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. BC

    It is good to see CNN writing a piece on something that happened during the history of our great nation. All too often as Americans we become complacent and forget about how we have come so far within the past 150 years. If you have not been there... GO. Fighting was very intense and if you walk the landscape and overlook the cornfield where the heaviest fighting occurred it will give you a great feeling of respect for the men and women (such as Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross, was set up not far away at a field hospital on the battlefield) who served there. It was only a one day battle and so many lives were either ended or forever changed, as was our nation.

    As Americans I believe it is our duty and responsibility to understand our past to get a clearer picture of where we are today and how things have come to pass. As a Marine Corps Veteran it saddens me to see so many Americans who don't understand our history yet want to dictate our future. It doesn't matter if you are a Democrat, Republican, or anything in between we must all understand and know that this country is founded on unity... United We Stand, Divided We Fall... On days like today, when we recollect on a significant event in our short history of existence we must set aside our differences to honor those who have fought and died so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

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

      You speak words of wisdom, Sir. Thank you for your service and welcome home.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. donny

    Hahaha do you honestly believe the Confederacy didn't lose? They surrendered, their armies were defeated, their cities were burned, and last time I checked the United States is just that, united.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Dott

      Donny do some calculation and you won't wonder why the South lost their battle to be a separate nation. 22 Northern States fought against 11 Southern States.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • ARB

      Really, united? Just read the politics section of CNN and read the blog comments.

      September 17, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chocolate cupcakes

      The Internet is no indication of anything.

      September 17, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Johnny America

    Union Confederate
    75,000 soldiers 38,000 soldiers
    12,401 casualties 10,316 casualties

    Its pretty clear who the better fighters were.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Ricky

      Since we are the United States of America, and not the Confederate [loser] States of America, it is pretty clear who knows how to win wars! The big mistake was to give the rebels statehood again, we should just kept the land as a territory with no voting rights.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • bfpiercelk

      Ricky, it's people like you who are truly disappointments in America.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Johnny America

      Ricky, you are clearly ignorant. The Confederates won 7 of the 10 major battles. They just had less people. Judging by your comment you appear to be upset at the truth. Is if fun to be an ignorant piece of public school trash? There are still states which have nor formally surrendered, so technically the war was never won, people just stopped fighting. The Confederate soldier was much better than any union soldier, there were just less of them.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim


      By that logic the Germans were better fighters than us. We lost 12000+ at Normandy were they lost at most 9000.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • donny

      Too bad winning battles isn't the same as winning wars, and if the Confederates were such great soldiers then they should have won. Also doesn't help that they had horrible infrastructure, logistics, communications, inability to feed their own troops, etc.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Johnny America

      @Jim. You are wrong and here is why. Dday was a single battle. Overall the Germans lost more and lost land.

      If you actually had studied history you would know that in nearly every battle and certainly in every major battle the Confederates were outnumbered greatly, sometimes 2-1 or 2.5-1. Yet they continued to win with less supplies and men. If a football team went out every week with 9 players and their record was 7-3 it would be legendary. There is a reason that Confederate generals like Jackson, Stuart, Lee and Forrest are studied internationally for tactics. They had a higher quality solider as well as superior generals. They lacked numbers and logistical support, that was the difference.

      You should leave the logic thing to those who know how to use it. Nice try though.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Dude, your ignorance is showing

      Wow, the ignorance of people like ricky, donny and jim make me sad for the future of our nation. When confronted with facts and statistics they revert to elementary school intellect.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Johnny America

      Donny, what a very simplistic view of things.You don't have a PHD in history do you? LOL...

      September 17, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • donny

      Forget about the regular season, that "legendary" 7-3 football team still lost in the championship and in the end that's all anyone cares about.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • donny

      You can throw stats and facts out there all day and I'll continue to read them, they're interesting and all, but the South lost, plain and simple.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • angryersmell

      You guys seem real proud of your ability to name-call and throw around statistics as if they mean anything when taken out of context. Time to grow up, no matter which side of the Mason-Dixon you live on. Confederate forces were not "better". Early on, many of their soldiers were more experienced with handling rifles and small unit skirmishing tactics, but their lack of ability to effectively train new soldiers, supply themselves and pick effective officers would catch up with them as the war dragged on. Small armies aided in effective communication and movement, but their armies were smaller because they had neither the equipment nor the troops or officers required to field the multiple armies needed to fight on so many fronts. True, they did very well early inflicting more casualties and keeping the Union forces from gaining the initiative, and if luck had been on their side, they might have even forced a stalemate and ended the war. This didn't happen however, and as the North massed their forces, placed better officers in command and ramped up their war effort, the South lost their advantages and found themselves fighting a defensive campaign for most of the war, ending in a humiliating total defeat. If they were "better fighters" overall, in all the areas required to win a war, then they would have won, but they weren't, so they lost. It's been 150 years. Get over it.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Johnny America

