At a fractious cabinet meeting on Sept. Ambrose Burnside had declined. On Sept. Lee believed that the South must strike a blow that would reduce the Northern enthusiasm for the conflict or face a war of attrition it could not win. Meanwhile the Northern press panicked at the presence of Lee and his army on Union soil. Some among the Union military privately voiced similar distress. I must confess I am not very sanguine of our power. Lafayette McLaws and Gen. Ever cautious, McClellan squandered much of his advantage by waiting more than 17 hours before getting underway. Alerted by a Southern sympathizer that McClellan had a copy of his orders, Lee moved to block the Union advance.
Lee became convinced that he needed to abandon his plans, but word from Jackson that Harpers Ferry would surely fall the next day restored his determination and he ordered his army to march to Sharpsburg. Explore multimedia from the series and navigate through past posts, as well as photos and articles from the Times archive.
But convinced as ever that he was outnumbered, McClellan hesitated east of Antietam Creek. Harpers Ferry fell to the Confederates the next day, and by midday on Sept. A cataclysmic battle was at hand. Lee arrayed his forces in a crescent, anchored on the right by Antietam Creek and on the left by the Potomac River for a map of the battle, click here.
While the rebel army enjoyed interior lines of communication, it had its back to a river that was not easily crossed. Late in the day, Maj. Although McClellan had a sound battle plan, he failed to communicate it to his corps commanders or to coordinate their assaults. Each corps operated independently, and no more than 20, of his 75, troops were ever engaged at any one time during the battle: 20, troops saw no action at all.
The fighting began in earnest early the next morning. For a time, the Union troops made progress, but attack and counterattack soon transformed a now-iconic landscape — the Cornfield, the East and West Woods, the Dunker Church — into a slaughter pen. Wave after wave of federal troops sought to dislodge rebel troops from a sunken farm road, often exchanging fire at 30 paces. I think that in the space of less than ten acres, lay the bodies of a thousand dead men and as many more wounded.
At the southern end of the battlefield, three Confederate batteries and an infantry brigade commanded by Brig. Robert Toombs looked down from a steep hill onto Rohrbach Bridge. Despite repeated urging from McClellan, General Burnside made only a few desultory attempts to cross the bridge until early afternoon, when troops from New York and Pennsylvania regiments finally braved the withering fire and established themselves on the other side of Antietam Creek.
This rankled Burnside, and some historians believe it caused him to move sluggishly in his effort to take the stone bridge that now bears his name. The IX Corps contained many combat-seasoned units, but it also had its share of green troops. Accordingly, one of these regiments, the 16th Connecticut, wilted when Confederate Maj.
Ranking second in the West Point class of , he spent his early military career constructing defenses of the Southern coast. In the Mexican War he won several brevets for gallantry and occasionally led troops in combat. When the fighting broke out, he spent most of his time on garrison duty.
This would be one of the few times he would ever lead men in battle, and the corps was the largest combat entity he had ever commanded. Mansfield did not survive his first large command. He was one of six general officers, three from each side, killed or mortally wounded at Antietam. The XII Corps contained the largest component of nine-month regiments, five of them concentrated mostly in the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division.
It was also the smallest corps in the army, fielding less than 8, men. These apparent deficiencies were offset by the presence of Brig. George S. Greene and his division — a seasoned command led by an experienced commander. With around 1, men, Greene held a pocket in the Confederate lines near the Dunker Church for more than two hours. Unsupported and low on ammunition, he ultimately was forced to abandon his position. As opposed to the patchwork quality of the Army of the Potomac, the Army of Northern Virginia was a lean fighting machine.
This was an army of combat veterans. Twenty-two units had been in five battles. Only around 21 percent of the regiments had fought in just one battle. Their commanders were hardened veterans too. James Longstreet and Thomas J. That would require legislation from the Confederate Congress. The South Carolina—born Longstreet had a long military career that included combat in Mexico and against the Indians in Texas.
At Sharpsburg his command held the Confederate center and right. Here was Maj. John Bell Hood, a Texan via Kentucky, who was a virtual pit bull in battle. His aggressive leadership played a prominent role in preventing the collapse of the Confederate left on the morning of September Another audacious commander in the campaign, Maj.
This son of the western Virginia mountain region had earned his combat spurs early at First Manassas. His brilliant Valley campaign in the spring of further solidified his greatness. It is believed that Lee had no more than 40, men at Sharpsburg. The months of campaigning and fighting had taken its toll. The average Confederate regiment numbered men. Some had less. The 8th Georgia carried 85 officers and men into battle, while the 8th Virginia had 34 men and the 1st Louisiana Battalion numbered an amazing 17 combatants. The average Union soldier at Antietam would have been clothed in the standard dark-blue four-button blouse with light-blue trousers.
