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. dentate

    "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." OK, CNN. This is a quote from someone quoting someone else. No elaboration on what this interesting observation means is provided. Almost this entire article is a series of links to other sources. How about some reporting?

    September 17, 2012 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Cousin Kevin

      "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"

      -What does that MEAN??

      September 17, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
    • JeramieH

      Yeah, I got caught trying to figure that one out too. I think it's referring to lessons learned (about medicine & emergency care) from the battle are still being used today.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • donny

      Really? How do you not get it? It means the concept and systems used by modern ambulances originated from the American Civil War. Obviously people had ways to transport hurt/sick people in the past but there wasn't a great system in place until the ambulance wagons of the Civil War. Hence why the guy says when you see an ambulance, you're seeing something that stems from the Battle of Antietem.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • peridot2

      The invention of the ambulance happened there at the battle. Rather than have the doctor go the the wounded patient, they brought the patient to the medical tent.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • JeramieH

      > Really? How do you not get it?

      Maybe because the average person doesn't know the history of ambulance services, and the article didn't mention them. It only said "lessons learned" without further elaboration about the significance of the battle to emergency care.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  2. Treason is a crime, not a political free-speech issue

    There are people who seek more than just a re-enactment of the Civil War.
    They seek to destroy our government, our country, and our way of life.
    They call themselves Americans but do not deserve the name.
    They deserve prison and confiscation of all they own.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Beff "Skunk" Jaxter

      The U.S. needs to be divided up into more than one country. Because all of us together just ain't working out!

      September 17, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      The Tea Party, the GOP, Ted Nugent, Judge Tom Head, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Eric Cantor, Rush Limbaugh...

      September 17, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Hamsta

      Sure blame the tea party all you want, ypu are just showing your guilty conscience. The worst offenders are Barrack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Eric Holder, and the occupy movement, just pick up the police reports and find out for yourself. Oh yeah, Obama used his executive order so you can't get that info.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • oldvet10

      Hopefully they will be voted out of office this election

      September 17, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Scot B

      The term you use, be it "Patriot", "Subversive", or "Terrorist" is dependent on your point of view and who ultimately wins the conflict. The American Revolutionaries were considered "subversives" or "terrorists" by the Crown, but they won the war and now we call them "Patriots", yet consider the "Loyalists" of the period to be "submissives" or "timid" because they did not stand for the freedoms that the revolutionaries fought for.

      Fortunately, the government we created in the 18th century offers us a 3rd option of organization and participation in government to make the government represent The People. This may be a more palatable option to toiling in servitude or the horrors of taking up arms in rebellion.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  3. Ben

    The North won the battle with more casualities than the South? Was this the first "Spindoctoring" from the whitehouse?

    September 17, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • cw

      Fairly certain that spindoctoring is as old as civilization.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Ig88a

      Not necessarily. It may mean that it took more casualties to achieve the intended goal or victory.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Goals

      If the North's strategic objective was accomplished, then it can be called a victory. Might be a pyrrhic victory with all the casualties, but still a victory. Not every battle is just about killing more of the enemy than you lose yourself (although that would obviously be a high priority as well)

      September 17, 2012 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Gojiraatomic

      Just because you suffer more casualties in a battle or war.....doesn't mean you "lost" either.........just saying...

      September 17, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Gojiraatomic

      Also if you look at it in numbers, as you seem to have........the South lost a higher percentage of its army than the North did.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Jay Faulconer

      It's called attrition. The Union Army had far more soldiers than the South so any battles that were close in terms of casualties were victories for the north. Every Union General except for Grant thought that a loss, or even close victory, was a tragic but Lincoln correctly observed that he would win the war when he found a General who could do the math.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Blanderson Hooper

      The South did win the war. The North just had the most media on its side.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
    • alpg49

      The North achieved its strategic goal of halting a Confederate invasion of the North. That's why it was considered a draw or a Northern victory. At that time, it was still a war of maneuver. It would later become a war of attrition which the North was sure to win.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
    • leggs

      The south disengaged from the field of battle first. That was how history defined victory or defeat in most of those battles.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JustMe

    And since the North outnumbered the South almost 2 to 1, their heavier casuality loss was not as significant in terms of simply numbers – although any loss of life is significant in humanistic terms.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jerry

    Re-enactors are nothing more than teachers of history and play a very important role in our society by displaying in actor (stage play) the reality of the battle so we can get a better understanding of what actually happened. They also serve to remind us of the tragedy so we, as a people, don't forget.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  6. Bolobolo666

    The article does not say that it was a Union victory. It says that Lincoln called it a Union victory. He then used the occasion of this "victory" to announce a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The purpose of this proclamation was to keep the anti-slavery British from entering the war on the side of the Confederacy. Lincoln's strategy worked. After the Emancipation Proclamation the possibility of the British aiding the Confederacy was nil. Without the Brits the sheer wait of the Union forces and materials eventually crushed the Confederacy.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Helaina HInson

      Read the Emancipation Proclamation sometime. It freed NO ONE AT ALL. It declares "free" slaves "in states in rebellion" meaning the Confederacy, where Lincoln had no authority. The next paragraps get REAL interesting.....they list exclusions of northern slaveholding states, such as Kentucky, and in territory re-taken by the North, such as the City of New Orleans. It was a pointless propaganda piece with no power.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • neoritter

