The Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam)
The bloodiest single day of the Civil War took place on this date in 1862, near a small town named Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek.General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army confronted General George B. McClellan’s Union troops in what was the first major battle of the Civil War to take place on northern soil.
Major fighting took place across Millers cornfield, at Dunker Church, the Sunken Road, where the Yankees broke the Rebel center but failed to follow up the assault, and at a bridge spanning Antietam Creek. Charges and counter-charges over the bridge resulted in men piling up on one another so deep that advancing soldiers couldn’t get across. The river flowed red with their blood. The bridge later became known as Burnside Bridge.
Although Lee was outnumbered two to one, he managed to hold off the Yankees and retreat back to Virginia. McClellan failed to pursue, and the battle ended up being a draw. However, President Lincoln considered it enough of a victory to use it as a springboard in launching his Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863, freeing only slaves in Confederate states.
Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross after the war, was at the battle tending to the wounded, where she acquired the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield.” She came close to death herself when a bullet shot through the skirt of her dress, but she escaped unscathed.
The battle claimed 23,000 casualties. It also led to McClellan’s dismissal as Major General of the Army of the Potomac. Among several remarkable landmarks that still exist at this battlefield site are the Sunken Road, Dunker Church, and Burnside Bridge,