Battle of Antietam

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Battle of Antietam
Antietam Civil War History

Battle of Antietam
Battle of Antietam, Maryland

Other Names: Sharpsburg

Location: Washington County, Maryland 

Campaign: Antietam and Maryland Campaign (September 1862)

Date(s): September 16-18, 1862

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan [US]; Gen. Robert E. Lee [CS]

Forces Engaged: Army of the Potomac [US]; Army of Northern Virginia [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 22,720 total (Total casualties vary slightly.)

Result(s): Inconclusive (Union strategic victory.)

Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862
Battle of Antietam Painting.jpg
(Kurz and Allison)

Summary: On September 16, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan and the massive Army of the Potomac confronted Lee’s formidable Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, Maryland. At dawn September 17, Hooker’s corps mounted a powerful assault on Lee’s left flank that began the bloodiest single-day in American military history. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller’s cornfield and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church. Union assaults against the Sunken Road eventually pierced the Confederate center, but the Federal advantage was not followed up. 

The numerous ridges made excellent locations for cannon. Meanwhile, the infantry of both sides made easy targets as they marched across low-lying, open fields nearby. Posted on the ridgelines, the cannoneers devastated the soldiers in the swales below them. The landscape and the heavy reliance on artillery by both sides made Antietam one of the most significant artillery battles in the Civil War. The cannon used at Antietam were indicative of the principal cannon used by both the Union and Confederate artillery units during the Civil War.

More than 500 cannon were used at the Battle of Antietam, and, because of the destructiveness of these weapons, the battle was nicknamed "Artillery Hell" by the participants. The rolling hills of Sharpsburg provided a highly effective setting for the artillery of both sides (See also Civil War Artillery Organization and the Battle of Antietam - Sharpsburg).

Battle of Antietam from casualties to results
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Battle of Antietam, Maryland, and Civil War Maryland Battles

Attack on Harpers Ferry, Sept. 12-15, 1862
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(Click to Enlarge)

Late in the day, Burnside’s corps finally got into action, crossing the stone bridge over Antietam Creek and rolling up the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, A.P. Hill’s division arrived from Harpers Ferry and counterattacked, driving back Burnside and saving the day. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout the 18th, while removing his wounded south of the river. McClellan did not renew the assaults.

Late in the day, Burnside’s corps finally got into action, crossing the stone bridge over Antietam Creek and rolling up the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, A.P. Hill’s division arrived from Harpers Ferry and counterattacked, driving back Burnside and saving the day. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout the 18th, while removing his wounded south of the river. McClellan did not renew the assaults.

After dark, Lee ordered the battered Army of Northern Virginia to withdraw across the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley. (Shenandoah Valley and the American Civil War and American Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley.) Tactically, Antietam was a draw, but strategically it was a Northern victory because it halted Lee's invasion of the North.

Confederate dead in front of the Dunker Church
Confederate Dead in Front of the Dunker Church.jpg
(Library of Congress)

Introduction: Because Antietam witnessed the greatest single-day loss in American warfare history, it is considered the absolute standard for studying artillery warfare. The following history includes the Antietam and Maryland Campaign, Battle of South Mountain, Antietam history and timeline, Union and Confederate generals killed and wounded and their respective compiled military service records (CMSR), Union and Confederate orders of battle, Q&A Session with Author and Historian Ed Bearss, numerous battle and battlefield maps, historical and interpretive markers, official correspondence, Special Orders 191, ancillary units, eyewitness accounts, battle reports and records, medals of honor, Antietam pictures and photographs, and much more.

More than 500 cannon participated in the Battle of Antietam, firing over 50,000 rounds of ammunition. The cannonade was so severe that Confederate artillery commander Colonel S.D. Lee described the battle as "artillery hell."

"A converging storm of iron slammed into the batteries from front and flank. Wheels were smashed, men knocked down, horses sent screaming, to stay in the field was to sacrifice units needlessly." General Stephen Dill Lee at Antietam

"So thick were men lying that General Hood found difficulty in keeping his horse from stepping on wounded men." General D. H. Hill, September 17, 1862, Antietam

At the place known as Antietam, Hood's Brigade had been so cut to pieces that when its dauntless commander was asked, "Where is your division?" Hood replied, "Dead on the field!"

Battle of Antietam
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Dead at Antietam Battlefield

17 Sept. 1862: Bloodiest Single-Day
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(Click to Enlarge)

(About) Photo of Confederate dead along the west side of Hagerstown Pike. The Cornfield is to the right.
"The most deadly fire of the war. Rifles are shot to pieces in the hands of the soldiers, canteens and haversacks are riddled with bullets, the dead and wounded go down in scores." Captain Benjamin F. Cook of the 12th Massachusetts Infantry, on the attack by the Louisiana Tigers at the Cornfield
A total of 1,520 Medals of Honor were awarded during the American Civil War. Twenty men received Medals for their gallantry on the Battlefield at Antietam; eight of the twenty men were awarded the Medal for either capturing or saving flags. The Confederacy, on the other hand, included its men of extraordinary selflessness during the Antietam Campaign in the Confederate Roll of Honor.
Private Johnny Cook, a bugler with Battery B, 4th U.S., was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Antietam when he was only 15 years old.

Significance: The Civil War Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862, at Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and was one of the deadliest and bloodiest engagements in the nation's history. It claimed nearly 23,000 casualties in merely twelve hours, which was equal to a man falling wounded or killed every two seconds. Cannonading during the battle had never been seen afore on the continent and would become known as Artillery Hell. As 500 artillery pieces thundered and raked their shot and shell across the rolling terrain and into the battle lines downing men of both sides, sounds of musketry too would crackle as disciplined soldiers stood in rank and file formations only to vanish as though a large and ominous sickle had just swept them from the field.
The landscape of Antietam refused to distinguish between the blue and gray armies on that bloody day. The fight claimed an equal number of generals, with three Union generals and three Confederate generals killed, and Confederate losses were 10,320 while the Union command suffered 12,400 casualties.
At Antietam, the Confederate offensive in the North had stalled, causing Lee to gather his army and return to Virginia. Gen. George McClellan would outright refuse to pursue the retreating Rebels, which would culminate with Lincoln dismissing the New Jersey native from command.

