On September 17, 1862, roughly a hundred and fifty years ago this week, the Army of Northern Virginia under the Confederate banner and commanded by Robert E. Lee were halted in their invasion of the border state of Maryland by forces under the direction of General George McClelland of the Army of the Potomac. Before the day was over, and the sun set over an expanse of farmland, cornfields, creeks and churches near the town of Sharpsville, Maryland, over 75,000 thousand troops from both sides were present for duty; about half were sent into action: over 22,000 of them became casualties in the worst battle in American history.
It was not one battle but many battles and skirmishes compressed into one hellish nightmare of shot and shell and bayonets. One of several battles in the four year struggle that ranged across the same ground over and over across the valleys and forests and towns and churchyards of Virginia and Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, Mississippi and Texas. It was one of a dozen "Waterloo" sized battles that made widows and orphans of thousands, sent 620,000 men to an early grave and wounded hundreds of thousands more. It is a war that even today Americans cannot always agree upon.
But this is certain. September 17, 1862 was its bloodiest day.
The narrow Union victory--a very costly one--emboldened President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclaimation, effective January 1, 1863. It held that all slaves in rebel-held territories were now free. Critics noted that this proclimation freed no slaves in the immedite. But it made clear to all, especially any powers within Great Britian and the France Empire hungry for southern cotton, that the war would not end until the issue of slavery was resolved once and for all. But to the battle itself...
(above: this photo, entitled "Dead Horse of a Confederate Colonel" was taken two days after the battle of Antietam by Union photographer Alexander Gardner. This and seventy other photographs were displayed in New York City at the studio of another more famous Civil War cameraman , Matthew Brady. What makes this photo to me seem all the more haunting is that it appears to be simply at rest. In reality, it died during the battle.)