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1862 September 24: The Battle of Antietam

September 24, 2012

One week after the battle, The Prescott Journal published reports from the Battle of Antietam, known in the South as the Battle of Sharpsburg.  It was fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, part of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Maryland Campaign.  It was a strategic Union victory, although from a tactical standpoint it was a draw.  It was the first major battle of the Civil War to take place on Union soil; it was the bloodiest1 one-day battle in American history; it was enough of a victory to give President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, which in turn discouraged the British and French governments from any further consideration of recognizing the Confederacy.

The Civil War Trust’s website for the Antietam provides this succinct summary of the battle: “The Army of the Potomac, under the command of George McClellan, mounted a series of powerful assaults against Robert E. Lee’s forces near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862.  The morning assault and vicious Confederate counterattacks swept back and forth through Miller’s Cornfield and the West Woods.  Later, towards the center of the battlefield, Union assaults against the Sunken Road pierced the Confederate center after a terrible struggle.  Late in the day, the third and final major assault by the Union army pushed over a bullet-strewn stone bridge at Antietam Creek.  Just as the Federal forces began to collapse the Confederate right, the timely arrival of A. P. Hill’s division from Harpers Ferry helped to drive the Army of the Potomac back once more.”

Some of the following reports are from Harpers Ferry, which we will post more about tomorrow.

W A R   N E W S !

Fierce and Bloody Battle.

REBELS RETREATING.

Both Armies Re-enforced.

L E E S B U R G   E V A C U A T E D.

Great Slaughter on Both Sides.

15,000 REBEL PRISONERS CAPTURED.

“Battle of Antietam,” by Kurz & Allison (see footnote 2)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17.

[Herald’s Correspondence.]—At 3 o’clock this afternoon intelligence was received that since 5:30 this morning the fiercest and most sanguinary battle of the whole war has been in progress.

All the corps d’armee which McClellan had taken with him to Frederick, were massed at the point indicated, and the engagement is believed to have been between the whole of the two armies.

There is reason to suppose that the losses on each side are very great, as requisition for medical stores, and arrangements for wounded men to be sent to Rochesville, immediately, are larger than have ever been made at any time.

LATER—Reports from Hagerstown state this P. M., that the rebels were retreating in great disorder, and subsequently heavy and rapid firing  heard in the direction of Williamsport, which induced the belief that McClellan has pursued the retreating rebels to that point  and that they made a stand there to cover their passage across the Potomac.

Reconnoisance [sic] since made by Col. Davies’ cavalry, who made a dashing foray toward Hanover Junction from Fredericksburg and now under command of Heintzelman [Samuel P. Heintzelman], show that since Friday last that the rebels have evacuated Leesburg, and that a force of 10,000 men, with thirty pieces of artillery and a supply train two miles in length, has gone in the direction of Harper’s Ferry.

“Photograph Taken During the Battle of Antietam in 1862” (see footnote 3)

11:00 P. M.—[Special to Times]—Very little is positively known herein regard to to-day’s fighting, except that the contest is still going on.

Government has preserved silence in regard to whatever information it possesses, but we learn from some official sources that the tenor of advices is favorable to the Union cause.

Private dispatches, believed to be correct, inform us that the enemy had destroyed the turnpike bridge over Antietam Creek, and had thrown up rude earthworks to defend the fords of the stream.

LATER—We learn that they have been driven steadily back towards the Potomac, and it is believed that the fighting was mainly by a rebel guard which was contesting the advance of our troops and covering the retreat of the main body.

A special train with medical stores and Surgeons leaves here to night for  Frederick.

HARRISBURG, SEP. 17.

(Special to New York Herald.)- Reports just come in this evening, state that the whole rebel army has been driven this way, and is retreating to Hagerstown.  D. H. Hill is killed.4

Ten thousand Pennsylvania militia will meet the foe at Hagerstown, to invade Pennsylvania backward.

“Dead Artillerymen at Dunker’s Church, Antietam” (see footnote 3)

There was a severe engagement yesterday between our army and the rebels, near Sharpsburg, in which the enemy was well thrashed, with terrific slaughter.

Five hundred of their dead were buried by us as early as 9 A. M. to-day, and the work is still going on.

This morning the battle re-commenced near Gettysville.

Jackson [Stonewall Jackson] joined Lee’s forces at Antietam Creek, while our forces were reinforced by 30,000 men from Washington.  Jackson’s reinforcements to Lee is reported to be 40,000.

Up to my last advices victory illuminated our standards, and an impression prevails at Hagerstown that the whole rebel army of Virginia is annihilated.  Confidence prevails here, and enthusiastic admiration of McClellan and his army.