Civil War Battle of Antietam Battlefield Map
Battle of Antietam Civil War Map.jpg
(Civil War Antietam, Maryland, Battle Map)

The ground of Antietam, Maryland, was the location chosen by Gen. Robert E. Lee to execute his grand strategy of taking the war into the North while relieving pressure on the Southern front. Southern farms and fields had been depleted by the warring Union and Confederate armies to date, and since Lincoln had ordered the Union Army to capture the strategic locations within Maryland while simultaneously placing most of the State's citizenry under martial law before the conflict began, Maryland, it seemed, made for an obvious choice to move the massive Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate push into Maryland called for the simultaneous invasion of Kentucky by the armies of Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith. 
Geographically, Maryland was absolutely critical to the Union war effort, and while Virginia was a solid gray-clad State that formed one border of the nation's capitol, Maryland formed its other border, which meant that if Maryland fell in the hands of the Confederacy so did Washington. Maryland also bordered Pennsylvania to its North, and their shared borders formed the symbolic Mason-Dixon Line, the point well-known to the nation.

Battle of Antietam and Maryland Campaign Map
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(Battle of Antietam Map)

Maryland was a Border State during the Civil War and it did not support Abraham Lincoln for president, and while a portion of its population eagerly embraced the Union, another segment simply crossed into Virginia and joined the Confederate Army. The Border States consisted of Delaware, Kentucky, MarylandMissouri, and West Virginia (added in 1863) and comprised the Civil War's middle ground, a region of moderation lying between the warring North and South. It was the region in which no states supported Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election.
The Border States were geographically vital to the conflict, as both the Union and Confederacy recognized the strategic value of the region. To march on Southern soil, consequently, meant marching through the hostile Border Region. The Border States were well-known for their divided loyalties, their bastions of bushwhackers, and an environment well-known for guerrilla warfare.

Commanding generals of the Maryland Campaign

George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee
Maryland Campaign.jpg
Commanding generals of the Maryland Campaign

Meet the opposing commanding generals during the Maryland Campaign.

George & Ellen Mary Marcy McClellan
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Union Major General George Brinton McClellan (December 3, 1826 – October 29, 1885) graduated West Point in 1846, second in his class of 59 cadets. His closest friends, while at West Point, were aristocratic Southerners such as James Stuart, Dabney Maury, Cadmus Wilcox, and A.P. Hill. These associations gave McClellan what he considered to be an appreciation of the Southern mind, an understanding of the political and military implications of the sectional differences in the United States that led to the Civil War. He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign in 1862 ended in failure, with retreats from attacks by General Robert E. Lee's smaller army and an unfulfilled plan to seize the Confederate capital of Richmond. His performance at the bloody Battle of Antietam blunted Lee's invasion of Maryland, but allowed Lee to eke out a precarious tactical draw and avoid destruction, despite being outnumbered. McClellan's leadership skills during numerous battles were questioned by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who eventually removed him from command, first as general-in-chief, then from the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln was famously quoted as saying, "If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time." Despite this, he was the most popular of that army's commanders with its soldiers, who felt that he had their morale and well-being as paramount concerns. After he was relieved of command, McClellan became the unsuccessful Democratic nominee opposing Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election. His party had an anti-war platform, promising to end the war and negotiate with the Confederacy, which McClellan was forced to repudiate, damaging the effectiveness of his campaign. He served as the 24th Governor of New Jersey from 1878 to 1881. He eventually became a writer, defending his actions during the Peninsula Campaign and the Civil War. See also Union Army Report for Battle of Antietam.

Lincoln-McClellan Letter
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(Click to Enlarge)

(Left) President Lincoln once said that if Maj. Gen. George McClellan was not going to use his army, then I would like to borrow it. Mary Todd Lincoln, on the subject, wrote this letter to Abraham Lincoln on November 2, 1862, in response to his agitation and frustration about the slow pace and indecisiveness of McClellan and his Army of the Potomac. Mary Todd, who believed her great antipathy to the general was shared by the public, advised her husband in this letter to remove McClellan from the command. Whether Mary influenced her husband's decision is unknown, but just three days after her letter, November 5, 1862, Lincoln, now feeling quite vexed after McClellan failed to pursue Lee aggressively after Antietam, finally removed McClellan and placed the Union forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside on Nov. 7. Burnside, however, would also soon be removed from command after his disastrous performance at the Battle of Fredericksburg. But from this general the distinctive style of facial hair, known as sideburns, was derived from his namesake. On Jan. 26, 1863, Maj. Gen. Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, but after a fiery confrontation with headquarters over the defense of Harpers Ferry, Hooker would be replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade just 3 days before the Battle of Gettysburg.  


Burnside, who was a major figure in this fight at Antietam, was reassigned after Fredericksburg to assume command of the newly formed Army of the Ohio on March 25, 1863, but he would be relieved of this command on August 14, 1864, one month after the ill-fated breakthrough attempt at the Battle of the Crater, and placed on leave by General Grant. Burnside was never recalled to duty, because a court of inquiry later placed the blame for the “Petersburg Crater” fiasco on Burnside and his subordinates. In December of ‘64, Burnside met with President Lincoln and Gen. Grant about his future. He was contemplating resignation, but Lincoln and Grant requested that he remain in the Army. At the end of the interview, Burnside wrote, "I was not informed of any duty upon which I am to be placed." He finally resigned his commission on April 15, 1865, the day that Lincoln was assassinated. The United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War later exonerated Burnside, and placed the blame for the Union defeat at the Crater on General Meade for requiring the specially trained USCT (United States Colored Troops) men to be withdrawn.