      Provide some statistics and the ignorant losers get angry. LOL

      Just so you know, Im not even from the south. I dont care that they lost, but all of your ignorant comments have been making me laugh. I guess you can't handle the implication that your ancestors were sissies who won by numbers and not skill...sorry but its true. Now get over it.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dude, your ignorance is showing

      Get over what? Someone puts up the fact that at the battle of Antietam there were twice as many Union as Confederate and more Union died? What is there to get over. The rebels had less men and managed to fight off an army twice their size while killing more. If they weren't great soldiers they would have easily lost. Over 4 years they ran out of people, it wasn't due to their lack of skill or a tactical defeat like Waterloo.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • SmittytheKitty

      Its pretty clear that Union was fortunate they had more people. If things were equal or even nearly equal, the south would have won in a couple years.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • donny

      Your statistics don't prove anything though except that the South put up a fight and lost. My ancestors didn't even fight in the Civil War, so I guess they probably were sissies. You're the one getting angry, chill out kid 🙂

      September 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny America

      Nearly every historian of the Civil War will tell you if the Confederates had the same supplies and population, they would have won the war very quickly. They were better fighters. You only need to look at the statistics. Argue with the statistics. In the entire war, with less food, no shoes and inferior weapons they killed 2 for every 1 of them that died. That is illustrative of a superior soldier and general.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Oakspar

      I cannot help but compare the issue to global concerns today, when an agrian force with supior military abilities fights against a manufacturing force with inferior, but numericially supior force, attrition decides the victor.

      The Confedercy vs. The Union looks a lot like I would image a war of the USA vs. China.

      For those who would argue "well, we have nukes," be reminded how often the Confederacy could have taken and burned Washington, New York, and the rest – but chose not to so that they could remain ideologically the "non-aggressors." Would we not do the same with our nukes?

      For the silly people arguing about who were "supior fighters" or "who won or lost," may I remind you that NONE of you were fighting in that war, and reguardless of where you were raised or who you are desended from – fighting ability and training are not inheiritible traits.

      Such egotism only obscures the deeper issues of national vs. state power that are still driving much of our political discourse to this day.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny America

      Who said Im angry? You are the one who commented on my original comment. You were angered by the statistics and you got even more mad when I explained why you were wrong. Im smirking right now at you. Its funny how ignorant you are and yet you keep posting. The thought of some ignorant mouth breather refreshing his page so he can angrily reply is very funny. Just stop now. You dont need to embarrass yourself anymore. You have noting to refute those statistics.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dude, your ignorance is showing

      Who said anything about inheiritable traits? This guy was commenting on a very well known fact that the rebels had better fighters. They shot better, they marched better, they stood their ground better. That is why they won so many battles. Over the course of 4 years, they just withered. The Union could fill their ranks with Irish who had just gotten off the boat and blacks.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny America

      Its hilarious to me that these ignorant people refuse to just admit the truth. The Confederates had better soldiers. There were less of them, which is why they lost.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • SmittytheKitty

      The 300 Spartans lost the battle of Thermopalyae did they not? Does that mean the Persians were better fighters? No, there were just more of them. The 300 Spartans held their ground for days. The Confederates held their ground for years.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny America

      @smittythekitty You are correct. That is a perfect analogy. The Persians were not better than the Spartans. Look what happened to them when the numbers were more even. The Spartans along with others defeated the Persians very easily. If you had to make an army, would you take Persians or Spartans? The answer is clear. Losing due to being outnumbered is not a sign of skill, but winning in the face of 2-1 odds is.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • donny

      I don't need to refute your statistics, they lost so who cares? Ahhh who am I kidding, you got me! I'm angry because of math, nevermind that percentage wise the South lost more men (that math wouldn't work in your favor). I'm also angry because my best friend died at Antietam (time machine) and your statistics dishonor his memory. I do like how you're insulting me for responding to your posts though because you're clearly doing the exact same thing.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • nostrildamus

      The "75000" number is inaccurate. That's the number of Union troops in the general area, not the number of Union troops engaged. The Union had closer to 56,000 in the battle, the rest never made it to the field.

      It's also normal for "all things being equal", the attacker to suffer more casualties because they have to leave cover.
      See Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg for an illustration of what happened when the shoe was on the other foot and the Confederates were the one trying to push the Union off of a defensive position.

      September 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dude, your ignorance is showing

      @Donny, what does the percentage matter? The sheer numbers of battlefield casualties show that the Confederates were better fighters. They won more major battles, they just lost the war due to attrition not any decisive victory. You can play it off, but you got your @ss handed to you and just kept going (the sure sign of an ignorant person who wont admit they are wrong) I hope you dont have children, or interact with any children.

      As for the amount of troops actually engaged, there is still a nearly 20k difference. Thats an entire NBA arena.

