John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

The battle of Antietam

Although I am interested in many things I've never really had an interest in the revolutionary or civil war.  However I now live directly (as the crow flies) across the river from the Antietam battle field in Sharpsburg, Maryland.  (Antietam is the creek that runs through the town) 

This civil war battle  (In parts of Virginia it is still referred to as “The war of Northern Aggression” or "The war for states rights") took place in September of 1862 and is the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with a combined tally of 22,717 dead, wounded, or missing.

The battle started at about 9:00 a.m. and was over by 5:30 p.m. The Union had 12,410 casualties with 2,108 dead.

Confederate casualties were 10,316 with 1,546 dead. This represented 25% of the Federal force and 31% of the Confederate.

Of the other casualties, 1,910 Union and 1,550 Confederate troops died of their wounds soon after the battle, while 225 Union and 306 Confederate troops listed as missing were later confirmed as dead.

Several generals died as a result of the battle.

The fighting on September 17, 1862, killed 7,650 American soldiers. More Americans died in battle on September 17, 1862, than on any other day in the nation's military history. (The bloodiest battle in American history was Gettysburg, but its more than 46,000 casualties occurred over three days.)

The results of Antietam also allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, which took effect on January 1, 1863. Although Lincoln had intended to do so earlier, he was advised by his Cabinet to make this announcement after a Union victory to avoid the perception that it was issued out of desperation (since the Confederates had the upper edge in the war prior to Antietam).

 (I simplify in parts of this essay because many of my readers live outside the USA)
The confederates (The army of the southern states) were in a strong defensive position, atop a gradual ridge, in a sunken road worn down by years of wagon traffic, which formed a natural trench.

The union army (The army of the Northern states) launched a series of brigade-sized assaults against the confederate’s improvised breastworks at around 9:30 A.M.
The first brigade to attack, mostly inexperienced troops was quickly cut down by heavy rifle fire. The second attack, more raw recruits were also subjected to heavy fire but managed to beat back a counterattack. The third included three veteran regiments, but they also fell to fire from the sunken road. The union troops suffered 1,750 casualties (of his 5,700 men) in under an hour.

Reinforcements were arriving on both sides, and by 10:30 a.m. Robert E. Lee sent his final reserve division—some 3,400 men—to bolster the sunken road.

At the same time, the 4,000 men arrived on confederates left.

Leading off the fourth attack of the day against the sunken road was the Irish Brigade of Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Meagher. 

As they advanced with emerald green flags snapping in the breeze, a regimental chaplain, Father William Corby, rode back and forth across the front of the formation shouting words of conditional absolution prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church for those who were about to die.

 (Corby would later perform a similar service at Gettysburg in 1863.) The mostly Irish immigrants lost 540 men to heavy volleys before they were ordered to withdraw.



Confederate Gen. Anderson was wounded early in the fighting. Other key leaders were lost as well, including George B. Anderson (below no relation)

 Anderson's successor, Irish American Col. Charles C. Tew of the 2nd North Carolina, was killed minutes after assuming command

The photo below is thought to show the spot where Tews was killed, his body is thought to be towards the front of the photo 

 Col. John B. Gordon of the 6th Alabama received 5 serious wounds in the fight, twice in his right leg, twice in the left arm, and once in the face. 

He lay unconscious, face down in his cap, and later told colleagues that he should have smothered in his own blood, except for the act of an unidentified Yankee, who had earlier shot a hole in his cap, which allowed the blood to drain.

 Col. Francis C. Barlow and 350 men of the 61st and 64th New York saw a weak point in the line and seized a knoll commanding the sunken road. 

 Barlow, standing, to the left

This allowed them to get enfilade fire into the Confederate line, turning it into a deadly trap. In attempting to wheel around to meet this threat, a command from General Rodes was misunderstood by Lt. Col. James N. Lightfoot. Lightfoot ordered his men to about-face and march away, an order that all five regiments of the brigade thought applied to them as well. Confederate troops streamed toward Sharpsburg, their line lost.

Richardson's men were in hot pursuit when massed artillery hastily assembled by Gen. Longstreet drove them back. A counterattack with 200 men led by D.H. Hill got around the Federal left flank near the sunken road, and although they were driven back by a fierce charge of the 5th New Hampshire, this stemmed the collapse of the center. Reluctantly, Richardson ordered his division to fall back to north of the ridge facing the sunken road. His division lost about 1,000 men. Col. Barlow was severely wounded, and Richardson mortally wounded.

The carnage from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on the sunken road gave it the name Bloody Lane, leaving about 5,600 casualties (Union 3,000, Confederate 2,600) along the 800-yard road.
From 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the action moved to the southern end of the battlefield.
(Union) Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside had four divisions (12,500 troops) and 50 guns east of Antietam Creek.

About 400 confederates —the 2nd and 20th Georgia regiments, with two artillery batteries—defended Rohrbach's Bridge, a three-span, 125-foot (38 m) stone structure that was the southernmost crossing of the Antietam.

The bridge would become known to history as Burnside's Bridge because of the notoriety of the battle. The bridge was a difficult objective. The road leading to it ran parallel to the creek and was exposed to enemy fire.