Lee mounted on Traveller in September 1866
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General Lee's favorite horse

Confederate General Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870) was a United States Military Academy graduate (West Point) in 1829, graduated second in his class of 46 cadets, and received no demerits during his four years of instruction. Robert E. Lee was a career United States Army officer, a combat engineer, and among the most celebrated generals in American history, and he was the son of Major General Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee III (1756–1818). “Light Horse Harry” also served as the 9th Governor of Virginia (1791–1794). Robert E. Lee was married to Mary Anna Randolph Custis (1808–1873) who was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. After the war, as a college President, Lee supported President Andrew Johnson's program of Reconstruction and inter-sectional friendship, while opposing the Radical Republican proposals to give freed slaves the right to vote while stripping that right from ex-Confederates. He urged them to re-think their position between the North and the South, and the reintegration of former Confederates into the nation's political life. Lee became the great Southern hero of the war, and his popularity grew in both the South and North, and it continued after his death in 1870. He remains an iconic figure of American military leadership. The Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, is a military cemetery that was established during the American Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, formerly the estate of Robert E. Lee. See also Report for Battle Of Sharpsburg Campaign by General Robert E. Lee.

Oath of amnesty, Robert E. Lee, 1865
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(Click to Enlarge)

(Left) Oath of amnesty submitted by Robert E. Lee in 1865.


Benjamin Harvey Hill of Georgia, referring to Robert Edward Lee during an address before the Southern Historical Society in Atlanta, Georgia on February 18, 1874, stated: "[Lee] was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile. He was a Caesar, without his ambition; Frederick, without his tyranny; Napoleon, without his selfishness, and Washington, without his reward."


In 1900, Robert E. Lee was one of the first 29 individuals selected for the Hall of Fame for Great Americans (the first Hall of Fame in the United States), designed by Stanford White, on the Bronx, New York, campus of New York University, now a part of Bronx Community College. The USS Robert E. Lee was a submarine named for Lee, built in 1958.

William McKinley served at Antietam as a Commissary Sergeant in the 23rd Ohio Infantry before becoming the nation’s 25th President. A monument to him at Antietam was dedicated in his memory on October 13, 1903, two years after he was assassinated.

Battle of Antietam
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(Maryland Campaign Map)

Antietam National Battlefield Map
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(Click to Enlarge)

Lee Invades Maryland!
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(Click to Enlarge)

Union General John Gibbon who served at Antietam and fought in the infamous Cornfield had three brothers who served in the Confederate army.


The Maryland Campaign, or the Antietam Campaign, of September 1862 is widely considered one of the major turning points of the American Civil War (Turning Points of the American Civil War). Confederate General Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North was repulsed by Major General George B. McClellan and the Army of the Potomac, who moved to intercept Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia and eventually attacked it near Sharpsburg, Maryland (General Robert E. Lee's Proclamation to the People of Maryland). The resulting Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. (Why Lee invaded Maryland.)


Robert E. Lee's son, Robert Jr., was a private with the Rockbridge Artillery who fought at the Battle of Antietam.


There were two significant engagements in the Maryland Campaign prior to the major battle of Antietam: Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's capture of Harpers Ferry and McClellan's assault through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Battle of South Mountain. The former was significant because a large portion of Lee's army was absent from the start of the battle of Antietam, attending to the surrender of the Union garrison; the latter because stout Confederate defenses at two passes through the mountains delayed McClellan's advance enough for Lee to concentrate the remainder of his army at Antietam. (Maryland and Antietam Campaign, with Maps, by Civil War Preservation Trust.)

Battle of South Mountain Historical Marker
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(South Mountain and Battle of Antietam)

The Maryland Campaign Map
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(Click to Enlarge)

Battle of Harpers Ferry, September 12-15, 1862
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(Click to Enlarge)

"Just as [Confederate] General Pender prepared to move his infantry forward in assault, a white flag was displayed, and [Union] General White, the commanding officer, surrendered 11,000 men, 73 pieces of artillery, 13,000 small-arms, and other stores." General "Stonewall" Jackson's official report, September 15, 1862, U.S. surrender of Harpers Ferry


On September 14, McClellan's right wing, commanded by Burnside and consisting of Hooker's I Corps and Reno's IX Corps, fought its way to the top of South Mountain. By evening, the Confederate defenders barely held their ground on the crest. During the fighting, Reno was killed, and General Cox assumed command of the IX Corps. Six miles to the south, Franklin's VI Corps attacked Crampton's Gap. 

After a hard-fought battle with McLaws' defenders, Union forces occupied the gap. It had taken all day, but McClellan's army had captured one mountain gap and would probably force its way through the other two the following morning. McClellan was jubilant. He telegraphed the War Department, "It had been a glorious victory!" When the results of the Battles of South Mountain reached the White House, Lincoln, who only a few days earlier had feared a Confederate attack on Washington, telegraphed McClellan: "Your dispatch of to-day received. God bless you and all with you! Destroy the rebel army, if possible."

Battle of South Mountain Map
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(South Mountain Battlefield)

Lee’s Lost Order

Lee's Special Order
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(Click to Enlarge)

Antietam Civil War Map
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(Click to Enlarge)

Special Order 191 (aka Special Order No. 191, the "Lost Dispatch," and the "Lost Order") was a military order issued by General Robert E. Lee in the Maryland Campaign. A lost copy of this order was recovered in Frederick County, Maryland, by Union Army troops, and the subsequent military intelligence gained by the Union played an important role in the Battle of South Mountain and Battle of Antietam.


Lee drafted Special Order 191 on September 9, 1862, during the Maryland Campaign. It detailed his specific plans for the movements of the Army of Northern Virginia during the early days of its invasion of Maryland. Lee would divide his army and then later regroup it; advance Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson to Harpers Ferry (along with other detachments) with the idea of capturing the Union garrison and its supplies; order Maj. Gen. James Longstreet northward to Boonsborough; and march the main body to Hagerstown.


