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. Dott

    150 years and you would think it was last week. I am so tired of this racial crap. Every nation on the face of this earth has at one time had slavery, some still do. BUT the USA is the only nation that can't "Get over it." The black Americans refuse to stop living in the past. The white race refuse to stop feeling guilty for something that, since they were not born yet, they could not avoid. No one living today was ever a slave, or at least not in the USA, and no one living today ever owned a slave. The Black Americans need to be thankful that their ancestors were sold to slave traders and brought into this wonderful nation or they would still be in Africa trying to exist if they were still alive today and probably trying to figure out a way to come here. Welcome being an American and being born an American in this great nation.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Philip

    In terms of US active duty military personnel being killed overseas, 1998 is the bloodiest year in US history.
    Bill Clinton was president, Usama bin Laden was the most wanted man in the world, and the US military was involved in over 300 armed skirmishes. (little wars) Today, the US has troops in over 130 nations.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    ...and the Civil War was nothing more than the North invading the South to sieze cotton and tobacco to settle old debts with The Bank of England.
    That it was fought to stop US CITIZENS FROM PURCHASING SLAVES FROM Arab-African slavemasters is totally rediculous.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dott

      Absolutely correct. The War was about money. Did Lincoln really care about slavery if so why then did he own slaves? So face it. that war was not about slavery. In time I believe it would have been abolished anway and most sent back to Africa. They were working on that long before the war, but Lincoln could not wait any longer to get his hands on the South's money.

      Lincoln encouraged the blacks to leave America and settle in Central America. His statement: "For the sake of your race you should sacrifice something of your presetent comfort for the pupose of being as grand in that respect as the white people." He encouraged colonization resettling blacks in foreign countries believing that blacks and whites would never get along. How right he was!

      September 17, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • H Hinson

      The African slave trade was ended by congressional act in 1804. The slaves that were being bought and sold were those, and their descendents, who were already here, not new captives from Africa.

      Slavery was on the way out anyway. The invention of farm machinery would have made it impractical, as happened in Brazil.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  4. Philip

    @Dott. Research the Bush-bin Laden group of investors and all of your questions will be answered.
    The Carlyle Group's original financiers are the Bush and bin laden families. According to FBI whitsleblower Sibel D. Edmonds and 24 Dept. of Defense officials, these are the men who financed 9/11.
    Sibel D. Edmonds and dozens of others have been under federal gag orders for years. Hundreds of Bridas corp. employees still sit it US prisons...their only "crime" being they operated Afghanistans pipeline infrastructure that the Carlyle Group needed for themselves. (The afghan gov. awarded Bridas with the rights, US COURT CASES PROVE ALSO. Bridas v Unocal, Bridas v Turkmenneft)
    The afghan gov and Bridas corp. were removed as the last 2 remaining obstacles to bushco controlling afghanistans pipeline infrastructure.
    9/11 victims family lawsuits name Carlyle Group members as 9/11 financiers as well.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. question

    Why does President hide that he speaks fluent arabic? He should show it off.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Philip

    @President Obama and friends/family/citizens who vote for him b/c he is black:
    LIFT Bush's federal gag orders keeping FBI Sibel Deniz Edmonds from standing before The US Congress and showing us exactly who laundered money, trafficked drugs, and financed 9/11.
    RELEASE Bridas corp. employees Bush had arrested for his own personal reasons, and labled them as "terrorists". These are decent hard-working pipeline industry men who happen to be afghani.
    The entire world will soon know exactly who financed 9/11. Prepare yourselves now for the shocking news. ty

    September 17, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dott

    I have been reading some of these post and I am shocked to realize that few people know that only plantation owners had slaves and there were FEW plantations. Everyone wants to believe that all the sons who fought for the confederacy were slave owners wanting the right to own human beings. Face the fact that the many thousands who fought and died in that horrible war was just like today. POOR sons who's daddy did not have enough money to pay some one else to fight in their son's place, they were the ones dying on the battle field. Sounds just like today. As much as things change they always stay the same. Bring back the draft – well it was in effect 150 years ago but just like today a rich man can buy his son's way out of going to war. Remember GWB in the National Guard. never showed up. Ha Ha

    September 17, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    The Banc of France financed our founding fathers who never paid them back. So, the Banc sold our note to the Bank of England, who years later was still demanding payment and legally siezeing US international trade goods for payment.
    The North's government borrowed even more from the Bank of England on promises of repaying by invading the south and capturing cotton and tobacco plantations.
    That the Civil war had anything at all to do with slavery is laughable, at best.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Laughing Gnome

      Somebody's re-writing history again, lol!

      September 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dott

      It was all about money. Lincoln could have cared less about the slaves. He owned a few himself. He wanted the money that the South was receiving from England for their goods and he got it. Along with all those dead sons of the South and North. He was a miserable man.

