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. shiststone

    Every time I see one of these pathetic morons displaying the "sturs un burrs" I always wonder how anyone can continue to live in another century. Of course it's not about living in another century, it's about wanting everyone to know that you identify with the forces of hatred, division and bigotry. These idiots display the confederate flag so all their racists buddies can ride by and salute them. THAT is the ONLY reason! A lot of the blame goes to the likes of the "Dukes of Hazard", Charlie Daniels and other "south's gunna do it agin" confederate apologists who dug all this crap back up.
    The confederate flag represents only a 4 year span of time in Southern history. THere is MUCH more Southern history to be proud of. By comparison, the Nazi flag represents 12 years of German history. Do you think that the average German citizen goes around being Proud of the Swastika? Ever wonder why both the Swastika and the "Stars n Bars" are both popular among these so called "proud confederates"? They're ALL a bunch of stupid bigots.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Kate "Flap Jack" Middleton

      I'm afraid you have no idea what you are talking about. Have you EVER been to a reenactment? If you had, you would know that the performers switch off from North to South regularly........... That's Union and Confederate. There is nothing political about these performances. They are recreations of historic events. That is all.
      If anyone is being ignorant, bigoted and xenophobic here, it is you.. Try to open up that myopic view of yours and get away from the PC grandstanding.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • TacoKing

      I'm not from the South, but I understand

      September 17, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Helaina HInson

      You should read history before you try to quote it. The flag you reference is called the Army of Northern Virginia battleflag. The Stars and Bars was the first national flag of the Confederacy, which looks NOTHING like the battle flag.

      Less than ten percent of CSA soldiers owned slaves. A good portion weren't even white. American Indians, blacks, Hispanics (thousands fought from Texas), an entire company of Filipinos (in a Louisiana regiment), Jews (such as Confederate Secretary of War Judah Benjamin) and even blacks fought for the Confederacy.

      My family fought because Washington ran them off their land and onto the Trail of Tears. My grandmother died on that march.

      Virginia didn't secede until Lincoln demanded its governor furnish troops for his invasion and allow access across its borders. Rather than invade a neighbor state, Virginia seceded.

      Read history before you try to quote it.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • rp1588

      I agree, the stars and bars stand for slavery more than for anything else.

      The stars and stripes also stand for slavery, almost nine decades worth. In addition, they stand for thirteen decades of genocide of its own citizens, four recent decades of war against its own citizens, and many wars against foreign countries to install quisling governments, or steal land and other resources. In modern times, it is USA more than any other nation that has insisted on killing the civilian population as a strategy of war, despite the fact that is illegal by international and US law.

      The evil of Nazi Germany stands out for its intensity. The evil of imperial Germany, especially in Africa, is notable but not exceptional.

      The evil of USA stands out for its persistence and duration. A million here, a million there, five million over there; after a while it adds up.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike in the Cav

      What you can't see (or hear) from this picture was ALL (Union and Confederate) Re-enactors took off their hats and said the Pledge of Allegiance and Sang the National Anthem before the battle portrayed in that picture and then took off our hats after as we sang "God Bless America".

      The "Hate and Bigotry" narrative might fit your perception, but it does not fit reality.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Dott

      I am a proud decendent of a Confederat Soldier. He was drafed at age 18 to fight in a battle that he had no idea why he would have to fight. All he was being told was that people from northern states would be coming to kill, burn and loot their homes. They were poor share croppers and had no slaves. The rich Plantation Owners could pay a poor man to fight in their son's place. I am proud because the South had broken no laws in succeding from the Union. They wanted to keep their TAX money down south and not have to send it all north. By any chance – does that sound familiar? The southern states were getting rich trading with Europe and Lincoln could not stand it thinking of all the money he could make if he could get those 11 states back into the Union. The rest is history and a horrible senseless war. By the way sorry to burst your bubble but the Civil War was not about slavery but about money. Slavery was a second thought. Lincoln later told the black people that they should move to other nations because he knew that the two races would never get along. They needed to be with their own people. How very true that is even after all the efforts by both races.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Hamsta

    Just to re educate everyone, the fact that you have a governor, a mayor, a sherrif and a local cop ( city and state government) states that the confederacy didn't lose. It was a draw, a compromise. Even though slavery was a large part of the war states rigjts to gobern themselves was the true reason for the Civil War.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • rp1588

      Ah yes, the old lie: the South started a war to maintain states' rights. States' rights were not threatened. It was all about slavery, and of those who didn't have slaves, many of them wanted slaves.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Hamsta

      Have you ever heard the phrase "history is in the eye of the beholder."? You were brainwashed into thinking that by some liberal yankee college professor. Pick up an actual history book and you will find that it is you who is believing in an old lie.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      "History" as defined by you? We can all pick and chose whatever we like at the moment. Kinda like religion.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • B

      If the Union had wanted to abolish state's rights, then states wouldn't have any rights, just as they don't have any slaves. The Union wanted to abolish slavery in the South and it has been abolished. The Union did not want to take away state's rights and they still have them.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • nostrildamus

      The myth of the noble cause has been discredited time and again. Yes, it's true the states were fighting for their rights, but there was only one right they deemed worth fighting for: the "right" to selectively apply the ideas of freedom based on skin color.