About 10 a.m. on September 13, however, Corporal Barton W. Mitchell of the 27th Indiana Volunteers, attached to the Union XII Corps, discovered an envelope with three cigars wrapped in a piece of paper lying in the grass at a campground. The piece of paper was Special Order 191, and it was forwarded quickly to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the commander of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan was overcome with glee at learning planned Confederate troop movements and reportedly exclaimed: "Now I know what to do!" He confided to a subordinate, "Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home!"

The Battle of Antietam

Maryland Civil War Map
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(Click to Enlarge)

Antietam Campaign Map
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(Click to Enlarge)

For the North, the fight along Antietam Creek became known as the Battle of Antietam. In the South, it became known as the Battle of Sharpsburg. Of the nearly 70,000 Federal troops actually engaged in the battle, nearly 13,000 were killed, wounded, or missing; the approximately 35,000 Confederates engaged lost almost as many. Lee, however, had lost about one-third of his army; men that he could not easily replace.

Writing to his wife, McClellan said, "Those in whose judgment I rely tell me that I fought the battle splendidly and that is was a masterpiece of art." In truth, however, McClellan missed a series of opportunities. By failing to commit his forces to battle on September 15 and 16, McClellan squandered a chance to exploit his numerical superiority. On September 17, McClellan's piecemeal commitment of only a portion of his command during the battle – "in driblets," as General Sumner later described it – failed to deliver a knockout blow to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan's decision not to renew the battle on September 18, with perhaps a greater opportunity of success than the previous day, as well as his failure to energetically pursue the Confederate army on September 19, allowed Lee to withdraw to the safety of the Virginia shore.


Robert Gould Shaw served as a Captain in the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry and was wounded in the Cornfield at Antietam before taking command of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry made famous in the movie Glory.

Battle of Antietam
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(Click to Enlarge)

Antietam National Cemetery
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Lee, like McClellan, generally believed that the role of an army commander was to bring his army to the battlefield and allow his subordinates to handle the tactical details. But the desperate situation on September 17 forced Lee to become actively involved in the battle, despite injuries to both his hands.

He spent most of the day on the heights in the area of the present-day National Cemetery, where he watched the progress of the battle and personally dispatched various units to endangered portions of the field. He sent the commands of Walker, McLaws, and G. T. Anderson just in time to halt Sedgwick's advance on the Confederate left flank; rushed R. H. Anderson to support D. H. Hill's defense of the Confederate center; and, when A. P. Hill's division began arriving at Sharpsburg in the afternoon, hurried Hill's command to save the Confederate right flank.

The Battle Begins

Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862
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Cannon firing.gif

On the evening of September 16, McClellan ordered Hooker's I Corps to cross Antietam Creek and probe the enemy positions. Meade's division cautiously attacked the Confederates under Hood near the East Woods. After darkness, artillery fire continued as McClellan continued to position his troops. McClellan's plan was to overwhelm the enemy's left flank. He arrived at this decision because of the configuration of bridges over the Antietam.


The lower bridge (which would soon be named Burnside Bridge) was dominated by Confederate positions on the bluffs overlooking it. The middle bridge, on the road from Boonsboro, was subject to artillery fire from the heights near Sharpsburg. But the upper bridge was 2 miles (3 km) east of the Confederate guns and could be crossed safely. McClellan planned to commit more than half his army to the assault, starting with two corps, supported by a third, and if necessary a fourth. He intended to launch a simultaneous diversionary attack against the Confederate right with a fifth corps, and he was prepared to strike the center with his reserves if either attack succeeded.

Middle Bridge
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(Antietam Creek)

(Left) The middle bridge over Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, photographed September 1862.


The skirmish in the East Woods served to signal McClellan's intentions to Lee, who prepared his defenses accordingly. He shifted men to his left flank and sent urgent messages to his two commanders who had not yet arrived on the battlefield: Lafayette McLaws with two divisions and A.P. Hill with one division.


McClellan's plans were ill-coordinated and were executed poorly. He issued to each of his subordinate commanders only the orders for his own corps, not general orders describing the entire battle plan. The terrain of the battlefield made it difficult for those commanders to monitor events outside of their sectors, and McClellan's headquarters were more than a mile in the rear (at the Philip Pry house, east of the creek), making it difficult for him to control the separate corps.

America's Bloodiest Day in History: September 17th

Therefore, the battle progressed the next day, September 17, as essentially three separate phases, with mostly uncoordinated battles: morning in the northern end of the battlefield, mid-day in the center, and afternoon in the south.

Battle of Antietam: Three Phases on September 17th
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Antietam Battlefield

The lack of coordination and concentration of McClellan's forces almost completely nullified the two-to-one advantage the Union enjoyed and allowed Lee to shift his defensive forces to meet each offensive.


At dawn September 17, Hooker’s corps mounted a powerful assault on Lee’s left flank that began the single bloodiest day in American military history. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller’s cornfield and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church. Union assaults against the Sunken Road (aka Bloody Lane) eventually pierced the Confederate center, but the Federal advantage was not followed up.

Bloody Lane, present-day
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(Battle of Antietam Battlefield)

Sunken Road, aka Bloody Lane, Antietam
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(Dead Soldiers at Bloody Lane Battlefield)

Late in the day, Burnside’s corps finally got into action, crossing the stone bridge over Antietam Creek and rolling up the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, A.P. Hill’s division arrived from Harpers Ferry and counterattacked, driving back Burnside and saving the day. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill.

Miller's Cornfield
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(The Infamous Cornfield)

Dunker Church
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(Death at Dunker)

General Burnside
General Ambrose Burnside.jpg

With only a small force, but holding higher ground, Gen. Lee's men were able to defend the crucial Antietam Crossing for nearly three hours. Union General Ambrose Burnside's men launched a series of fierce assaults and attacks to break the bottleneck at the bridge. At approximately 1 p.m. on Sept. 17th, the Confederates, outflanked and outnumbered, and running low on ammunition, began to retreat or withdraw.


