Battle of Antietam

U.S. #4665 – Taken from an 1887 painting by Thure de Thulstrup, this painting shows the Iron Brigade charging near Dunker Church early in the battle.
U.S. #4665 – Taken from an 1887 painting by Thure de Thulstrup, this stamp shows the Iron Brigade charging near Dunker Church early in the battle.

On September 17, 1862, Union and Confederate troops assembled at Antietam Creek for a 12-hour battle. By sunset, one in five men had become a casualty of the bloodiest one-day battle ever fought on American soil.

The early months of 1862 began well for the Union in the Eastern Theater. George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was within a few miles of Richmond by June. But Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1. The Union’s advantage disappeared as Lee fought McClellan aggressively in the Seven Days Battles, forcing McClellan and his army to retreat down the Virginia Peninsula.

U.S. #1049 from the long-running Liberty Series.
U.S. #1049 from the long-running Liberty Series.

Lee then began his Northern Virginia Campaign, outmaneuvering and defeating Major General John Pope and the Army of Virginia, including the Second Battle of Bull Run during the last two days of August. Four days later, Lee launched his Maryland Campaign – a bold move to strike a blow on Union soil.

The Civil War’s major battles had been fought on Confederate ground until the Maryland Campaign. Lee’s offensive had several objectives. Moving his troops north meant leaving war-torn Virginia for the undamaged farmland of Maryland and Pennsylvania, where they could resupply. In addition to cutting off the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line that supplied Washington, D.C., Lee also hoped to incite an uprising in the border state of Maryland.

Item #20070 – Commemorative cover marking McClellan’s 159th birthday.
Item #20070 – Commemorative cover marking McClellan’s 159th birthday.

Lee understood that military victories were one of several ways to win the war. Simply making the Northerners and their government unwilling to wage war was another. An invasion could damage Northern morale just before the Congressional elections of 1862, which in turn would tip public opinion in favor of Democrat candidates and force Lincoln to negotiate an end to the war.

Crossing the Potomac River into western Maryland, Lee divided his army by sending Stonewall Jackson with a force to capture Harpers Ferry. The site where John Brown staged his infamous raid of 1859, Harpers Ferry was a gateway to the Shenandoah Valley and a vital link in the Confederate supply line now guarded by 12,000 Union troops.

Item #M11546 pictures McClellan and Lee as well as different scenes from Antietam.
Item #M11546 pictures McClellan and Lee as well as different scenes from Antietam.

With a remaining force 38,000 strong, Lee took up a defensive position at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg. McClellan pursued with troops that outnumbered Lee’s by 2-to-1. The Union troops arrived overnight, in plain view of the Confederates. A Pennsylvania soldier recalled, “…all realized that there was ugly business and plenty of it just ahead.”

As the sun rose on September 17, Union troops began their assault on the Confederates positioned in cornfields to the north of the town. Lee had gathered his forces on high ground west of Antietam Creek with General James Longstreet commanding troops at the center and right. Stonewall Jackson’s men were located on the left. To their rear was the Potomac River, with only one suitable crossing if retreat became necessary.

U.S. #2975b from the 1995 Civil War sheet.
U.S. #2975b from the 1995 Civil War sheet.

McClellan’s plan was to “attack the enemy’s left,” and when “matters looked favorably,” to attack the right, and if either of those was successful, he would order his men to advance on their center. For seven hours following daybreak, Union forces staged three major attacks on the Confederate left, moving north to south. General Joseph Hooker led the first, followed by General Joseph Mansfield’s soldiers, and then General Edwin Sumners. McClellan’s plan broke down as Lee moved his men to withstand each Union advance.

One-and-a-half miles south, Union General Ambrose Burnside attacked the Confederate right and attempted to capture a bridge. A small enemy force stationed on higher ground was able to keep Burnside’s men pinned down for three hours. Taking the bridge at 1 p.m., Burnside then took two hours to reorganize his troops only to be turned back by Confederate General A. P. Hill’s reinforcements who arrived from Harpers Ferry.

