This Day in History: September 18, 1862

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[1]

This Day in History: September 18, 1862

By: Jacob McCloud

            On this day, September 18, 1862, the South retreated after the bloodiest single day of the Civil War, which took place near Antietam Creek in Sharpsburg, Maryland.[2]  After this major battle, the South lost 10,318 of 38,000 engaged, while the North lost 12,401 of 75,000 engaged.[3] The scene of the battlefield was horrific. Thousands of dead or injured soldiers covered the land. Most individuals are aware of this brutal battle, but many are unaware that the day after this massacre, the North missed a chance to defeat the Confederate army and turn the momentum of the war in the North’s favor.

September 18, 1862 put the Confederates in a difficult situation after such a horrendous day. After retreating from Antietam Creek, the Confederate and Union soldiers remained in their positions. At this time, General Lee’s army was in a very vulnerable position because they had lost a quarter of their force, their backs were facing the Potomac River, and his men were extremely tired due to two weeks of strenuous marching.[4] The Confederate army had experienced about all that it could at that time and were subject to defeat if they were attacked again. On the other side, the Union army received thousands of additional troops to aid their attack on the Confederates.[5] General McClellan had the upper hand at this point but failed to deliver the final blow due to the belief that the Southern army was not as weak as most people believed they were. He believed that the Confederate army had around 100,000 men and 40,000 other soldiers on their way from Harper’s Ferry.[6] McClellan was urged by many major political figures, such as Abraham Lincoln, to take out the Confederate army, but he still did not attack.[7] Although this was a difficult choice at the time, it proved to be costly for the North. If McClellan would have listened to the people around him, he would have attacked the weakened Virginian Army of the Confederacy, and would have had a great chance of defeating them. Because the Northern army did not make a move, the Southern army was able to sneak away from the threat of attack. All of this points to McLellan’s inability to make crucial decisions on the battlefield. His hesitance to make critical decisions during the Civil War led to a slight margin of victory at Antietam when it could have been a great defeat. This eventually led to the end of his role as a commanding officer in the future years of the Civil War.

September 18, 1865 proved to be extremely important for both sides. For the South, they were able to escape being defeated by the Northern army, but they lost the overall battle of Antietam, losing many soldiers. For the North, the small margin of victory over the Southern troops gave Abraham Lincoln the victory he needed to introduce the Emancipation Proclamation.[8] This document declared that slaves in the rebellious states “’shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.’”[9] The war shifted from a focus on Unionism to a desire to protect the African American’s human freedom.[10] This day in history allowed the Emancipation Proclamation to set the foundation of the beliefs that the Union had for fighting the Civil War.

After reading all of the information necessary for this post, it is easy to say that the Battle of Antietam played a huge role during and after the Civil War. Some major questions that come up are what would have happened if the South would have won the battle? The same situation applies for the North. If they would have taken advantage of their numerical advantage, would the war have ended a lot sooner than it actually did? Overall, September 18, 1862 played a critical role in defining our nation as it is today.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Antietam#mediaviewer/File:Battle_of_Antietam.png.

[2] “Battle of Antietam,” History Website, accessed on September 17, 2014,  http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/battle-of-antietam.

[3] “Battle of Antietam,” History Website.

[4] “McClellan Lets Lee Retreat from Antietam,” This Day in History, accessed September 17, 2014, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mcclellan-lets-lee-retreat-from-antietam.

[5] “McClellan Lets Lee Retreat from Antietam,” This Day in History.

[6] “McClellan Lets Lee Retreat from Antietam,” This Day in History.

[7] “McClellan Lets Lee Retreat from Antietam,” This Day in History.

[8] “Battle of Antietam,” History Website.

[9] “Emancipation Proclamation,” History Website, asscessed on September 17, 2014, http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/emancipation-proclamation.

[10] “Emancipation Proclamation,” History Website.

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21 thoughts on “This Day in History: September 18, 1862

  1. gkamarunas1 says:

    I believe that if the North would have pursued the confederate army they would have defeated them. Possibly capturing Lee. From what I remember Lee was the most prominent general of the Confederacy. If McClellan would have pursued, I think the lose would have brought the Confederate government to its knees bringing an early end to the war.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jmccloud1993 says:

      I completely overlooked the fact that General Lee was very vulnerable to being captured if the Southern troops were defeated. I can only imagine how big of an impact that would have had on the rest of the war. General Lee was the backbone of the Confederate army. If you take him out of the picture early on, I believe the war would have definitely ended a lot sooner than it did. This is another great “what if” argument.