But within this sea of blue could be found a smattering of other hues and styles. McClellan took great pains to see that his army was reequipped following months of campaigning. This took place at the camps at Rockville and through the establishment of supply depots at Frederick and Hagerstown, Md. Between September 12 and October 25, , the army received more than , pairs of shoes and boots, 93, pairs of trousers, 10, blankets and numerous other supplies. This influx of supplies was not a mere luxury or crass display of Yankee abundance. They were sorely needed after all the hard campaigning that summer.
For example, a few weeks after Antietam, the quartermaster of the I Corps was seeking more than 5, shoes for the unshod soldiers of that command. Numerous civilian eyewitness accounts bear this out. Their coats were made out of almost anything that you could imagine, butternut color predominating. Their hats looked worse than those worn by the darkies.
Many were barefooted; some with toes sticking out of their shoes and others in their stocking feet. Their blankets were every kind of description, consisting of drugget, rugs, bedclothes, in fact anything they could get, put up in a long roll and tied at the ends, which with their cooking utensils, were slung over their shoulders. On the eve of the battle, Snyder fled with his mother to a nearby farm. Upon entering his home, he found the place a wreck, with doors and windows open, and drawers and closets ransacked.
Heaps of ragged uniforms were on the floor, apparently exchanged for the cleaner clothes of the Snyder family. In one bedroom James found a naked Confederate soldier lying on the bed, his dirty, tattered uniform piled on the floor.
In the late summer of , many Confederate regiments were still operating under the so-called commutation system of clothing supply. This system gave responsibility to each company commander for clothing his troops. The officer was to then seek reimbursement from the government. Individual Confederate states also undertook various measures to clothe their men, while private citizens got in on the act by raising money for uniforms.
Meanwhile, the Confederate government was in the process of establishing quartermaster depots. However, it was not until late and early , too late for Antietam, that Confederate authorities committed themselves to clothe their troops by direct government issue. Accordingly, a hodgepodge of uniforms was very much evident on the fields around Sharpsburg.
Yet despite civilian accounts, the sparse photographic evidence that exists, mainly post-battle images of Confederate dead taken by Alexander Gardner, shows Confederates with short jackets, trousers and blanket rolls or knapsacks. Most of the men in these grim photos have shoes.
Most of these men got nowhere near the captured supplies there, however, since they were rushed to Sharpsburg for the battle. A rare image of Confederates in formation on the march taken by a local photographer in Frederick reveals what appear to be well-equipped soldiers wearing a wide variety of headgear.
The Battle of Antietam
Another interesting but inconclusive observation of Confederate uniforms was made by Union surgeon James L. Dunn in a letter to his wife after Antietam. I have yet to find a Rebel even meanly clad or shod. They are as well shod as our own men. They are dressed in gray.
Those shoes you made for me ripped all to pieces…. Our regiment used everything we had. I have no blanket nor any clothes but what I got. I have got the suit on that you sent me. They came in a good time. I like them very well. If I had a pair of shoes I would be the best clothed man in the regiment. Throughout the war, the Union infantrymen were usually better armed than their Rebel opponents. Antietam was no exception. The most common shoulder arm of the Yankee foot soldier was the Springfield rifle.
This does not mean that there was not some degree of diversity of arms in the Union ranks. For example, some units such as the 7th West Virginia were armed with the British-made Enfield rifled musket.
Battle of Antietam Facts
The 20th New York carried the U. Model Mississippi rifle with saber bayonet. These included several types of rifled muskets, such as the. Some of the men carried. Model Harpers Ferry rifle, the U. Model Mississippi rifle and the Austrian Lorenz rifle. However, one estimate places the number of. Although much is made of this lack of new weaponry, research shows that most of the opposing fire at Antietam was at a distance of around to yards, where smoothbore firearms were reasonably accurate.
In the end, supplying the types of ammunition needed for these weapons was a logistical nightmare for the Confederate ordnance department. Field artillery played a major tactical role at Antietam. Reports of the number of Union guns engaged in the battle vary from to There were of these guns employed in the fight. Accurate up to one mile, they were also deadly when firing canister at shorter ranges. Napoleons were used en masse with awful effect to break up several Confederate attacks on the north end of the battlefield in the morning phase. A significant portion of the Union artillery consisted of state-of-the-art long-range rifled guns such as the and pounder Parrott.
Forty-two of the former and 30 of the latter pieces were brought to bear on the Confederate lines with deadly effect. Fifty-seven Union batteries were fielded on that bloody Wednesday. In fact, Hunt had to reorganize the artillery just weeks before Antietam. Logistical problems existed, and many batteries were short of men, horses, guns and other equipment.
Hunt relieved many of these deficiencies within a very short time. At Antietam he still faced an organizational challenge. Conversely, McClellan preferred attaching three or four batteries per division. Essentially, infantry division commanders and occasionally brigade commanders had control of the artillery under them.
