecemeal attack was ineffective. Pope blamed General Fitz John Porter, whose corps failed to attack because Porter claimed that the Confederate corps under General James Longstreet had arrived and outnumbered him. Meanwhile, Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck continued urging George McClellan to hurry his troops to reinforce Pope. President Lincoln telegraphed his commanders three times, “What news?” with no response. In the Confederacy, P.G.T. Beauregard succeeded John C. Pemberton as commander of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia. In the Union, Frederick Steele assumed command of the Army of the Southwest.

Saturday, August 30:  In Virginia, John Pope attacked “Stonewall” Jackson’s left flank, erroneously thinking Jackson was retreating. However, James Longstreet counterattacked on Pope’s right with 25,000 troops in the largest mass assault of the war. Combined attacks by Jackson and Longstreet compelled Pope to withdraw by nightfall, and the major fighting in the Battle of Second Bull Run was over. Pope’s Federals established defenses at Centreville; they were defeated but not routed. George McClellan’s feeble efforts to reinforce Pope had failed. Robert E. Lee was victorious, he had relieved Federal pressure on Richmond, but he had not destroyed Pope as hoped. In Kentucky, Confederates under General Edmund Kirby Smith attacked at Richmond, compelling the Federals to retreat toward Louisville. This small but impressive Confederate victory began the invasion of Kentucky. In Washington, President Lincoln anxiously awaited news from both Virginia and Kentucky.

Sunday, August 31:  In Virginia, John Pope concentrated his defeated Army of Virginia on the heights of Centreville. Two corps from the Army of the Potomac finally arrived to reinforce Pope, but they were too late to reverse the defeat. The Confederates moved to turn the Federal right, with “Stonewall” Jackson moving west of Chantilly and James Longstreet following the next day. The Federals abandoned Fredericksburg, leaving behind many supplies. On the Tennessee River, the Federal transport W.B. Terry was captured by Confederates after being grounded on the Duck River Sucks. In the Union, many were alarmed by the recent Confederate successes. The Army Surgeon General called for women and children to scrape lint for bandages.

Monday, September 1:  In Virginia, the last major fighting in the Second Bull Run campaign took place at Chantilly or Ox Hill. Robert E. Lee sent “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps around the Federal right. After severe fighting in heavy rain, the Federals withdrew. Federal General Philip Kearny was killed in the fight, and his death was mourned in both North and South. John Pope’s troops held off the Confederate advance, then withdrew closer to Washington during the night. In Washington, President Lincoln conferred with Henry Halleck and George McClellan about the military situation in Virginia. In the Union, General Ormsby M. Mitchel, famed astronomer and lecturer, was assigned to command the Department of the South. In the Confederacy, General J.P. McCown assumed command of the Department of East Tennessee.

Tuesday, September 2:  In Virginia, John Pope pulled his defeated Army of Virginia back to the Washington area, ending the Second Bull Run campaign. In the fighting of 27 Aug-2 Sep, the Federals lost 1,724 killed, 8,372 wounded, and 5,958 missing (16,054 total casualties) from about 75,000 engaged. The Confederates lost 1,481 killed, 7,627 wounded, and 89 missing (9,197 total casualties) from about 48,500. President Lincoln restored George McClellan to full command in Virginia and around Washington, a decision opposed by cabinet members Edwin Stanton and Salmon Chase. The Confederates gathered near Chantilly to prepare for their next campaign. In Minnesota, the Dakota Sioux uprising continued as the Indians besieged a Federal detachment at Birch Coulee. In Kentucky, Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederates occupied Lexington. Business was suspended and citizens began drilling in Cincinnati, fearing that Smith would invade Ohio. Meanwhile, Confederates under Braxton Bragg continued moving north from Chattanooga. In the Union, Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough was relieved of command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. President Lincoln wrote “Meditation on the Divine Will,” in which he stated, “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance wit the will of God. Both may be, but one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time.”

Primary Source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1971)

Lecture opportunity at Carlisle, PA

Ethan Rafuse, professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and blogger at Civil Warriors is delivering a lecture as part of the 44th Annual Lecture Series “Perspectives in Military History.” The lecture is entitled “We Always Understood Each Other So Well:  McClellan, Lee and the War in the East.” If you are in the area of Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania on July 18, I urge you to take in his lecture.

Another exhibit in the New York City area

Here’s another great exhibit in the New York City area that was sent to me by Timothy Wroten of the New York Historical Society.

We have a great Civil War show at New-York Historical Society called “Grant and Lee in War and Peace”. It is running through March 29 and I’m sure any of your readers living in or visiting the New York area would love it. An online version is available for those who cannot physically attend:
https://www.nyhistory.org/web/grantandlee/

Also, we have “Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words: An Intimate Portrait of Our Greatest President,” a smaller but rich exhibition of original documents on display through July. Here’s information about that exhibition:
https://www.nyhistory.org/web/default.php?section=exhibits_collections&page=exhibit_detail&id=4888575

On another note, I will be hopefully reviewing a new independent film on the Civil War this evening and will let you know more about that tonight.