Immediately following the Confederate victory at Second Battle of Bull Run, the South's commander Robert E. Lee wanted to take the battles to the Northern soil. A year and a half of fighting throughout Northern Virginia had decimated that state's resources, and Lee wanted his troops to forage for supplies in neighboring Maryland.

Before heading to Maryland, Lee wanted to ensure his troops' escape route back to the South. He needed to capture the Union outpost at Harper's Ferry whose large garrison of troops could hinder any Southern retreat. To secure his rear, Lee ordered Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson to take Harper's Ferry. The plan called for the invasion to start on September 1, 1862, and for Jackson to have taken Harper's Ferry by September 12, 1862. After Jackson's mission was complete, he was to rejoin Lee's army to face the Union army of Major General George McClellean.

Lee's timetable for Jackson was immediately thrown off course by unexpected and stiff Union resistance at Martinsburg, MD. Jackson did not even reach Harper's Ferry until September, 12. After three days of intense shelling and siege the Union garrison of 11,500 surrended. But Jackson was now behind schedule.

Now came one of the most incredibly lucky invents in this or any war. An Indiana scout fumbled upon (some say literally tripped over) a bundle of three cigars wrapped in a paper which detailed Lee's orders to capture Harper's Ferry. It also gave the position of every Confederate division, and the meeting place for the two halves of Lee's army. As poorly as the Union fared in the battle with this information, it's likely they'd have been completely routed without it.

Lee setup his defensive fortifications on September 16 just to the east of Sharpsburg, MD, less than a mile to their rear was the Potomac River, and just in front was a small creek called Antietam. Lee's army of 26,000 was badly outnumbered by the 70,000 man Army of the Potomac marching toward them. He knew he needed Jackson's return before he could make a stand. He also new that Jackson's men should be there within the day.

The battle began in earnest at 6:00 AM on September 17. With Meade's troops advancing across a high-standing cornfield and the adjoining "West Woods". Meade was repulsed from the cornfield, but part of his men managed to gain a foothold in the "West Woods" and were flanking into the cornfield itself..

Southern Major General John Hood realized his men in the cornfield were about to be badly outflanked and released a full division straight through the cornfield and into the "East Woods" on its farside. This stalemated the cornfield, and by 8:30 in the morning hand to hand fighting was the [order of the day. During the slaughter that followed the North lost two Major Generals, but managed to drive the rebels from the field. An estimated 7,500 casualties resulted from the first two hours of action at Antietam.

With the wounding of I Corps commander Joseph Hooker, both sides withdrew slightly to catch their breath. At about 9:00 the North attempted to consolidate their gain in the cornfield, but Lee's reinforcements had begun to trickle in from Harper's Ferry. The first Northern division sent across the field ran smack into two freshly arrived Southern divisions and was quickly routed. A Union attempt to flank to the southeast also ran into Rebel reinforcements and was beaten back.

Another Northern attempt to flank to the east proved more succesful and soon Yankee cannon fire poured into the eastern edge of the Southern line causing a general retreat. About 10:00 a reformed Southern line held positions just north and west of a bend in Antietam Creek. Union reserves led by Ambrose Burnside were ordered into battle against the new Southern positions.

Burnside sent one of his divisions, south along the creek looking for a place to cross, while he concentrated on taking the "Lower Bridge" that crossed Antietam. Across the bridge sat a well covered Southern brigade that held off wave after wave of Union attempts to the cross the bridge, which forever after became known as "Bloody Burnside Bridge". About 1:00 in the afternoon after three carnage filled hours, Burnside's men took the bridge when a flanking manuver by the troops Burnside had sent south to ford the creek flushed the southerner's from their positions.

With Sharpsburg in sight the Union army marched just to the edge town before being pushed back around 4:00 by the final reinforcements arriving from Harper's Ferry. At about 5:00 the Union retreated to the west edge of Antietam Creek with both sides ending the engagement in the same position held at the beginning of the days fighting.

The 10 hours of fighting left 22,726 total men dead or wounded -- almost 20 percent of the total combatants.

Eight years ago, we took a road trip to Hagerstown, Maryland in KC's Colt to hook up with her boyfriend Jake for the weekend. Gage and I stayed in the basement room of KC's house. KC is adopted and her mother is single but was dating a man who I believe had some daughters. One of them went with us to Antietam Battlefield. KC brought this monk cloak, her fencing foils, and us for an odd photo shoot. The snow was just beginning to melt. KC had long hair at the time, as did Jake. He wore his black leather jacket and a black Superman T-shirt. He was into Danzig at the time, and Gage and I were into the Army surplus fashion of the grunge era.