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  2. moonsierra says:

    I learned in a previous Civil War class, and in discussion about Union leadership in class Thursday, the McClellan spent too much time planning and organizing his ideas. I do not know if it was in this instance, but I learned at one point, McClellan could have easily marched his sizable army to Richmond, and could have defeated Lee and Confederate troops. However, due to his lack of urgency, the march took three days, and, by the time they arrived in Richmond, the Confederate troops were gone, and the Union missed their opportunity to probably end the war a year after it started. I am not sure if this is the same instance as you discussed in your blog. I find it interesting how there are several of these cases where, if one of the sides had done a small thing, like march their troops faster, they might have ended the war sooner. I enjoyed your blog post. Antietam is a fascinating battle, and I’m glad I learned more about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I always enjoy “This day in history” posts. I think they serve the reader not just on a didactic but also an emotional level. It is a reminder that there are no ordinary days, each is marked with historical significance that ought to be remembered. This becomes much more important as events such as the Battle of Antietam are commemorated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jmccloud1993 says:

      I completely agree with you, Matt. Honestly, it is pretty upsetting to know that we forget about days like September 18, 1862. Thousands of people lost their lives and most people have no idea that it even happened. Does anybody have any suggestions on how we could inform people about major events like Antietam?

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  4. First, great job on your citations. I was able to follow every link and find the information you sited.
    Second, great topic! I love how I can connect to it in a few different ways. Its always interesting to think about what was going on this exact day in years past, and it follows suit with what we talked about in our last class. McClellan was very indecisive in his tactics and it ultimately led to his termination as general of the Union Armies.
    Third, although it would have crippled the Confederate Army, I don’t believe it would have been the final straw to break the back of the South. Other Southern armies were scattered throughout the upper south, including general Stonewall Jackson’s garrisons. I do believe that the Confederacy had enough elite military minds such as Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stewart, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and James Longstreet that even if Lee was captured, another could metaphorically pick the flag up and run with it.
    Its interesting to think what if “this” or “that” would have happened. The federal army actually picked up Order No. 191 that told which armies would be where at the time of Sharpsburg. It was used to bundle cigars and was lost on a battlefield. It then fell into Federal hands and was given to “Little Mac” [1].

    Great post though! i absolutely loved the topic and research you put into it. Good job Jake!

    1. Historynet.com, “Battle of Antietam.” historynet.com. http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-antietam. September 19, 2014.

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    • jmccloud1993 says:

      The loss of General Lee would have been detrimental to the Confederate army, but you are right about how there are other individuals that could have taken his place. In class, we have talked about how the South had a distinct advantage when it comes to commanding officers. I am positive one of the men you mentioned would have taken charge and done a fine job, but I still believe the loss of Lee and his army would have led to the Civil War ending sooner than it actually did.

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  5. dberry20 says:

    I had no idea that this was such an important day to the outcome of the war. I think if McClellan had been smart enough to pursue the Confederates that day, he would have definitely been able to defeat them and get a major victory for the Union. I don’t think Lee would’ve been able to do anything but surrender due to this imminent defeat that would come from the North. If the Union had somehow managed to capture Lee or kill him, I think it would’ve changed everything because I really don’t know if the Confederates would’ve been able to come back from it. He was probably the most important military leader for the Confederates. I know now that this day did allow Lincoln to bring about the Emancipation Proclamation, but had McClellan attacked and continued to pursue the Confederates, the war quite possibly could’ve ended that day. Very good post!

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  6. mpthomas10 says:

    If McClellan had advanced and taken out the Confederate forces, and possibly captured Grant, the Confederacy would have,no doubt, suffered greatly; however, this could have given Jefferson Davis just the excuse that he needed to get back in the field as an acting general instead of having to deal with the political side of things. If this had taken place, how would the future of the war and the future of the Confederacy have changed? It was discussed in class that the Confederacy had overall better military leadership than the Union army. Grant was definitely a great general, but was he so irreplaceable that his loss would have brought the Confederate war effort to a screeching halt?

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    • jmccloud1993 says:

      You bring up a good point. We have talked in class about how Jefferson Davis was not the most effective president. Well, imagine if he was made general after the capture of Lee, and the new president was more suitable for the job. This could have made a big change in the war. With an effective general and president, the South could have had a chance to win the war.

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  7. chris72493 says:

    We can only speculate on what would have happened if McClellan had not held back. Personally, I think the South being defeated in that regard would have ended the war much sooner, or at the very least struck a very decisive blow against the South. Just imagine if a different general had been in his place. We might be talking about entirely different events in that case. Regardless, Antietam is definitely a major focal point of the war. Can’t believe I forgot the anniversary.

