150 years since America's bloodiest day
Confederate infantry re-enactors re-create the Battle of Bloody Lane on Saturday in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
September 17th, 2012
08:34 AM ET

150 years since America's bloodiest day

Monday marks 150 years since the bloodiest day in U.S. history, the Civil War Battle of Antietam in Maryland, which left almost 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers dead, wounded, missing or captured.

While Union forces suffered a heavier casualty toll - 12, 400 Union to 10, 300 Confederate casualties - and military historians consider the battle a draw, President Abraham Lincoln called it a Union victory and said it showed that the Union army could enforce orders coming out of Washington. Five days later, Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. When it went into effect on January 1, 1863, it freed slaves in the rebellious Confederate states and made the abolition of slavery an official U.S. policy.  Read the original Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation from the National Archives here.

"Antietam enabled Lincoln to identify the nation's cause with the cause of liberty for men and women everywhere and at all times, and had it not occurred, it is quite possible that America never would have become the beacon of freedom the world now recognizes," The Baltimore Sun writes in an editorial Monday.

The Battle of Antietam was brutal and up close for the 131,000 troops engaged, 87,000 on the Union side and 45,000 for the Confederacy. In the part of the battlefield known as the Sunken Road, so much blood was spilled that dirt turned to mud, so much so that the road was later given the name Bloody Lane.

The horrific fighting and thousands of dead littering the battlefield also led to some of America's first photographs showing the carnage of war. The images, taken by Alexander Gardner, an assistant of famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, were exhibited at Brady's New York City studio. In its Lightbox blog, TIME.com shows those images and writes about how Americans reacted to them in 1863.

To see how much or how little the battlefield has changed in 150 years, check out NPR's "Then and Now" photo project. The network sent photographer Todd Harrington to the battlefield, where he used a Civil War-era camera to take images from the same spots that Gardner shot from shortly after the battle.

Re-enactments commemorated the battle over the weekend, including the fighting, as described in The Washington Post, and the retreat of the thousands of wounded, as reported by the Journal-News of Martinsburg, West Virginia.

USA Today's Chuck Raasch reports that the lessons of Antietam extend to the battlefields of today and even into the emergency medical treatment we often take for granted.

"Every time you see an ambulance run down the road as a result of a 911 call, that is the Battle of Antietam going down the road in front of you," Raasch quotes George Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, as saying.

Monday, the National Park Service will honor the dead from Antietam with a reading of all their names in a ceremony at Antietam National Cemetery. The 3 p.m. event will include the names of those buried in the national cemetery and three nearby Confederate cemeteries. The Park Service is also asking for help identifying casualties of the battle who may be buried elsewhere.

The National Endowment for the Humanities on Monday will live-stream an Emancipation Proclamation event, as Civil War historians and scholars assume they're living in 1962 and discuss the national scene Lincoln faced as he issued the Preliminary Proclamation. The event will take place at the Smithsonian Museum of American History beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Antietam history from the National Park Service

Learn more about the Battle of Antietam from the Civil War Trust.

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Filed under: Civil War • History
soundoff (256 Responses)
  1. majav

    This story has a take on the facts with a kindly nostalgia- as if we are all patriots now that the Union survived. War is in this country's blood. I find it particularly distasteful that this country's warmongering now extends globally- as if the racism and ignorance no longer exists at home. We have replaced hatred for the uppity slave with the hatred for Muslims.

    I find it particularly perplexing now that we cannot keep our nose out of Syria's civil war. In all of the Pan-Arabic Spring we are trying to find the lesser enemies to cavort with. Why can't Americans be satisfied with just one generation escaping the effects of war. To do that, we simply need do one thing- mind our own business.

    Americans are not done with the work of being free of racism. We don't need to ignore problems on the home front only to create equally disastrous ones abroad.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |
  2. freck

    th issues that started the civil war had been building for decades before the firing on ft. sunpter.mainly, the industialized northern aggressors who wanted to suppress and coloiniez the agrairian south.

    September 19, 2012 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
  3. Frank

    People of the United States of America,
    Yes, this was a dark day,even when I studied it at West Point, I never liked the idea of everyone basically lined up and firing at each other because of being easy targets even with flintlocks.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don

      They didn't teach you how to write at West Point? Strange.

      September 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kevin

    They are going to read all the names of those that died? That will take about 15 days if they read the 23000 names.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Valkyrie

    Not so!

    the Civil War Battle of Antietam in Maryland was NOT the bloodiest battle. The Battle of Gettysburg was over twice as bloody. According to americanhistory.about.com, "This battle which occurred from the July 1-3, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania resulted in 51,000 casualties of which 28,000 were Confederate soldiers."

    September 19, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don

      They mean in a single day...

      September 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. The Big D

    Gotta love the reinactors. They devote so much time and effort to learn period dress, marching, etc. And they served in the movie Gettysburg as hundreds of unpaid extras.

    I visited Antietam on a random day in the '90s. Went to the far side of the Denker Church and found a troop of Rebels camping. They offered me some parched corn. It was not good.

    September 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. stashe

    since i am originally from Kilgore, Ohio which about 8 miles away this shocked me, i have Amish nieghbors all around and weve never had any problems and have had them work with us and weve helped them.

    Also the Amish are no way technology inept, they choose not to use "modern technology" and prefer a simpler way of life, were every man pulls thier wieght and works, something Americans could take a lesson from.

    September 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Slappy_McGiggles

    Great picture, but what's with the 2 Amish guys at the bottom?

    September 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. dave

    Confederate Army - largely poor people fighting for the rights of a rich minority who looked down on them,

    Republican party in the South - largely poor people fighting for the rights of a rich minority that looks down on them

    September 21, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mom of Three

      Not just the South. That's pretty much the Republican party EVERYWHERE. Vote for Romney, you conscripts!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Dont forget about the alcoholic generals that bought their commissions.

      September 25, 2012 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  10. Melissa

    "Civil War historians and scholars assume they're living in 1962 and discuss the national scene Lincoln faced... "
    1962? Hmmm.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tatiana Covington

    We should have just let the South go and be done with it.

    September 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
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