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. Joseando

    This may be irrelevant, but this is also the day the Sabra and Shatila massacre took place.

    September 17, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Philip

    The US government came out from underneath international bancruptcy protection for the third time in November, 1998.
    For approx. 90% of it's being a nation, the US has been insolvent, bancrupt, and not sovereign nation.
    We do better as a people and as a government when we are bankrupt, statistically speaking. (we spend our way out of the hole) However, we are teetering on the edge of international bankruptcy again, though this angle of our economy is never discussed in the news, just like auditing the fed rarely is.
    4 more years of big spending will put us over the edge for the fourth and final time.

    September 17, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    Already America is being carved-up like a 32oz Porterhouse, and right underneath your noses. Face it. If it's not reported news, 99% of you never hear it.
    Why I even bother is beyond me.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • LMAO

      Shutchoo mouth then.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JOSE-USMC-0311


    September 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Philip

    There will never be another Civil War in the US. Neither side can afford one, and thee is only one bank on earth large enough to finance such a war. And that bank already purty much ownes US. (Tower of Basel bank, Switzerland. Director of the worlds federal reserves and central banks)

    September 17, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Paco Sanchez

    "Wanted to" own some slaves my ass.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • LMAO

      Your ass wanted to own some? Y'all know there's a word for that.

      September 17, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. LMAO

    Y'all know what? Y'all don't like America they way it is, then gtfo. No one cares.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. LMAO

    Aw hell crazy Hoss, I'm a TROLL, LMAO!

    September 17, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Philipe' the Slayer of Blog


    September 17, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chocolate cupcakes

      How long until Chinese trolls pretend to be confederates who want to "reclaim America."

      September 17, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Name s kel

    Went up to Hagerstown yesterday to go to the battlefield site. Crowded ah HELL, ill go back to the battlefield in thr fall.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Squirrelyone

      Visiting battle sites on anniversaries is almost always impossible; I gave up visiting Gettysburg any time in July. I've been to Antietam in the early spring and it's a great experience then. The fellow visitors you meet during the off-season tend to be very knowledgeable and friendly.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
    • jon

      i wonder how many guys said the same thing during the war...?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. janeqcitizen

    Those who debate flags-slavery was alive & well under the stars & stripes much longer than under the stars & bars. ALL those who died in the Civil War had one thing in common-they were ALL Americans. Yes, some were in "rebellion" but they were ALL Americans.

    September 18, 2012 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • H Hinson

      The Confederate battle flag IS NOT CALLED THE STARS AND BARS. The Stars and Bars was the first national flag of the Confederacy, and looks nothing like the battle flag most people consider the "Confederate flag."

      September 18, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I'm not sure any of those who fought cared that those in grey were still Americans. Had the south fought to a standstill, which it almost did, there would have been two countries making up the "States of America" Had we split, one can speculate on what we'd look like as Americans today. Neither country would be as strong as all our states together can be.

      September 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. kme

    As is often true, presidents promises are worthless in time. Now, almost everyone is a slave to forced taxation under an over controlling system.

    September 18, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  13. keltic1

    My ancestor took a bullet in the cornfield opening the battle. 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer.

    September 18, 2012 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Sodomite

      My ancestor was cornholed in Wisconsin.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. PJ

    Lesee – South is STILL fat and stoopid. What HAS changed, really?

    September 18, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Sodomite

      Certainly not the hubris of the North, that's for sure.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • juki629

      Such a broad statement about millions of people. Any statistics to back up your unkind verbiage?

      September 19, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Silverado1947

      After you get through putting down a very large section of our country, you can start in telling us how bad racism is. Just forget about this wide range of people that live here. Just go ahead and pick what you like and don't like and blame the rest of us for being against what you think.

      You apparently know nothing about the South. A lot of people from all over the U.S. are fat. Fact. But, if you want to compare intellect, come on down and we will head over to Mensa and see who is stupid. Since I'm ranked as a genius, you might even score higher. Stoopid, indeed.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
    • JR in Texas

      I had rather be fat than be a horses-ass like you.

      September 20, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sal

    I wonder if the Confederates would fight any harder knowing that 150 years later our President would be a widely loved half-Kenyan man? It would have had no effect even if they had won, ignorance always loses with the passing of time and generations die off and take their beliefs with them. It's sad progress is so slow, but we are still much farther than most cultures have come.

    Remember to register to vote, regardless who you vote for. Voter registration ends October 8th if I recall correctly, and you will most likely need to mail a form in. You can also register at most government buildings, DMVs, libraries, high schools, etc. If you don't vote, don't whine about your candidate losing. If you don't donate, don't whine that your candidate was outspent. Be the change you want to see or learn to tolerate stagnation.

    September 18, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
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