Interesting facts about The Civil War – The Battle of Antietam

October 1, 2010 | In: History facts

The Civil War had several decisive battles that left thousands of men lying dead in American fields and woods.

The Battle of Antietam took place on September 17, 1862, when Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee arrived at Antietam thinking they would surprise General George McClellan’s Union forces. But Confederate papers outlining Lee’s plans had fallen into Union hands, so McClellan expected Lee.

Instead of attacking Lee in one major swoop for a swift victory, McClellan had his men attack in small spurts that Lee’s army threw back. By the end of the day, about 10,000 men from each side lay dead in what has been called the bloodiest day of the war.

A few days later, on September 22, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared all slaves in Confederate-held territory free after January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation strengthened Southern resolve to fight what they perceived as a Yankee threat to their way of life.

However, in the North there was a mixed reaction. The proclamation gave great heart to the abolitionists and paved the way for the enlistment of African-Americans into the Union Army, but many poor Northerners would not fight to free blacks whom they saw as a threat to their livelihood. Upon hearing of the Emancipation Proclamation, one entire Illinois regiment deserted and the Democratic Party, which opposed the war, gained many seats in the November 1862 Congressional elections. The great strength of the Proclamation — which really didn’t free anyone and was probably unconstitutional — is that it kept England from coming into the war on the Southern side. Great Britain would not fight to uphold slavery. In 1863, Lee invaded Pennsylvania and headed toward Gettysburg, thinking a victory here would give the army access to Washington, D.C. On July 1, 1863, Union troops fought Confederate troops who were searching for shoes. New troops came to each side’s aide and by July 3 the Union army had pushed back the Confederate attempt to take the area. In the process about 28,000 Confederate and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing. Lee retreated from Pennsylvania, escaping across the Potomac to regroup. Gettysburg is generally considered the turning point of the war.

On November 19th, Lincoln dedicated a military cemetery at Gettysburg, delivering his now famous “Gettysburg Address.” Beginning with the words, “Fourscore and seven years ago…” the speech recommitted the government to its fight for freedom.

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