The Yankees stormed the bridge, finally crossing the hotly contested Antietam Creek. However, the time taken to cross and resupply the Union troops had provided Lee with the opportunity to bring his final reserves on the field and turn back Burnside's attack, thus ending the bloody day.


"We were shooting them like sheep in a pen. If a bullet missed the mark at first it was liable to strike the further bank, angle back, and take them secondarily." Sergeant of the 61st New York 

Burnside Bridge (present-day)
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(Battle of Antietam)

(The Burnside Bridge, known as the Rohrbach Bridge before the battle, was designed and built by John Weaver at a cost of $2,300. The bridge is 12-feet (3.7 m) wide and 125-feet (38 m) long. It was completed in 1836 and was actively used for traffic until 1966. This bridge remains one of the most visited sites at the Antietam Battlefield.)

During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout the 18th, while removing his wounded south of the river. McClellan did not renew the assaults. After dark, Lee ordered the battered Army of Northern Virginia to withdraw across the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley. (Maryland and Antietam Campaign, with Maps, by Civil War Preservation Trust.)

Confederate dead at Antietam
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(Library of Congress)

(About) Photo of Confederate dead gathered for burial after the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882, photographer.)


Alexander Gardner's* photographs of Antietam were the first ever images to show dead soldiers on the field of battle. A New York Times article about the photographs said it was if the "dead had been laid at our doorsteps."

Aftermath and Analysis

"Stonewall" Jackson
General "Stonewall" Jackson.jpg

Although the Confederates had been forced out of Maryland, Lee's campaign had been a partial success. Jackson's capture of Harpers Ferry provided the Confederates with a large amount of supplies, including clothing, shoes, thousands of small arms and ammunition, and over seventy pieces of artillery. In addition, another major Federal offensive in Virginia had been delayed, albeit only briefly. In mid-December, Burnside, now commanding the Army of the Potomac, attempted to interpose his command between Lee and Richmond. The maneuver culminated in a Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg.


"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 [Confederates] slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before." Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker

Battle of Antietam Map
Battle of Antietam.gif
(Click to Enlarge)

(Right) Assaults by the I Corps, 5:30 to 7:30 a.m.


Although Antietam was not the decisive Union victory for which Lincoln had hoped, it did give the president an opportunity to strike at the Confederacy politically, psychologically, and economically. Lee, furthermore, had lost about one-third of his army. On September 22, Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that the Federal government would after January 1, 1863, consider slaves in any state in rebellion against the Federal government to be free. The proclamation had no immediate effect behind Confederate lines, nor did it free any slaves in states still in the Union. Nevertheless, Lincoln's proclamation would be the Federal government's first official step toward the abolition of slavery.


Shortly after the battle, McClellan wrote that Confederate dreams of invading Pennsylvania had dissipated forever. During the coming months, however, Lee would wait for another opportunity to cross his army north of the Potomac. The summer of 1863 would find the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac, the latter commanded by the recently promoted Maj. Gen. George Meade, confronting each other at the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.


60% of Antietam National Battlefield property has been purchased since 1990. The park has more than doubled in size over the last 16 years.

Antietam Battlefield Map
Antietam Battlefield Map.gif
(Click to Enlarge)

The battle was over by 5:30 p.m. Losses for the day were heavy on both sides. The Union had 12,401 casualties with 2,108 dead. Confederate casualties were 10,318 with 1,546 dead. This represented 25% of the Federal force and 31% of the Confederate. More Americans died on September 17, 1862, than on any other day in the nation's military history. Several generals also died as a result of the battle. 


(Left) Assaults by the XII Corps, 7:30 to 9:00 a.m


On the morning of September 18, Lee's army prepared to defend against a Federal assault that never came. After an improvised truce for both sides to recover and exchange their wounded, Lee's forces began withdrawing across the Potomac that evening to return to Virginia.

Antietam Maryland Map
Antietam Maryland Battle Map.gif
(Click to Enlarge)

President Lincoln was disappointed in McClellan's performance. He believed that McClellan's cautious and poorly coordinated actions in the field had forced the battle to a draw rather than a crippling Confederate defeat.


(Right) Assaults by the XII and II Corps, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.


The president was even more astonished that from September 17 to October 26, despite repeated entreaties from the War Department and the president himself, McClellan declined to pursue Lee across the Potomac, citing shortages of equipment and the fear of overextending his forces. General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote in his official report, "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 and regret." Lincoln relieved McClellan of his command of the Army of the Potomac on November 7, effectively ending the general's military career. 

Antietam Civil War Map
Antietam Civil War Map.gif
(Click to Enlarge)

(Left) Assaults by the IX Corps, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m


Some students of history question the designation of "strategic victory" for the Union. After all, McClellan performed poorly in the campaign and the battle itself, and Lee displayed great generalship in holding his own in battle against an army that greatly outnumbered him. Casualties were comparable on both sides, although Lee lost a higher percentage of his army. Lee withdrew from the battlefield first, the technical definition of the tactical loser in a Civil War battle. (Report Of Sharpsburg Campaign by General Robert E. Lee.) However, in a strategic sense, despite being a tactical draw, Antietam is considered a turning point of the war and a victory for the Union because it ended Lee's strategic campaign (his first invasion of the North) and it allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, which took effect on January 1, 1863. Although Lincoln had intended to do so earlier, he was advised by his Cabinet to make this announcement after a Union victory to avoid the perception that it was issued out of desperation. The Union victory and Lincoln's proclamation played a considerable role in dissuading the governments of France and Britain from recognizing the Confederacy; some suspected they were planning to do so in the aftermath of another Union defeat. When the issue of emancipation was linked to the progress of the war, neither government had the political will to oppose the United States. (Maryland and Antietam Campaign, with Maps, by Civil War Preservation Trust.)