The bridge was also dominated by a 100-foot (30 m) high wooded bluff on the west bank, strewn with boulders from an old quarry, making infantry and sharpshooter fire from good covered positions a dangerous impediment to crossing.


Union Col. George Crook's Ohio brigade (under General Burnsides command) assault on the bridge was led by skirmishers from the 11th Connecticut, who were ordered to clear the bridge for the Ohioans to cross and assault the bluff.

 After receiving punishing fire for 15 minutes, the Connecticut men withdrew with 139 casualties, one-third of their strength, including their commander, Col. Henry W. Kingsbury, who was fatally wounded.

Crook's main assault went awry when his unfamiliarity with the terrain caused his men to reach the creek a quarter mile upstream from the bridge, where they exchanged volleys with Confederate skirmishers for the next few hours.

Cox directed a second assault at the bridge but the troops also fell prey to the Confederate sharpshooters and artillery, and their attack fell apart.

The third attempt to take the bridge was at 12:30 p.m. led by the 51st New York and the 51st Pennsylvania, who, with adequate artillery support and a promise that a recently canceled whiskey ration would be restored if they were successful, charged downhill and took up positions on the east bank. Maneuvering a captured light howitzer into position, they fired double canister down the bridge and got within 25 yards of the enemy.

 By 1 p.m., Confederate ammunition was running low and union troops were crossing Snavely's Ford on their flank. The confederate’s withdrawal. They had cost the union army more than 500 casualties, giving up fewer than 160 themselves.

Below is the the Stephen P. Grove farm in Mount Airy, Maryland as it looks today. The infamous meeting between President Lincoln and his reluctant Chief of Staff George McClellan took place here, in a tent to the left of the house.

In early October, Lincoln visited McClellan at his headquarters at Antietam to urge him personally to attack the confederates who were less than a mile from McClellan’s army. 
Early on the morning of October 3, before the morning sun was up, took a walk with his friend and bodyguard Ozias Hatch through the hundreds of white army tents and asked, “Hatch. What is all of this?”

Hatch answered, “Why, Mr. Lincoln, this is the Army of the Potomac.”

To which Lincoln answered “No, Hatch, no. This is McClellan’s bodyguard.”

According to local historian Richard E. Clem:

“Around noon, Lincoln and McClellan rode together up a long lane in an Army ambulance to the Stephen P. Grove farm, Mount Airy. The homestead is one mile west of Sharpsburg on the south side of the road leading to Shepherdstown. Then used as a Confederate hospital, the historic home today is privately owned and in great need of repair.

The Groves, Stephen and his wife Maria, remained at Mount Airy during the battle to protect the property. Their young daughter, Louisa, was sent to safety across the Potomac to stay with friends in Shepherdstown. By early October, she had returned home in time to see Mr. Lincoln.

Although only 7, she remembered the rest of her life how “Old Abe” placed his large hand on her head and apologized to her mother and father for the destruction the war had brought to their home.

Then the president began slowly walking down a wide hallway leading to a back room full of wounded Rebels. A newspaper correspondent jotted down what happened next: “The president … remarked to the wounded Confederates that if they had no objection he would be glad to take them by the hand.”

After a moment of silence, the battered and bloodied enemy came forward and “… fervently shook the hand” of the man much acquainted with grief; in February the president had buried his beloved 11-year-old son Willie. Lincoln walked to those too seriously wounded to stand and “… bid them good cheer, assuring them that every possible care should be bestowed upon them.”

Tears flowed freely from battle-torn soldiers, many of whom would never see home again.
After the review and then shaking hands with members of 6th Corps, Lincoln visited the wounded and sick at the encampment. He noticed a soldier kneeling while trying to cool the forehead of a brother. The young private had not noticed the president, who asked the condition of the fallen warrior as he rested his huge and gentle hand on the private’s shoulder.
“This is my brother, sir. He is very sick with a high fever. We are from the state of New York.”
Only seconds after Lincoln’s departure, several excited 6th Corps boys burst into the tent and fired the question, “What did he have to say?” The young private, having no idea that the concerned man was the president, told his comrades that the “tall man with a beard” told him he would remember his brother in his prayers and had wished them a safe trip back home.”

Lincoln fired McClellan after the battle and replaced him Ulysses S. Grant.


"Upon visiting the Sherrick's house that morning, we found it quite a sumptuous affair," a 22nd Massachusetts soldier noted. "It had been hastily evacuated, as it was between the lines. The foragers ahead of us had pulled out what edibles it contained, and among them a splendid assortment of jellies, preserves, etc., the pride of every Maryland woman's heart, but now scattered about. The orchard was filled with the choicest fruit. What a feast! Our stomachs, just beginning to become accustomed to 'salt horse' and 'hard tack,' earnestly opened and yearned for this line of good things."  Union solider on entering Sherrick’s farm. 60-year-old Joseph and 55-year-old Sarah Sherrick was abandoned on Sept. 17, 1862. Both armies controlled the farm during the battle and used the Sherrick's house and barn as field hospitals.
Photographer Alexander Gardner took these photos of the farm  four days after the battle, Union wounded were being cared for in the house and barn. 

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