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Antietam

Antietam


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Following the Confederate victory at Second Bull Run in late August, 1862, Lee moved his forces across the Potomac into Maryland. This advance into Union territory was later memorialized in James Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Barbara Frietchie.” Lee issued Special Orders No. 191 and divided his forces into four components, sending "Stonewall” Jackson to nearby Harper`s Ferry. Union commander George B. McClellan gained a potential advantage when, on September 13, a Union soldier discovered a copy of Lee’s orders wrapped around a packet of cigars. However, McClellan let his advantage fade away through inaction, and waited until September 17 to attack, a delay that enabled Jackson to return victorious from Harper`s Ferry.The ensuing battle was one of the bloodiest of the Civil War. Initially, the Confederates were pushed back but after an hour of fighting, they held their positions.Next came an attack by two divisions of the Union`s 12th Corps under Mansfield. Some 2,000 soldiers fell in a brief period, bringing an end to the attack on the Confederate left.In the center, the two divisions of Sumner`s forces that he had not waited for, were attacking Hill`s division. But no order to attack came.The final component of the day`s fighting was a Union attack by Major General Ambrose E. Another two hours were spent preparing to press the attack, at which point the Confederate forces were easily pushed back.But too much time had been wasted. Hill`s Light Division had marched 17 miles that day and arrived in time to force back the Union troops toward Antietam Creek.During the battle, the Unions 5th Corps had been present throughout and the 6th Corps had arrived during the day. Even an attack on the following day would have crushed Lee, who had not retreated.McClellan has been severely criticized for not mounting a full scale assault on the following day. The South suffered 13,700 casualties and the North, 12,500.The impact of Antietam was immense. Their failure to hold enemy territory dissuaded the British from establishing diplomatic relations.Lincoln, long awaiting a significant victory, used the occasion of Antietam to announce the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in rebel territories.Following the events of September 1862 the Confederate armies were increasingly on the defensive.


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