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  8. megans24 says:

    This is very interesting. I did not realize how important the battle of Antietam was to both sides. I think it is very interesting that the Union General ignored all advice, including Lincoln’s advice, to attack. This battle shows that the south was starting to lose to the power from the north and also show some of the weaknesses that the south had like what we discussed in class Thursday. It does make someone wonder what would have happened if the Union General had listened however we will never know if this event would have changed the civil war If Union soldiers had continued to fight confederate troops.

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    • jmccloud1993 says:

      It is hard for me to understand why McClellan ignored the advice he received from Lincoln. If I were in his situation, there is no way I would ignore him. McClellan did have a belief that the Confederate army was much stronger than what most people thought, but it is still hard to ignore advice from the president. In the end, McClellan lost his job later on in the war because of issues similar to this. He was too indecisive to lead the Union army.

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  9. ngarrison123 says:

    It seems that the Union went through a lot of difficulties when finding a Union general. Each one of them had their quirks, even Grant who in the end was the saving grace of the Union, but McClellan was perhaps the most stubborn of all. His heart wasn’t truly with the team he was fighting for, and he rarely listened to the Commander in Chief. And somehow Lee was actually only a Confederacy sympathizer instead of a true Confederate, and managed to not only obey orders but stay very objective during the course of the war. You would think that the Union would have a much better selection of generals to choose from than the south due to their higher population, but that seems not to be the case.

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  10. jmccloud1993 says:

    The North definitely had a hard time finding an effective general to lead their army. The reason for this has to do with the fact that the South had a distinct advantage in the number of military academies. Although their population was much higher, their selection was much lower than that of the South. This was one of the few advantages the South had during the Civil War.

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  11. jarredhf says:

    The Battle of Antietam clearly shows how crucial it is to have competent leadership. There are countless times throughout history of when military commanders are given the opportunity to inflict a decisive defeat upon their foes, but choke and fail to take the initiative. It is sometimes easy to forget that when it comes to affecting the outcome of a battle, and even a war, a single decision from a commander in McClellan’s position can have an tremendous impact. Although its hard to say how much the war might have been shortened should the Confederate army had been defeated and Lee captured, it would have have at the very least robbed the South of one of its greatest commanders and dealt a massive blow to Southern morale.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Terra Lain Votaw says:

    This is another example of a lack of leadership in the North that could have given it a large boost toward ending the war. A confederate defeat and the loss of a leader in the South gives many new options for the ending of the story of the Civil War. These “What If” scenarios are always interesting and frustrating at the same time, perfect for the study of history. It makes you think more about not only the things that didn’t really happen, but the significance of the possibility that they could have.

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  13. bgoodin1 says:

    Jacob, first off I want to say that I really like your “this day in history” post. I find it very interesting and it really shows the readers you put a lot of thought into what you are researching. I find it very interesting to think that if the North had continued to pursue the South could have been in a lot more trouble. Seeing how Lee had been in the battle, losing Lee for the south would have meant a possible short war.

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  14. jmccloud1993 says:

    Your comment, along with most others, agrees that there was a huge “what if” issue surrounding this day. We will never be able to truly know, but I believe that it would have had a huge impact on the Civil War.

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  15. jamesgerdes says:

    Antietam is probably one of if not the most important battles of the War. Several important things happened as a result of the outcome of this battle.

    1. Ended the Confederate advance into Maryland

    This is important because of two reasons: It stops the Confederates from gaining supplies from Maryland and it closes the route into Washington, preventing capture of the city by Confederate forces

    2. Emancipation Proclamation

    This, like we discussed in class, added another wargoal to the war for the Union, abolishing slavery. Lincoln felt like this was the turning point and chose this moment to issue his famous proclamation, adding more momentum to the Union cause.

    3. Widely cited as the reason Britain chose not to recognize and/or ally with the Confederate Cause

    It’s widely cited that the British were looking for a decisive victory to make up their minds about whether or not to support the Confederacy after their defeat at Antietam, the British would turn their back on the South.

    So because of the massive political and strategic advances the union gained after this battle, I think it’s probably one of if not the most important battle of the war. Even though the battle wasn’t decisive tactically (it basically wound up being a tie) it still was a huge setback for the Confederacy and basically marked the beginning of the end.

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  16. In my opinion, had McClellan pursued the Confederate army, he would have defeated them and potentially shortened the Civil War. If this “what if” had actually occurred, McClellan would have received more praise for his role in the Union war effort and would be remembered more for pursuing the Confederates rather than somewhat refusing to pursue them. We may never truly know what would have actually happened had McClellan pursued Lee, but Antietam is indeed one of the key battles of the Civil War.

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