On this day 151 years ago, the deadliest day in US history

151 years ago today, on September 17, 1862, the battle of Antietam, named for Antietam creek which ran right through the middle of the battlefield was fought in Sharpsburg Maryland.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” George Santayana 

It was and is still today the deadliest day in American History including Pearl Harbor, D Day and 9-11 and yet most people know nothing about it. Even I didn’t until after I had that dream.


The Confederates were far outnumbered by the federals; Union 87,000 to Confederate 45,000

      However, the confederates put up a fierce fight and even though they were far outnumbered, their fighting skills, that included very skilled sharp shooters,  gave the union army a run for it’s money.  It was the first battle of the war to take place on union soil and also the first time the confederates “invaded” union territory for battle.  They started to arrive the day before and the fighting began at dawn and fought fiercely all day long.  By then end of the day, there would be more American deaths than on any other day in history.  There were multiple skirmish locations at the battle site which is approximately 8 square miles.  In Miller’s cornfield, antietam4

union soldiers who survived said that the confederates came out of the morning fog among the cornstalks, their gray uniforms providing camouflage for them against their enemies in the morning mist.  Bloody lane aka sunken road was a shortcut road with ruts made by years of wagon wheels travelling along it.  It was so named because, in the end, the ruts were filled with blood and the dead lay everywhere a person looked.   The battle raged near Dunker’s church as well causing even more casualties. 

dead-at-antietam-bloodylane dunkerchurch antietam antietam2 antietam3 antietamhilldead

Then there was the battle for Burnside’s bridge.  Before the battle it was named Rohrbach’s bridge for a farmer who lived nearby but after the battle it was given the name Burnside’s bridge which was actually a tongue in cheek reference to union general Ambrose Burnside


Ambrose Burnside, union general

Ambrose Burnside, union general

who was thought by many to have performed badly, even ineptly, in this battle, it was meant to humiliate him and the name has stuck to this very day.  The confederates kept the union from crossing this bridge for 3 hours even though they were so seriously outnumbered. Between 4 and 5 attempts were made by the union to cross it and take control of it, but they were pushed back each time.  There were only about 400 confederate troops, mostly from Georgia (the 2nd and 20th infantries led by General Robert Toombs) to defend against the vast union army.  Finally at about 2pm about 650 union soldiers ran down the hill across the street to take the bridge at last.  Confederate sharp shooters, shot many of them from their perches in the trees as they ran, but to no avail.  The union comprised of the 51st NY and PA took the bridge from the battle-weary Georgians who now only numbered 280, having lost 120 men in this part of the battle alone. The remaining Georgians retreated into the surrounding woods following the union crossing.  The union lost about 500 men just during the taking of Burnside’s bridge over Antietam creek.

this is me in the center of the bridge with the union hill behind me

this is me in the center of the bridge with the union hill behind me

bridge bridgewithsign burnsidebridge burnsidebridgeold


At the end of this battle, President Lincoln thought it had made enough of an impact as a union victory that he seized the opportunity to finally unveil the Emancipation Proclamation that was officially unveiled in a tent nearby to the battlefield only days after the battle was over. 

emancipation proclamation unveiled after Antietam

emancipation proclamation unveiled after Antietam

This announcement caused England and France to change their plans to recognize the confederate states of America as their own country.  Without this support from overseas, their plan was seriously weakened and led to their eventual demise and re-joining the United States of America 3 years later.

Across the street from the site is the “Antietam National Cemetery”.  When I visited I assumed that if it was a national cemetery, soldiers from all states would be buried there.  Not so!  Only Union soldiers are buried there.  Apparently, during the civil war, the side that was considered victorious in a battle was responsible for burying the dead, in this case it was the union’s job.  They took a lot of time with their own men identifying and interring them but when it came to confederate dead, they were lined up like cord wood and buried in mass graves near to where they fell, most of their names and locations lost to history.  I was very disappointed when I saw that not a single confederate soldier was buried in this “national” cemetery, what an outrage! I got to visit this site with a person I know from the area actor James Eadline who I visited at his home for the weekend and who kindly drove me to this battlefield park it was an amazing experience.

 “Only the dead have seen the end of a war”  George Santayana   

photo credit*****all black and white period photos courtesy of the Library of congress

Now that we know, let’s try not to repeat history…………………………….


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