      September 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reader # 4,263

      The only right that the Southern states lost was the right to own another human being.

      September 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • H Hinson

      People won't send their sons to die for somebody else's property. Most people faced a bitter decision: do I fight for the Union, invaade my own home state, and have to shoot my family and friends? Or do I go to war with my neighbors?

      Robert E. Lee didn't believe in secession or slavery. He fought for Virginia because it was his home. General Richard Brooke Garnett wasn't a slave owner and gave his only public speech in California against secession. He, too, couldn't raise his hand against his Virginia home.

      Slavery was on the way out anyway. Virginia was the first state to ban the African slave trade, and very narrowly lost an amendment in 1859 to ban slavery in that state. Another twenty years and it would have collapsed, as it did in Brazil.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • paul

      you have been eating to many goober peas goober.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. BC

    "The Battle of Antietam was brutal and up close for the 131,000 troops engaged"

    "up close?" Just what does that mean, exactly? I think this could be said about any battle, anywhere, anytime. Stupid.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Sidb1980

      You have to go there to understand. Up close is that they literally stood line to line in front of each other. Not the trench warfare that happened later in the war after Gettysburg, but face to face. "aka up close". To be honest, I'm shocked more didn't die that day.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Helaina HInson

      The weapons were ahead of the tactics. The soldiers still stood in neat little lines to be shot.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • rp1588

      Not for the US Army at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and many later bombings by US military.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. Kate "Flap Jack" Middleton

    But was that actually a good thing? Dividing the U.S. into several different countries was a bad idea? Things might be a lot better today....

    September 17, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      It is highly doubtful things would be better today if the South won the war. The world would be a completely different place.

      I read a British historian (JM Roberts) who said of the Civil War that northern victory turned out to be a victory for all western democracies. It meant that only one power was going to have control of the vast resources of North America and those resources would prove to be the deciding factor in two world wars. Southern victory would have meant two, potentially three or four hostile nations would have been competing for those resources. It is doubtful that the resources available in North America could have been brought to bear in Europe and elsewhere under those conditions.

      For my part, a divided continent could potentially have meant that at least one of those nations may have allied themselves with either the Axis or the Central Powers, thus opening a North American front in both of those wars. Germany certainly reached out to Mexico to try and neutralize the US. It proved to be the principle reason Wilson asked for a declaration of war with Germany.

      September 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • kathy

      Flap Jack!!? ahhh..that was soo mean, but soooo funny.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    What's amzzing about the American south is how they often vote republicans as though the party of the rich is going to address their problems and cater to their concerns. No matter what the republicans do in office, these people with their self righteous one sided christian conservative views seen to be blinded to the fact that the republicans do not care about them and their families whatsoever. And let's face it, the republicans can continue to play games with the American and abuse their authority simply because when you people continue to vote for them and not hold them accountable for their actions, you make these politicians feel empowered and invincible. That is why GWB can lie about WMDs and murder so many innocent people and still return to the campaign trail and defend his policies. The same is to be said of Dick Cheyney who went on CNN's State of the Union and told Candy Crawley that he has "no regrets whatsoever." Perhaps you Bush/Cheyney supporters could tell them that our troops are still dying in an Afghan war that they delibaretaely and recklessly abandoned and prolonged to invade Iraq. Furthermore, just remember that when the ship sinks, we all go down with it regardless or race, religion or political affiliation.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Sidb1980

      The South, in my opinion, still believes in self. Meaning, the Feds shouldn't dictate their life. What happens in California should not enforced upon what Georgian's want and visa-versa. Republicans tend to favor state rights over federal control. You are bilnd to think Democrats have your back. They are just as rich and corrupt and supported by Soros, and other multi-millionaires who want your vote so they can control your every move and action.

      Let's talk about the wars Obama has us in? I thought we were coming home from Afghanistan? Then Libya and I thought the world would love us. Clearly they do not and you can't seriously believe all this unrest is because of a stupid movie trailer? If so, then the democrats have you exactly where they want you. Mindless and under control.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Helaina HInson

      I'm a Southern Gal, and it's largely the rich elite and transplanted Yankee businessmen who vote Republican. The Bush family really isn't Texan. They live there, but are really Yanks from Massachusetts. I come from a LONG line of Southern Democrats, back before the war.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Reader # 4,263

      OBAMA has us in??? Are you delusional? Are you going to continue to blame blacks for the south's inability to let go of the past, Sidb1980?

