This week marked the 151st anniversary of the American Civil War battle at Antietam, Maryland. This horrific confrontation resulted in the bloodiest day in United States history, with over 23,000 casualties on both sides.
After his victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run, General Robert E. Lee had decided to take the war into Union territory." First, he wanted to 'liberate' Maryland, which was a slave holding border state with many southern sympathizers. If he could win a great victory here he could add another state to the Confederate cause. He also wanted to prove to the great European powers that the Confederacy was a legitimate 'country'. A big victory on Union soil would surely do just that. If Europe recognized the South as an 'independent' country they could begin to send supplies and weapons, which the Confederacy desperately needed. There would also be a chance that a European power could enter the war on the side of the South, thus 'ensuring' their victory and independence.
It is important for readers to understand exactly what the American Civil War was; why and how it occurred . . .
"Because the holders of slaves are not the just proprietors of what they claim, freeing the slaves is not depriving them of property, but restoring it to the right owner. It is not wronging the master, but righting the slave; restoring him to himself." Declaration of Sentiments, American Anti-Slavery Society, December 1833Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America: "No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed."
Essentially ,the Civil War was a military contest between the northern non-slave holding and border slave holding states, and the southern slave holding states.. The U.S. nation/state, at its founding, represented a tenuous coalition of, primarily, merchants and slave plantation owners. Until 1860, the latter group dominated the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government. Throughout this period, a movement of various anti-slavery forces, called Abolitionism, peacefully and violently, sought to undermine and dismantle the slavocracy.
This struggle reached the breaking point in the territory of Kansas in the 1850s, with the bloody battles between the Free Soilers and pro-slavery settlers, both vying to determine the political economic direction of the soon-to-be-state. Then there was Abolitionist John Brown's armed raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, which confirmed the worst fears of the slave owners; that powerful elements in the government, aligned with the Abolitionists, were about to deal a fatal blow to their 'peculiar' institution. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 - who represented, not Abolitionism, but 'containment' of slavery - was, for the slavocracy, the proverbial straw thatbroke the camel's back. They subsequently formed themselves into a separate confederacy of states, seceded from the Union and launched an attack on the federal fort at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Thus, the American Civil War began . . .
After entering Maryland, General Lee sent General 'Stonewall' Jackson to capture Harper's Ferry. This was necessary to allow supplies to freely flow to Confederate forces from the Shenandoah Valley. Once Jackson defeated the Union forces there, the plan called for him to reunite with Lee. However, a Union soldier happened to discover three wrapped cigars containing Lee's order to attack the arsenal. This information eventually made its way into the hands of the commander of the Army of the Potomac, General George McClellan.. For some reason, the Union general refused to act. Meanwhile, a Confederate sympathizer informed Lee of the intercepted war plans, allowing Lee to quickly move his troops into a defensive position near Sharpsburg, Maryland. General Jackson, victorious at Harper's Ferry subsequently rejoined Lee, giving them a combined force of 40,000.
On September 17, McClellan ordered General Hooker to attack Lee with three divisions. Confederate General Hood counterattacked with his Texas veterans. Another Union force, under General Mansfield, attacked at Miller's Cornfield, employing hand-to-hand combat. Hooker was wounded; Mansfield was killed. "At around mid-morning the 2nd Corps under General Sumner started an attack on Lee's center. . . The rebels in the sunken road at Antietam were in a very good position to fire on the advancing Federals. The Confederates repulsed attack after attack by the Union troops, inflicting extremely heavy casualties. Union troops eventually were able to get around the road and found a spot where they could fire straight down the lane on the rebels. This created chaos in the sunken road and it quickly filled with rebel dead. . .
"Meanwhile, on the Confederate right, Union General Ambrose Burnside launched an attack across the Antietam Creek with 12,500 men. The bridge was being defended by two Georgian regiments under the command of General Robert Toombs which numbered around 400 men. For three hours the Confederates repulsed the Union attempts at crossing the bridge, inflicting heavy casualties on the Federals. Eventually they were able to get across the bridge and force the rebel defenders to flee. At this point victory was in sight for the Union as they smashed into the Confederate right. It was also at this point that the final Confederate division returning from the capture of Harper's Ferry arrived on the scene, driving back Burnside and ending the battle."
McClellan's attacks were ultimately unsuccessful in crushing Lee, although the Union did claim victory. The general's overall ineffectiveness - despite an initial force of 80,000 troops - has been attributed to several factors: 1) ill-coordinated battle plans and execution 2) headquarters too far - more than a mile - from the rear of his forces 3) difficult terrain 4) being too cautious. At one point, General Burnside, suffering casualties of 20%, urgently requested more men and guns. McClellan provided just one battery, even though he had two fresh corps in reserve. By the time the battle of Antietam was over, the Union had 12,401 casualties, with 2,108 dead; Confederate casualties were 10,318, with 1,546 dead. Three generals were killed on each side.
Afterwards, President Lincoln openly criticized General McClellan's leadership in the battle. It was not lost on him that, between the beginning of the battle and October 26, in spite of directives from both the War Department and the president himself, his top general had refused to pursue his weakened Confederate counterpart, across the Potomac. General Henry W. Halleck, in his official report, wrote, "The long inactivity of so large an army in the face of a defeated foe, and during the most favorable season for rapid movements and a vigorous campaign, was a matter of great disappointment." The president 'relieved' McClellan of his command the following month. He was succeeded by General Ulysses S.Grant.
The Pyrrhic victory for the Union army at Antietam paved the way for a much more decisive political victory. Under pressure from radical Abolitionists and recognizing the imperative to circumvent possible British and French intervention in the war on the side of the Confederacy, President Lincoln issued an Emancipation Proclamation; giving the insurgent forces 100 days to surrender, or, all of the slaves held within the Confederacy were "henceforth and forever free." The states in rebellion refused to do so. Therefore, the proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. Although it did not apply to the loyal slave holding states and, of course, the Confederacy rejected it, it gave legal sanction to the slaves who were already escaping the plantations in droves. More importantly, it precipitated the active recruitment of African Americans into the armed conflict. Eventually, almost 200,000 volunteered, fighting in battles under extraordinary circumstances. (Captured slaves were killed on the spot.)
Thus, the Civil War transcended - as many hoped it would - from a war to merely 'save' the Union, to a crusade to abolish human bondage in America . . . the struggle continued . . .
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com