U.S. #788 pictures Lee, his right-hand man Stonewall Jackson, and Stratford Hall (Lee’s birthplace).
U.S. #788 pictures Lee, his right-hand man Stonewall Jackson, and Stratford Hall (Lee’s birthplace).

Unable to inflict substantial damage on either flank of the Confederate force, McClellan didn’t advance on the center and a number of his troops never saw battle. Those who did fought stubbornly until sunset. Over 22,717 men lay dead or wounded when night fell. After each side buried their dead the next day, Lee’s army withdrew across the Potomac to Virginia, ending his invasion of Maryland.

Although the battle was inconclusive, Northerners were relieved by the outcome.  Encouraged by the sense of victory, President Lincoln seized the opportunity to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves held in rebellious states to be free.  After months of fighting and thousands of losses, it was the first major action by the federal government to end slavery in the United States.

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  1. And so we see that the democrats are the ones that led the confederates in the Civil War (paragraph five) just in case our good memory has grown short and we have forgotten some of the important facts from history.

    1. I’m a Republican myself, but I think it’s difficult to draw a comparison between today’s Republicans and Democrats. Just my opinion. Great article though!

    2. That was then. This is now. The two parties have reversed roles since then. What were racist white Democrats have become racist white Republicans.


        1. OMG, another Obama hater. I’m not prepared to say that Barak Obama is a great President, but I will say that he has been and continues to be a pretty damn good one.

          1. Oops, a misspelling. Make that Barack. Re. racism and political parties, David Duke, former Grand Dragon (or whatever office he held) of the Ku Klux Klan says that he endorses the current Republican nominee for President. I doubt that anyone who has the same history of racism would endorse the Democratic nominee.

      2. The Democrats today are keeping minorities on the urban plantation by giving them the free stuff for their vote. A form of slavery. Do what we tell you or else.

        1. Reverse psychology my man…KKK want the dems in power because they keep the Blackman down. You got to lose the tunnel vision.

  2. It was about taxation….or the reluctance of the “Southern” Confederate Governed states to pay as the “Union” Government States say they do so. To say that Slavery was the “Main” reason for the war is one fact taken out of context in the speech, albeit somewhat one of many reasons for the civil fighting, but more so was the massive “Union government land grab….in my honest opinion. It may seem obvious to the current readers that the stalemate was more than the heads of each armies could take as the bodies kept piling up……to serve what purpose but to bring the inevitable end to the madness of that war. We the People and thusly The World’s Society could only hope that “that sentiment” would be in the consciousness of some of today’s “Powers That Be” and their war torn countries. Stop the Madness People! Lee and Grant appear no quite many US and Foreign Issues which shows the caliber of respect for these two great Generals among others.

    1. Read the Cornerstone Speech by the Vice-President of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens given March 21, 1861 and we’ll talk more.

    2. Slavery was not only the main cause of the Civil Was, it was THE cause. Look up and read the comments in southern newspapers during the secession debates, and the speeches made by delegates during the southern conventions debating secession.. They all stress the paramount importance of defending slavery. The Confederate constitution expressly forbid any Confederate state from abolishing slavery or from seceding from the Confederacy. So much for the argument that the southern states seceded to protect states rights. That argument was made up years later because the South and indeed the whole nation preferred to forget about slavery.

  3. The war was over a way of life that enabled wealth to be created on the backs of an unpaid Slave population of four million people. The north was not clean of this disgrace either. There was no massive union land grab. What land were they supposed to be grabbing? Finally the hypocrisy of all men were created equal could no longer be ignored and something had to be done. It still took over another hundred years to bring that to some form of fruition

  4. Take it from a transplant who now lives near the deep south where the civil war is still being waged at least in attitude and discussion, the indigenous locals don’t have a clue as to what started the war. What they do know is that “the south’s gonna do it again.”

  5. Excuse me gentlemen but I really dig the stamp with Lee and Jackson. plus a picture of the homestead. I think we reconciled all this bull a long time ago. Back to your stamps- look and

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