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American Civil War

Battle of Antietam

History >> Civil War

The Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862 between the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. It took place near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The Southern forces were led by General Robert E. Lee and the Northern forces were led by General George B. McClellan.

Painting of the Battle of Antietam
The Battle of Antietam by Kurz & Allison
General Robert E. Lee Goes on the Offensive

Up until the Battle of Antietam the Confederate army had been primarily on the defensive. All the major battles had been fought on Southern soil. However, after the success of the Second Battle of Bull Run, General Lee decided that it was time to go on the offensive.

On September 3, 1862 the Confederate army, led by General Robert E. Lee, entered the state of Maryland. They hoped to invade the north all the way to Pennsylvania. Both General Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis thought that a successful invasion would convince France and Great Britain to officially recognize the Confederacy as a nation.

The Battle

The battle began on the morning of September 17, 1862 when the Union army, under General Joseph Hooker, attacked the Confederate army on the left flank. Throughout the day the battle would continue. First the Union would attack then the Confederates would counterattack. The fighting was fierce and the day would be one of the bloodiest in American history.

Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Confederate army continued to hold their ground throughout the day. General McClellan was cautious and never committed his entire force, while Robert E. Lee had his entire army engaged in battle in order to hold off the Union soldiers.

Lee Retreats

The next day, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan's forces. However, he also began to retreat and by nightfall of the 18th, the Confederate army was leaving Maryland, retreating back to Virginia.


From a military standpoint, neither side was a winner in the Battle of Antietam. The North, however, claimed victory as Lee's army was forced to retreat from Maryland and Union soil. Also, Great Britain and France continued to not recognize the Confederacy as a legal nation. At the same time, Abraham Lincoln was disappointed that General McClellan did not pursue the Confederate army when they were wounded and retreating. More decisive action from McClellan may have ended the Civil War much earlier.

Emancipation Proclamation

One of the most important results of the battle was that Abraham Lincoln decided to use the victory as an opportunity to announce the Emancipation Proclamation. This document promised freedom for slaves in the South once the Union took back control.

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History >> Civil War


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