Colonel Nelson Miles of the 64th New York Infantry was a volunteer officer at Antietam and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Chancellorsville. After the Civil War, he remained in the Army and by the Spanish American War in 1898 he was the Commanding General of the U.S. Army.

Antietam Casualties: The Numbers

Image of a Union burial crew at Antietam
Civil War Burial Crew Detail.jpg
(Alexander Gardner)

Casualty Does Not Equal Dead
Casualties include three categories: 1) dead; 2) wounded; and 3) missing or captured. In general terms, casualties of Civil War battles included 20% dead and 80% wounded. Of the soldiers who were wounded, about one out of seven died from his wounds. Over 2/3 of the 622,000 men who gave their lives in the Civil War died from disease, not from battle.

Antietam Casualties
Approximate Numbers




















Note: Because of the catastrophic nature of the Battle of Antietam, exact numbers of casualties were virtually impossible to compile. The sources for these figures are the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies and the Antietam Battlefield Board.

dead Civil War soldiers on the battlefield.jpg

Antietam Casualties: The Three Phases on September 17th

Approximate Casualties by Phase of Battle




Morning Phase Engaged








Mid-Day Phase Engaged








Afternoon Phase Engaged








Source: The Antietam Battlefield Board

Civil War burial crews.jpg

Antietam Casualties: The Three Phases, with Locations, on September 17th

The casualty numbers below include all three categories with locations. The numbers below are approximations of the casualties that occurred in each phase of the battle. The chaos of battle makes it exceedingly difficult to develop precise numbers for casualties in each phase of the battle. Overall, 1 in 4 soldiers involved in battle that day were killed, wounded, or missing.

Union Confederate
Troops Engaged
Troops Engaged

Morning Phase

Cornfield 17,000 4,350 11,800 4,200
West Woods 5,400 2,200 9,000 1,850
Total, Morning Phase 22,400 6,550 20,800 6,050

Midday Phase

Bloody Lane 9,700 2,900 6,500 2,600

Afternoon Phase

Burnside Bridge 4,270 500 500 120
Final Attack 9,550 1,850 5,500 1,000
Total, Afternoon Phase 13,820 2,350 6,000 1,120

Battle Total

56,000 12,400 37,400 10,300
Note: The total numbers for September 17th do not reflect the sum of all three phases due to approximations for numbers in each phase. Depending on the source, furthermore, casualties vary greatly for the three phases. Casualty sources for the three phases, with locations, are U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, PA; Antietam National Battlefield.

Six Generals Killed at the Battle of Antietam

Civil War Cannon Mortuary.jpg

Six (Brigadier and Major) Generals were killed or mortally wounded during the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Of the six fallen men, three were from the Union army and three were Confederates. The spot where each of the following six generals were killed is marked by a "Mortuary Cannon," a cannon tube, muzzle down in a block of stone.

(Right) Picture of Mortuary cannon marking the location, or spot, where a general was killed or mortally wounded.

Incredibly, twelve generals were wounded during the battle - six from each side. Two other generals were killed at the Battle of South Mountain, three days earlier - one Union and one Confederate. The total for the two battles was 20 Generals killed or wounded - 10 from each side.

Brig. Gen. George B. Anderson
Born near Hillsboro, North Carolina, Anderson was 31 years old at Antietam. West Point graduate, class of 1852, his brigade of North Carolinians fought desperately in the Sunken Road. Wounded in the foot, Brig. Gen. Anderson was transported to Shepherdstown, then Staunton, Virginia and eventually to Raleigh, North Carolina were he died October 16, 1862.

Brig. Gen. George B. Anderson
Brig. Gen. George B. Anderson.jpg

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Anderson resigned his U.S. Army commission on April 25, 1861, and returned home. The Governor of North Carolina, John Willis Ellis, appointed him as colonel of the 4th North Carolina Infantry on July 16. Anderson capably led his regiment at the Battle of Williamsburg in May 1862 and was rewarded a month later with a promotion to brigadier general on June 9. He was assigned command of a brigade in Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill's division, fighting at the Seven Days Battles and Malvern Hill, where he was wounded in the hand during the Confederate assault. While recovering, he was part of the defenses around Richmond, Virginia in July 1862, serving in the 4th Brigade of Maj. Gen. G.W. Smith's Division.

"While bravely discharging his duty in this part of the field, Gen. George B. Anderson, of North Carolina, received a wound that proved mortal. It is stated that he was the first officer in regular [US] army service at the time to resign his commission to join the Confederacy, and he served his new government with zeal, ability and devotion. He was a man of winning manners, warm heart, modest manliness and intense love of truth. No man in service had gained more steadily the admiration and respect of his own men and officers, and the confidence of his superior officers." Words of D. H. Hill, Jr., (son of Lt. Gen. D. H. Hill, Sr.) author of Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865.

Now, able to return to active duty, Anderson resumed his brigade command in time for the Maryland Campaign. He fought at the Battle of South Mountain before marching into the Cumberland Valley to Sharpsburg, Maryland, as the Army of Northern Virginia concentrated. During the subsequent Battle of Antietam, Anderson's veteran North Carolinians defended a portion of the Sunken Road (known as "Bloody Lane") against repeated Union attacks. A Miniť ball struck Anderson near his ankle, injuring it badly. Anderson was transported to Shepherdstown and then by wagon up the Shenandoah Valley to Staunton, Virginia, to recuperate. He was eventually shipped by train to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he died following surgery to amputate the infected foot. Anderson is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Brig. Gen. Lawrence O'Brian Branch
Brig. Gen. Lawrence O'Brian Branch.jpg