About one-third of the Union batteries at Antietam were commanded by lieutenants. Accordingly, these lower-ranking officers deferred to infantry commanders for the tactical deployment of their cannons. Therefore, it was hard for the Union artillery to be massed at the tactical level, although in some cases this happened at Antietam on an ad hoc basis. The Confederates had around pieces of field artillery at Sharpsburg. The arsenal consisted of a hodgepodge of different model cannons, including 41 of the obsolete Model 6-pounders.
A Short Overview of the Battle of Antietam
These Mexican War—era pieces were effective only at short range and threw a very weak punch. Lee had only 27 pounder Napoleons, and rifled guns were at a premium. In contrast to the Federals, the Confederates had only four pounder Parrott rifles and 36 of the pounders. Lee was also bedeviled by inferior ammunition. A large number of fuzes and shells exploded prematurely, or not at all. But like the rest of his command, the artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia was better organized for tactical application. Prior to Sharpsburg, Lee had assigned one artillery battalion, generally consisting of five or six batteries, to each of his infantry divisions.
One for Jackson would come later. Cavalry played a limited role at Antietam. Alfred Pleasonton, a good bureaucrat but a poor field commander. Despite his prewar studies of European cavalry, McClellan also had little grasp of how to properly use his mounted arm. But, even if it had been properly utilized, the Union cavalry would have faced significant challenges. Many units were simply unfit for service. The 1st Massachusetts Cavalry received no rations from September 2 to 20, leaving the troopers to fend for themselves on green corn, apples and the occasional generosity of local farmers.
The regiment started the campaign strong, and within a few weeks after Antietam numbered fewer than men, many with uniforms in rags and without boots or stockings. In addition, the regiment did not have any tents. Most of the Union cavalry regiments carried sabers, pistols and carbines, primarily the Model Sharps Breechloading Carbine. The 3rd Pennsylvania carried many of the new models of cavalry carbines. On the north end of the field, units such as the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry also served as provost guard, rounding up straggling infantry and forcing them back into the fight.
In late July , J. Stuart was promoted to major general and given command of a Confederate cavalry division consisting of three brigades. The Maryland campaign was the first time Stuart had commanded such a large mounted force in the field. Cavalry saber and pistol. A few companies had breechloading carbines, more often than not captured from the Yankees. As was typical, particularly for this period of the war, the Confederate cavalry was used more aggressively at the tactical level.
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That afternoon they were engaged in a failed reconnaissance in force against the Union right. Supplying and feeding an army has been a daunting task throughout history. And so it was in the Civil War. As would be expected, the Union had a huge edge in this category. The men of the Army of the Potomac would arrive on the fields of Antietam well fed and well equipped. Soldiers received three pounds of rations per day. To carry food and forage, the army brought along more than 3, wagons — each of which carried about a ton.
This transportation system included more than 30, horses and mules. Even with that support, much food was requisitioned from the local farmers, whether they were cooperative or not. For the Confederates, the supply situation was acute. Lee had only about 16, horses of mixed quality and efficiency to pull his wagons. As previously noted, a lack of shoes along with a shortage of rations rendered some soldiers unfit to continue on the march into Maryland.
Accordingly, thousands fell behind and did not catch up with the army until several days or even weeks after the battle. As the sun set on the hills around Sharpsburg on the evening of September 17, the opposing forces found themselves surrounded by some of the worst carnage ever witnessed on the North American continent. Nearly 4, men were killed outright.
The bodies from both armies were generally buried where they fell on the field. It took Union burial parties three or four days to do the job.
Even in death, the fallen warriors of these opposing American armies would lie separately. In the Union dead were reinterred in the Antietam National Cemetery. The Confederate remains would not be removed from the field until At that time, they were placed in the newly established Washington Confederate Cemetery in nearby Hagerstown.
Around 19, men were wounded in the battle.
See a Problem?
Of these about 12, were Union. Thousands would die from their wounds. Some accounts tell of soldiers lying out on the battlefield for two or three days. A revolution in combat medical care had been instituted just a few weeks prior to Antietam to alleviate this problem. Jonathan Letterman, medical director of the Army of the Potomac, organized an ambulance corps that moved to the front to evacuate the wounded, established field hospitals and created a procedure to prioritize casualties by the severity of their wounds the triage system that emergency medical teams still use today.
The burden of caring for the wounded posed a logistical problem that encompassed an area exceeding a mile radius. Approximately area homes and farms were used, caring for anywhere from a few hundred to more than 1, wounded soldiers. Research indicates that several thousand wounded Confederates were left behind, to the mercy of the Union surgeons. Tradition holds that visitors to the now peaceful Maryland countryside do not see elaborate statues and other memorials to the generals because of their many costly blunders.
The limited monuments at Antietam National Battlefield, greatly dwarfed in size and majesty by those at sites such as Gettysburg and Vicksburg, depict the common soldier.