      September 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dott

      HUH ?? did I just read "Lets Talk About the WARS Obama has us in?" God have you been under a rock in the past 12 years? Obams is trying desperatly to get us out of the two wars that Bush and Cheney started. Where do you people get your news. FOX?

      September 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Helaina HInson

    The Confederate battle flag was not called the Stars and Bars. That was the first national flag, which bore no resemblance to the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag.

    I'm a mixed-race flaming liberal feminist, by the way.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. Downeaster

    One American brother and son fell every 2 seconds on the Antietam battlefield. Everyone just stop the B.S. and think about it– over 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War. Sad thing is, from my experience living in the South, the majority of native Southerners are still embracing it. I've worked in countries that have had civil wars. In none of them to the vanquished hold on desperately to the conflict that caused their bitter defeat. They certainly don't get to wave their flag around at "patriotic" rallies. That's because they LOST. So in my view this has more about holding on to the antebellum way of live of the Old South– based on the enslavement and exploitation of captured people from another continent– than it does about anything else; the "sacred soil" or states' rights, or whatever.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
    • angryersmell

      Happens after every war. Generations around after all the soldiers have died glorify the conflict, without the benefit of the wisdom living through it provided. Young southerners look back at what could have happened, then brag about it as if it did. You see neo-nazis today doing the same thing. They have no idea who they're fighting, or what they're fighting for. All they know is, they want to fight, in the past they were wronged somehow, someone is going to pay for it, and anyone who disagrees is the enemy.

      September 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      One of the things I love about my country is how the Federal Government allows southerns to memorialize the leaders of the Civil War. One of the high schools in my county is Stonewall Jackson High. One of the main roads is Jeff Davis Highway (US1). A college nearby is Washington and Lee University. The name coming from George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Anywhere else, the government would try and supress rebel leaders. In this country we don't. I disagree heavily with what those men fought for, but they fought corragiously, with tenacity, and with honor and they should be respected.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dott

      Bill so you disagree with men trying to protect their homes and lands. Most of those fighting and dying were poor farmer's sons. The war's main purpose was to bring back the tax money from the suceeding states. His thoughts about slaves came later. Look at history books. If each of those men fighting for the South were slave owners then maybe this war would have some meaning. That is not the case. Accept the truth please.

      September 17, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Dott: I said that those soldiers should be honored. This wasn't sarcasm. I genuinely love the fact that different regions in the US are allowed to honor their heros, even when those heros sought to destroy the United States. No other government in the world would tollerate anything like that.

      September 20, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Helaina HInson

    Then stop flying the AMerican flag. That's the flag that flew over slave ships. The American flag is the official flag of the KKK. The Aryan Nation flies the Christian flag. Be sure not to run those up the flagpole, either.

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

      I don't fly any flag, that solves that problem.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Walt

      me too.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cherries

      Traitor! Treasoner! If you really don't like America that much, move to Cambodia or some island in the South Pacific.

      September 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • H Hinson

      My family were Choctaws that fought for the Confederacy. They were supposed to support feds who stole and lied to them? YOU get back on the boat and go home.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Mia Hammlee

      Cambodia! Where, presumably, your dollar could keep you living like a Tahitian princess.

      September 25, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Technically not the american flag as we know it, rather the flag which was one of many flags adapted after the articles of confederation when the slave trade was still technically legal. also, though the south was outnumbered, they had better training, equipment, and for the most part positioning. In all reality, the south should have won, however, they put pride before strategy in some cases and refused to retreat.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Wilder Napalm

    Union soldiers died by the tens of thousands to free the slaves from the plantations so the Democrats could create the Welfare Plantation and re-enslave the blacks.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Helaina HInson

      There was a violent outcry among Union soldiers against the Emancipation Proclamation, and riots in New york. Northern workers feared an influx of cheaper labor if slaves were freed.

      DId you know that New York and New Jersey also considered secession? New Jersey voted it down. Lincoln arrested the governor of NY and held him prisoner for the duration of the war.

      September 17, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  10. Helaina HInson

    Downeaster, the slaves, and the wealth, were the rich elite. The average person wasn't a slaveholder. Less than ten percent of Confederate soldiers ever owned a slave. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson (who funded a Sunday School for black children), General Richard Brook Garnett and many others never owned slaves.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. Helaina HInson

    We don't care about her. She's a Yankee.

    September 17, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  12. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    LOL!

    September 17, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  13. Elena

    This is anohter fail Obama's economic policy! he freed the slaves, lol

    September 17, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  14. Johnny America

    I dont think that there were that many flags in the Bloody Lane. They usually had one flag per regiment. I guess since those are all the reenactors there is a flag for every 5 guys who made the drive to Maryland.

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

    Sounds like an afternoon in Sherrif Joe Arpaio's town if yer not frum eround thar......

    10 years and I bet we'll be back doing this stuff again – since we are too dumb to learn from history (oh – wait – histroy is only 5000 years old... I forgot)

    September 17, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
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