      Chancellorsville and 2nd Bull Run are 2 examples of Confederate forces on the offensive. Gaines Mill during the 7 days was also a great victory for the confederacy. Chancellorsville was a victory the likes of which the Union never could have obtained. Anyone who actually studies the Civil War knows the Confederates had better, but less numerous troops.

      September 18, 2012 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  4. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    One of my favorite civil war movies is "Shenandoah" starring Jimmy Stewart and Catherine Ross. This was a great movie about a Virginia family that was neutral during the civil war but ended up being dragged into the the war tragically. A very sad movie but yet a very good movie.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  5. saywhat

    History of 'western' civilization is dotted with wars and blood shed. The 'dark age' pre-christianity era or since the dawn of Christianity.
    The 900-100 AD Catholic Church or the 11th century Crusades . Be it Pope Gregor vii, Pope Julian ii or Theodoret. Right up to this 21st century no other people have been responsible for more wars among ourselves and blood shed or with others, than us.
    our civil war is but a part of that history.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Matthew

      That is the history of all of mankind. War is often inevitable and mostly fought over the scarce resources on this Earth.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. peridot2

    Yes, it was a good thing. Anyone who believes it a bad thing knows little of our history. For example, how do you suppose WWI and WWII would have ended had the US been several smaller countries?

    Some people are so short-sighted and lacking in keenness of mind.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Sodomite

      "We" didn't win WW1. And, heavy lifting in the Pacific aside, "we" would've been screwed without the Soviet Union.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • john scorsini

      Hey...read a book or talk to a Veteran....The Britsh commonwealth countries fired a round or two alongside the US.

      September 19, 2012 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
    • J100409

      If we had not gotten involved in WWI there would have been no WWII....

      September 22, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • coops

      americans and their belief that the world needs them hmmmm

      October 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. peridot2

    Forgot to mention, we could all be speaking German and people of the Hebrew faith might be wiped from the face of the planet. Not a good thing.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • NonIdiot

      I would suggest you take a course in linguistics before repeating that hyperbole. We would NOT all be speaking German. It takes more than 60-70 years post-conquest to abolish a language spoken by 200-300 million people in a single country.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • V.P.

      Or we people of color would still be in chains etc. SINCE THAT IS WHAT THE CIVIL WAR WAS ABOUT! I for one thank those posthumously for fighting for my freedom!

      September 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Yankee in VA

    I visited Antietam on a hot day this past July, and spent Labor Day weekend in Gettysburg. Having grown up in WNY surrounded by the American Revolution, it has been a real eye-opener learning about the Civil War around me in VA and neighboring MD and PA. Gettysburg left me with a very heavy heart. I think all American citizens should take the time to learn more about their country's past. I just wish we would LEARN from it!

    September 17, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. Portland tony

    Sad.....Most who fought and died didn't have the faintest idea what they were fighting for or against. They only knew they didn't have the money to buy a deferment or pay for a replacement "volunteer". It was the poor working men on both sides that paid the ultimate price. The wealthy were either wearing a general 's bars or making a fortune selling war goods!

    September 17, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Vxper

      You are make assumptions based on your own experience with modern warfare. The Civil War was fought by men of all walks of life, and most knew exactly what they were fighting for.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • JeramieH

      Warfare is usually the young and poor fight, while the rich and old are at the top watching it from afar.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      That's true, but the Civil War was the last war that saw generals get killed, too.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Bob

      In most cases, confederate soldiers fought for hearth and home. In fact, many stayed behind in Virginia during the invasion because all the wanted to do was defend their home turf. Only 1 in 6 southern man even owned slaves. Sadly, those who fought for only for their homes are branded racists through todays politically correct prism.
      Many soldiers who fought in the Union army were immigrants from fractured countries in Europe and felt it was their duty to fight for the union of their adopted homeland.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dude, your ignorance is showing

    Of course more Americans died that day than Dday, both sides were American.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  11. Bill

    It's too bad more Confederates didn't die in the war.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Dude, your ignorance is showing

      Youre a bigot. Please drown your children if you have any. We dont need anymore losers like you around. If you dont have children then just commit suicide and make the world a brighter place for everyone else.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Hoot Gibson

      Too bad your forefathers didn't...then your sorry left wing Obammy Loving wouldn't be here, and that Billy Boy, would be a good thing.

      September 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • H Hinson

      President Obama is related to General James Longstreet. They're both descended from the Fitzgerald family of New Jersey.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. John the Electrician

    I don't know who won the war, but "you shore got a purty mouth"

    September 17, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dude, your ignorance is showing

    Another bigoted comment from a loser who doesn't know what they are talking about.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  14. Mike Hunt

    I remember it well!

    September 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lou Cypher

    675,000 Americans killed to affirm the supremacy of the Federal leviathan, wouldn't Jefferson be proud?

    September 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
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