There were pictures of the four of us, paired off, sitting on a wall, the girls leaning against the guys. Gage had his tweed cap and brought a saber he father had given him. His father had an entire room of antique guns and knives, but all of the guns had ammo and could be fired accurately. Part of this fascination simply comes from living in rural Virginia, where most of the land is either protected forest, old battlefields, or graveyards, sometimes all three at once.

Another picture shows KC in the monk's robe, her arms raised up and her face pointed at the sky in a gesture of reverence. One foot on dry cobblestone, the other on a patch of melting snow. A series of pictures show Gage sitting on a high wall a few feet above me, reaching down and holding my hand, then another of him laying flat on the wall and reaching me to him in a kiss. I wore oxblood Doc Martens and he wore Jungle boots. We were in love. KC and Jake were in love.

Now KC and Jake aren't doing so well, but are still together after five years and two kids. Gage and I have been over for about 4 years now. I guess battlefields really are left as a reminder.

After his victory over General John Pope at the Second Battle of Manassas, Robert E. Lee decided that it was time to invade the North. It was possible that Maryland, a border state, might still join the Confederacy, and Lee wanted to march his men through that state to try to impress it. Lee also wanted to take the war away from war-torn Virginia. Accordingly, at the beginning of September, he began to move his men into Maryland.

In the meantime, Lincoln had switched army commanders once more. The combined army was once again placed into the hands of George McClellan, the man who had been defeated by Lee in the Seven Days Battles. McClellan had the luck to find a copy of Lee’s Special Orders No. 191, which contained information about Confederate battle plans and dispositions. He followed Lee, and by September 15, 1862, both armies were positioned on opposite sides of Antietam Creek. McClellan waited until the 17th before attacking Lee, however. This was a grave mistake as on the 16th, most of Stonewall Jackson’s corps arrived after capturing Harpers Ferry.

On the morning of September 17, 1862, the Confederate army was entrenched on a series of slight rises west of Antietam creek. They held the town of Sharpsburg, and so the battle is alternately called the Battle of Sharpsburg. McClellan’s army was positioned east of the creek. That morning, he sent Joseph Hooker’s I Corps in an attack on the Confederate left flank north of the town. At dawn, Hooker’s artillery fired on the Confederates.

Confederates of Jackson’s II Corps, Lawton’s division, were lying in wait in Miller’s cornfield. Hooker remarked that “every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before.” They were initially driven back under the heavy onslaught, were reinforced and counterattacked. Another Union corps (XII, Mansfield’s) was sent in, which fought against Hood’s division near Dunker Church. In this fighting, the 1st Texas Regiment of the Texas Brigade suffered 83 % casualties. To support Mansfield, another Union corps was thrown in, Sumner’s II corps. These troops veered into the West Woods, where they were hit with heavy fire on both flanks, and are driven off.

More of Sumner’s men, French’s division and Richardson’s division, veered south into the sunken road Confederate position commanded by D. H. Hill. From mid-morning to 1 P. M. the fighting raged here. This road gained the name “Bloody Lane” after the fierce fighting here. The Federals made small breaches here, but could not exploit them. After 1 P.M., both sides were too exhausted to fight on.

Also around mid-morning, Ambrose Burnside began to assault the bridge southeast of town. They were repeatedly driven back by Georgian sharpshooters with heavy casualties. They finally crossed at about 1 P.M. After crossing, superior Federal numbers began to drive the Rebels back towards the town of Sharpsburg. Only the timely arrival of A.P. Hill’s division from Harpers Ferry saved the Confederate lines. Because some of Hill’s men wore blue uniforms, the Federals thought at first that Hill’s men were Union soldiers. Then, Hill launched a counterattack that drove Burnsides weary men back to the bridge they had captured earlier.

This bridge was named “Burnside Bridge” because of Burnsides repeated assaults. Sadly, Burnside had never bothered to check for fords near the bridge. If he had marched a half-hour to the south, he would have found a lightly guarded ford that he could have crossed unopposed and crushed the Confederates. Instead, his men were butchered trying to cross the narrow span. However, Lincoln seemed not to know about this as he appointed Burnside Army Commander after saying that McClellan had “the slows.”

To show that he had not lost, Lee stayed behind at Sharpsburg one more day before withdrawing. Antietam was the single most bloody day in the Civil War. Out of Lee’s desertion-riddled 45,000 man army, 13,000 were casualties. At the end of the day, Lee had zero reserves left to stop any break. McClellan’s army of 70,000 wasn’t even fully engaged. His army suffered 12,000 casualties. Because of the stoppage of the Confederate invasion, Maryland never did join the Confederacy. England and France turned their heads away from it, and Lincoln was free to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. The Confederacy had never been so near victory that autumn day in Maryland.

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