      @Helaina – yes anyone that knows history knows this. The reason it didn't free any slaves in the border states is because those border states were always teetering between staying with the union and seceding. Maryland was a border state and they had not a year earlier voted against secession, but there were still people favoring. Lincoln could not risk Maryland seceding and cutting of Washington from the rest of the Union. It didn't matter that Lincoln technically held no power to free slaves in the Confederacy. The fact that he said he'd free slaves in the South forced British hands. Lincoln's speech made it so that if you supported the Confederacy you supported slavery. The Brits had a choice, keep getting cheap cotton and support slavery or drop support of the Confederacy.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Heleina, the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery the principle issue at stake in the Civil War for the reasons neoritter explained. It made the war a moral issue and meant that a northern victory would result in the abolition of slavery throughout the US. It didn't free a slave, but it made the elimination of slavery a war aim.

      September 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Murdock Supreme

    A great and a terrible day.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  8. Don Gwynne

    I am fairly certain that both sides considered the other as "domestic terrorists". And both believed the phrase "God is on our side".

    September 17, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • neoritter

      You'd be fairly wrong.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • leggs

      The South referred to the war in general as the "War of Northern Aggression."

      September 17, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Don

    The reason some consider it a Union victory is that the Confederates withdrew and returned to Virginia.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  10. Afro Zombie Race War

    The U.S. should've just been divided into 2 or 3 different countries. Things might be working better for all of us. And it's not like any of our regions have anything in common with each other, anyway. That's why there is so much division and hatred, from all sides.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • peridot2

      That's not what the problem is these days. What's really wrong is that a specific group sees their majority heading for a minority and they're desperately trying to consolidate their holdings. That's right, WASPs are trying to stir up their base and in the process every American has been paying for it the last 4 years as the GOP continues its prolonged tantrum.

      Grover Norquist wrote the contract and every White Old Angry Fat Guy (WOAFG) signed it in public. All they've cared about and their only goal for the last 4 years has been getting President Obama out of office. Why do you think the country has had such a slow recovery? The GOP has sat on their hands and done bugger-all to help.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  11. Substandard

    Really, you feel that a larger loss of lives is a loss and not a victory. Many wars have been won with more lives lost. Yes Lincoln was joking when he said we won the battle and the war.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  12. Chanel

    There wasn't anything Civil about it.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  13. oldvet10

    Cousin Kevin, the Civil War really began the systemic treatment of casualities with triage and a dedicated ambulance service, This is what the gentleman was referring to.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Cousin Kevin

      Thanks!

      September 17, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bob Fates from Chicago

    Ah, the "civil" war – brought to you by good 'ol "Honest" Abe, the man responsible for the needless and criminal slaughter of 600,000 Americans. A "man" who is honored with a monument, a national holiday – he even shows up on our money.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • alpg49

      The war started before Lincoln was inaugurated. ... another opinion from a low-information voter.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob Fates from Chicago

      Don't worry Lincoln apologists, you can all beat-off into your popcorn when Spielbergs white wash of the so-called "Great Emancipator" hits the theatres, based on the "work" of a confessed plagiarist, Doris Kearns-Goodman.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
    • JeramieH

      Lincoln took office March 4, 1861
      Civil war hostilities began April 12, 1861

      September 17, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Helaina HInson

      Wrong, alp. The first shots were fired in June 1860 – after Lincoln had taken office.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Scot B

      Interesting that somebody would blame Lincoln for "starting the Civil War" when it was the Confederates who initiated hostilities and attacked Fort Sumter. And before that, it was the southern representatives of Congress who put forth proposals of secession from the Union and ultimately walked out of Congress. Yet "Bob Fates from Chicago" would have us believe that Lincoln "started" the war?

      September 17, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Scot B

      Ignore this "Bob Fates from Chicago" troll.

      Anybody who applies the term "criminal slaughter" to a leader in office during a declared war between regular military armies is either a Jihadist, somehow managed to skip high school, and/or was educated by Chicago's teachers while they were on strike. He a) missed or ignored US history, and b) does not understand the meaning of "slaughter" or "criminal".

      September 17, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. Beatrice

    I feel most agree this was George W Bush's fault. They should start a congressional imbestigation into the matter.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Chalie

      Yeah, I agree Beatrice, they might as well include the War of 1812 since that was his fault too.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Wilder Napalm

      Obviously you are forgetting the great depression as well.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Mac

      You know what else is probably George W Bush's fault? your stupidity

      September 17, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Blah blah blah. If you could you would probably blame Obama for anything you don't like.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Dott

      One thing that I am certain about is this: George W, Bush and Cheney are responsible for taking a surplus and turning it into a bankrupt nation and then starting two wars without a reason. How will we know that we have won one of those wars? What is the Prize? Oh yes I forgot Iraq was because "Hussein tried to kill my daddy". Spoken by GWB just before he started this senseless war oh yes and all those 5,000 dead troops yep that is his fault and when you see those Vets walking around without limbs – yep that is GWB's fault too. Don't know about these other things.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
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