We have undoubtly [sic] won great and decisive victories both yesterday and to-day.

Among our troops are whole batteries and thousands of small armies and prisoners.

Result of First Day’s Battle

HARRISBURG, Sept. 18.

News received during last night indicates that the result of yesterday’s battle was decidedly in our favor, but still another battle is necessary to determine who shall be the victor.

“The Dead Collected for Burial After Battle of Antietam” (see footnote 3)

It was expected the battle would be again resumed this morning, but no firing has been heard, and it is supposed that the burying of the dead is the order of the day.

McClellan’s head quarters are at Sharpsburg.

Surgeon General Smith5 dispatched a special train to Hagerstown to attend our wounded.

The number wounded in McClellan’s recent battles are very large.  Most of them will probably be brought into Pennsylvania.

The rebel prisoners taken have been sent to Fort Delaware.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17

A demand has been made from the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac for surgeons and medical supplies.

Immense hospital accommodations being provided about Washington.

Gen. Hatch [John P. Hatch] arrived here to day.  He was wounded in the right leg.

The battle lasted till 4 o’clock this P. M. when the rebels retreated, leaving Longstreet [James Longstreet] and the remnant of his division in our hands prisoners.  The entire rebel army will be captured or killed.  There was no chance left for them to cross the Potomac, as the river is raising, and our troops are pushing them continually, and sending prisoners to the rear.

It is reported here that Miles [Nelson Miles] re-enacted his Bull Run’s scene at Harper’s Ferry, which was surrendered to the rebels in a shameful manner.

Six batteries of artillery belonging to Longstreet’s division, were captured yesterday and to-day.

It is said we have taken nearly 15,000 prisoners since Sunday.

Stonewall Jackson and army are with Lee, and with other distinguished officers will be forced to surrender within a day or two at fartherest.

Our immense army is in motion, and our Generals are certain of ultimate and decisive success.

Stores for our army are coming by way of Harrisburg and Baltimore.

Burnside [Ambrose E. Burnside] has re-taken possession of Harper’s Ferry, and is advancing on a special mission with his corps.

NEW YORK, Sept. 18

Private dispatches to-day from points near Harper’s Ferry seem to confirm, in all essential particulars, the good news published this morning , and leaves no reasonable doubt of the re-capture of Harper’s Ferry and Willamsport.

BALTIMORE, Sept. 17.

Over 12,000 rebel prisoners, captured in recent battles, arrived here this evening, and will be sent north to-morrow.

PHILADELPHIA, Sep. 17.

A special dispatch dated Hagerstown, yesterday, says of the fight.  Tuesday the battle raged with great spirit.  The firing on either side was very heavy until towards sundown, when the rebels were flanked by Hooker [Joseph Hooker] and Porter [Fitz John Porter], and severely punished.

Their fire became desultory, and it was evident that their ammunition was giving out.

This morning the battle was renewed by the rebels with renewed vigor.

They acted as though they had been reinforced and furnished with fresh ammunition.

1.  The bloodiest battle in American history was Gettysburg, but its estimated 51,112 casualties occurred over three days. Antietam ranks fifth in terms of total casualties—approximately 22, 717 killed, wounded, or missing after twelve hours of fighting. Chickamauga (34,624), Chancellorsville (30,764), and Spotsylvania Court House (30,000) had more casualties than Antietam, but like Gettysburg the casualties were spread over days, not hours.
2.  This digital image is from an original 1888 Kurz & Allison print, available at the Library of Congress. The UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center has in its special collections a copy of Battles of the Civil War: The Complete Kurz & Allison Prints, 1861-1865, Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1976 (Oversized E 468.7 .B3 1976).
3.  Original Photographs Taken on the Battlefields During the Civil War of the United States, by Mathew B. Brady and Alexander Gardner, Hartford, Conn.: [Edward Bailey Eaton], 1907; available in the UWRF University Archives and Area Research Center (E 468.7 .E14 1907).
4.  Confederate General D. H. Hill was not killed at the Battle of Antietam; he lived until 1889.
5.  This is Pennsylvania’s Surgeon General at the time, Henry Hollingsworth Smith (1815-1890). He was a renowned surgeon, and a professor of surgery from 1855-1871. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Smith organized Pennsylvania’s hospital system in response to the fighting and held the position of Surgeon General of Pennsylvania in 1861 and 1862. Smith organized surgical and medical services at the battles of Williamsburg, West Point, Fair Oaks, and Cold Harbor, and at the siege of Yorktown.

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