Battle of Antietam

Wednesday, September 17, 1862

Thure de Thulstrup painting of the Battle of Antietam. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The first major battle to take place in the North (and the deadliest single day of battle in American history), begins with Union Major General George B. McClellan attacking the Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The Union forces, which outnumber the Confederates nearly 2-to-1, break through the center of the Confederates' lines, but McClellan fails to capitalize on the advantage. McClellan's reluctance to concentrate his full forces against Lee negates the Union advantage in numbers, but by the end of the day, Lee is forced to withdraw. Listen to an audio clip of a panel of historians discussing the Battle of Antietam at the Kansas City Public Library. The battle is a tactical draw, but a strategic victory for the Union, as it forces Lee's still-intact army to withdraw to Virginia. Disappointed with McClellan's refusal to pursue Lee, Lincoln removes McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac on November 7. The tepid victory nonetheless halts Lee's first invasion of the North and gives Abraham Lincoln enough assurance to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. The battle also helps discourage Britain and France from joining the war on the side of the Confederacy. 


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