Brig. Gen. Lawrence O'Brian Branch
Branch was born in Enfield, North Carolina in 1820. He graduated from Princeton in 1838, studied law and served in Congress from 1855 until 1861. Branch commanded a brigade attached to A.P. Hill's Division who made the grueling 17 mile march to the battlefield from Harpers Ferry on the day of the battle. Arriving on the south end of the battlefield, Branch and the other brigades of Hill's division helped turn back Burnside's attack at the end of the day. Like George Anderson, Branch was also buried in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In this brilliant close to a hard day's battle, North Carolina lost a gifted son in the death of General Branch. His commander, Gen. A. P. Hill, said of him: "The Confederacy has to mourn the loss of a gallant soldier and accomplished gentleman, who fell in this battle at the head of his brigade, Brig.-Gen. L. O'B. Branch, of North Carolina. He was my senior brigadier, and one to whom I could have intrusted the command of the division with all confidence." For a time in this campaign, he did command the division. General Branch had achieved high honors in civil life. These he had given up to serve his country manfully in the field, and he was rapidly working toward the highest rank when he fell, as soldiers love to die--at the head of a victorious command. Major Gordon, of the adjutant-general's office, says that on "the very day General Branch was killed, he had been appointed major-general, but that the government, hearing of his death, never issued his commission." Sutton says of his death: "No country had a truer son, or nobler champion, no principle a bolder defender than the noble and gallant soldier, Gen. Lawrence O'Brian Branch."

General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch
Civil War Hat.jpg
(Confederate Civil War Winter Hat)

(Right) Photograph of Winter Hat of General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch. General Lawrence Branch used this unusual cap as a winter hat. It may have been made using fabric cut from a pair of Union army trousers. A section of the hat folds down into a pair of earmuffs. Branch was a prominent lawyer and politician before the war. He served briefly as the state quartermaster general early in the war and was later promoted to a brigadier general. As such, he commanded a brigade in A.P. Hill's Division in the Army of Northern Virginia. He was killed at Sharpsburg, Maryland by a sniper's bullet on September 17, 1862. Branch's body was brought back to Raleigh for burial in the Old City Cemetery. Courtesy North Carolina Museum of History.

Biographical data and notes:
- Born Nov. 28, 1820, in Enfield
- Lawrence O'Bryan Branch died on Sep. 17, 1862
- Residing in Wake County, NC, at time of enlistment
- Enlisted on Sep. 20, 1861, as Colonel
Mustering information:
- Commissioned into Field and Staff, 33rd Infantry (North Carolina) on Sep. 20, 1861
- Discharged due to promotion from 33rd Infantry (North Carolina) on Jan. 17, 1862
- Commissioned into Gen Staff (Confederate States) on Jan. 17, 1862
- Killed while serving in Gen Staff (Confederate States) on Sep. 17, 1862, at Antietam, MD
- Promoted to Colonel, 33rd NC Inf on Sep. 1, 1861
- Promoted to Brig-Gen (Full, Vol) on Jan. 17, 1862

Maj. Gen. Joseph K. F. Mansfield
Maj. Gen. Joseph K. F. Mansfield.jpg

Maj. Gen. Joseph K. F. Mansfield
Joseph King Fenno (aka Fernno) Mansfield was one of the oldest officers on the field at age 59. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Mansfield graduated from West Point in 1822. A professional soldier, he served in the Army for forty years, including service in the Mexican War. Just two days before the battle, he was given command of the XII Corps. Maj. Gen. Mansfield led his men through the East Woods towards the Cornfield in support of I Corps already in action. Wounded in the chest he died the next day. There is a monument and a mortuary cannon on the battlefield for Maj. Gen. Mansfield.

Biographical data and notes:

- Born Dec. 22, 1803, in New Haven, CT

- Pre-enlistment occupation: US Army Officer

- Joseph King Fenno Mansfield died on Sep. 18, 1862

- Note: Mort Wounded Sep. 17, 1862, at Antietam

- Graduate USMA Jul. 1, 1822


- 49 years of age at time of enlistment

- Enlisted on May 28, 1853, as Colonel

Mustering information:

- Commissioned into Inspector General Dept (Regular Army) on May 28, 1853

- Commissioned into General Staff (U.S. Volunteers) on May 14, 1861

- Died of wounds while serving in General Staff (U.S. Volunteers) on Sep. 18, 1862


- Promoted to Colonel (Full, Army) on May 28, 1853 (Colonel & Inspector General)

- Promoted to Brig-Gen (Full, Vol) on May 14, 1861

- Promoted to Major-Gen (Full, Vol) on Jul. 18, 1862

Listed as:

- Wounded on Sep. 17, 1862, at Antietam, MD

- Died on Sep. 18, 1862, from wound sustained from Battle of Antietam

Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson
Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson.jpg

Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson
This Vermonter was 46 years old when he led his division at Antietam. Another West Pointer, Richardson graduated from the Academy in 1841 and distinguished himself during the Mexican War. In 1855 he resigned his commission and moved to Michigan. Returning to service during the crisis of 1861, Richardson led a brigade during the First Battle of Bull Run and the Peninsula campaign. At Antietam he commanded a division in the II Corp that attacked the Sunken Road. Wounded by artillery while trying to bring up more guns, Maj. Gen. Richardson died on November 3, 1862.

He commanded several brigades in the Army of the Potomac and then the 1st Division of the II Corps during the Peninsula Campaign in mid-1862. He was involved in the fighting at the battles of Yorktown, Seven Pines, and the Seven Days. He was particularly distinguished in sharp fighting near the Chickahominy River. Following the campaign, he was promoted to major general on July 4, 1862. He led his troops during the Northern Virginia Campaign, fighting at the Second Battle of Bull Run, and again during the Maryland Campaign in September, when he was engaged at South Mountain.