      September 17, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. famous quotes

    "The Glory of War is all moonshine."-Civil War General Sherman.
    How much moonshine have you flag wavers been drinking? sheesh!

    September 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jeru0455

    llol 1962

    September 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. travis reynolds

    I get so sick of hearing how the great emancipator, Lincoln, freed the slaves. He is to blame for the blood that filled "Bloody Lane" and every other battlefield of the War Between the States... And if you don't think are still two countries look at the electoral map. There still is the difference today that existed 150 years ago... The North does not understand the South and it never will..

    September 17, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Likewise, the South will never understand the North.
      Cuts both ways.
      And if the South HAD been able to secede, make no mistake: life as you see it today would be drastically altered, and not for the better.

      September 17, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Not to mention that Lincoln was a Republican, so I am unsure what you point is.

      September 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dott

      Banasy I believe that it would have been better. It would have simply been two different countries. The South would be filthy rich and the slaves would have long ago been returned to AFrica. Yes a much better nation.

      September 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • travis reynolds

      Banasy... You don't see my point... LOL... I rest my case

      September 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dott

      If you read History Books some indicate that Lincoln was throughly over wrought with his decision but did not know how to stop it. He thought that the 11 southern states would just turn over and give up. Guess he found out that there is nothing more stubborn than an old hardheaded southern boy.

      September 17, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      No, travis, I don't see your point, which is why I said, "I don't see your point".
      Could you please explain it to me without being snarky?
      I'd appreciate it, thanks.

      September 17, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • LMAO

      Send the slaves back to Af-re-ka, Dott? LMAO! Y'all know you want some of what I got!

      September 17, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • travis reynolds

      Norman Thomas was a leading American socialist and six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America. He said this in a 1944 speech: "The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of 'liberalism,' they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened." He went on to say: "I no longer need to run as a Presidential Candidate for the Socialist Party. The Democratic Party has adopted our platform."

      My point is to your comment “ Lincoln was a Republican” is simply the Democratic and Republican Party are not what they were in the 19th Century. Frightening if someone still believes they are in light of above… If Lincoln was alive today he would probably be running under the Democratic ticket. So your point is mute. Sorry if I sound “snarky”. Is that a Yankee term?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • travis reynolds

      One other point of clarification… It was Lincoln who wanted to send the slaves back to Africa after the war. But Frederick Douglas, early civil right leader, went to the White House to tell Lincoln how wrong that would be as they were very instrumental in building America. Lincoln gets killed and then gets credited for having the first black man in the white house. Geez.. It is plain to every Southerner that the victor has written the history about this war and the reconstruction. But the truth remains for anyone who is interested to discover.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  12. Reality King

    The civil war was fought to free the slaves you say? Ha. Haaaa ha. Wah Ha Ha ha ha....lmao. Ah hah ha ha ha. Woa! Uh. Uh huh ah huh wah Ha Ha Hah hah hah ha hah! On sh/t. That's a good one.

    September 17, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • LMAO

      LMAO! Y'all don't fool me...you wanted to own some yerself, hey, King Hoss?

      September 17, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Reality King

    The South refered to the civil war as the "War of Agression". The North government borrowed even more funds than they already owed the Bank of England to finance the invasion of the South. The North promised to use the South's captuted cotton and tobacco plantations to repay.
    There is no misunderstanding between southerners and northerners, other than between those who have written their own version of history. Like those who believe the Civil War was fought to stop US citizens from purchasing slaves from Arab-African slavemasters. It was not. It was fought over the Souths natural resources, just as most wars are fought over resources, not ideals, and not for God.

    September 17, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Legacy of Obesity

    Today, obesity rates among US STATES are the highest in the deep south. 8 out of the ten most overly obese states are southern.
    This is due to the legacy of the South's obesity and laziness. Not every Southerner was lazy enough to own slaves rather than doing it the American way, hiring help. But thousands were lazy. AND fat.
    And black Americans had no qualms about importing slaves from Africa. The avg. black plantation owner owned 10 times as many slaves as his white counterpart.
    It is slavery that built the gentry South, not the entire South. The entire South defended their homeland. The gentry South did the Bush/Clinton war dodge, and not for God as they claim.

    September 17, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • LMAO

      Yer eyes are brown, ain't they?

      September 17, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Philip

    @Dott. President Lincoln was surprised by the South's tenacity, as was the Bank of England. Both were counting on the invasion of the South lasting only a few weeks, and the subsequent military occupation of the South's plantation to be swift.
    Oopsy. They were wrong. And so the US Government, who still could not afford to pay what they owed, was forced into international bancruptcy protection from it's creditors, namely The Bank of England.

    September 17, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
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