Richardson's 1st Division played a key role during the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, attacking Confederate positions in the center of the Sunken Road in support of the 3rd Division of Maj. Gen. William H. French. After stubborn fighting, by 1:00 p.m., Richardson had gained control of the high ground in front of the apex of the defensive line, and his men enfiladed the remaining defenders in the road, which would gain the nickname "Bloody Lane" for the carnage. Richardson pushed forward beyond the road and was directing the fire of his artillery and organizing another attack when he was struck by a shell fragment. Carried to the rear, Richardson was treated at a field hospital. His wound was not considered life threatening, and he was given a room in McClellan's headquarters, the Pry House. President Abraham Lincoln paid his respects to the wounded Richardson during a visit to the battlefield in October. However, infection set in, and then pneumonia, which claimed the life of the popular general in early November. He was among six generals to be killed or mortally wounded at Antietam. His body was escorted to Detroit, Michigan. Large crowds lined the streets during his funeral procession to nearby Pontiac, where he was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Brig. Gen. Isaac P. Rodman
Brig. Gen. Isaac P. Rodman.jpg

Brig. Gen. Isaac P. Rodman
Born in Rhode Island, Rodman served in both houses of the state legislature before the war. Rodman's middle name was Peace and he was a Quaker. Imagine his dilemma when war broke out between his religion and service to his country. Rodman was a Captain at First Bull Run and a division commander here at Antietam. Crossing at Snavely's Ford on the far south end of the battlefield, Rodman led his men in the final assault, only to be turned back by the timely arrival of A.P. Hill and his men. Mortally wounded, this Quaker General would die on September 30, 1862, at age 40. Isaac Rodman is buried in the Rodman family cemetery, Peace Dale, Rhode Island.

In a funeral oration, Senator Henry B. Anthony of Rhode Island said of Rodman:
"Here lies the true type of the patriot soldier. Born and educated to peaceful pursuits, with no thirst for military distinction, with little taste or predilection for military life, he answered the earliest call of his country, and drew his sword in her defense. Entering the service in a subordinate capacity, he rose by merit alone to the high rank in which he fell; and when the fatal shot struck him, the captain of one year ago was in command of a division. His rapid promotion was influenced by no solicitations of his own. He never joined the crowd that throng the avenues of preferment. Patient, laborious, courageous, wholly devoted to his duties, he filled each place so well that his advancement to the next was a matter of course, and the promotion which he did not seek sought him. He was one of the best type of the American citizen; of thorough business training, of high integrity, with an abiding sense of the justice due to all, and influenced by deep religious convictions. In his native village he was by common consent the arbitrator of differences, the counselor and friend of all."

Brig. Gen. William E. Starke
Brig. Gen. William E. Starke.jpg

Brig. Gen. William E. Starke
Born in Virginia, Starke was a successful cotton planter in New Orleans. He served as the Colonel of the 60th Virginia, then was promoted to Brigadier on August 6, 1862. When Brig. Gen. John R. Jones was stunned by an artillery shell and left the field, Starke took command of the Stonewall Division. The onslaught of the Union I Corps' attack early in the morning began to drive his men back. Starke would lead a counterattack, only to be wounded three times, he died within the hour. His body was returned to Richmond where he was buried in Hollywood Cemetery next to his son who had been killed two months earlier. A mortuary cannon on the Antietam Battlefield marks the approximate place where Starke was shot the third time, west of the Hagerstown Turnpike in the West Woods area. It was dedicated in October 1897.

Col. Bradley T. Johnson, in his official report on the Second Battle of Manassas, wrote concerning the death of Starke:


“I cannot forbear doing but scant justice to a gallant soldier now no more. It was my fortune during the two days of battle, during which he commanded the division, to be thrown constantly in contact with Brigadier-General Starke. The buoyant dash with which he led his brigade into the most withering fire on Friday, though then in command of the division; the force he showed in the handling of this command; the coolness and judgment which distinguished him in action, made him to me a marked man, and I regretted his early death as a great loss to the army and the cause.”


Fellow Confederate officer Clement A. Evans later wrote, "His name deserves lasting remembrance in association with the Stonewall division."

Wounded at Antietam
September 17, 1862

Army of the Potomac
Brig. Gen. Samuel W. Crawford
Brig. Gen. Napoleon J.T. Dana
Brig. Gen. George L. Hartsuff
Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker
Brig. Gen. John Sedgwick
Brig. Gen. Max Weber

Army of Northern Virginia
Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson
Brig. Gen. Maxcy Gregg
Brig. Gen. John R. Jones
Brig. Gen. Alexander R. Lawton
Brig. Gen. Roswell S. Ripley
Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright

Killed at South Mountain
September 14, 1862

Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno

Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland

Sunken Road at Antietam in 1877
Sunken Road.jpg
(National Park Service)

The Signal Corps

An Innovative Technology of War

Armies through the ages used drums, trumpets, and banners to communicate on the battlefield. These methods were used in the American Civil War as well. However, during the Civil War, both armies introduced a new signal technology that permitted rapid communication across the battlefield and farther. The new system used flags or torches to talk to each other. With signal stations on the field and surrounding ridges, the U.S. Signal Corps operated throughout the Battle of Antietam, not only sending messages, but also observing behind the Confederate lines.

Signal Corps at Battle of Antietam
Civil War Signal Corps.jpg
(Signal Corps Detachment on Elk Ridge overlooking Antietam Battlefield)

Signal Stations during the Battle

There were several U.S. signal stations on or near the Antietam Battlefield. The most important, under Lt. Joseph Gloskoski, was located on Elk Mountain overlooking the field from the east. Lt. Gloskoski reported that during the battle he communicated with at least five different stations on the field. These were General McClellan's headquarters at the Pry House; General Burnside's headquarters on the Union left; and General Hooker's headquarters on the Union right. Additionally, he refers to "two stations in the center of our lines." One of these was possibly at the Roulette farm. The other may have been the station situated near the Miller farm.

Union signal station at Antietam
Civil War Signal Corp in Battle.jpg
(Antietam Battlefield)

Gloskoski's Elk Mountain station sent the most famous signal of the battle. Late in the afternoon this party observed Lt. General A.P. Hill's division of Confederates approaching the battlefield after its long march from Harpers Ferry. The Elk Mountain station sent an urgent message to Gen. Burnside, "Look well to your left. The enemy are moving a strong force in that direction."


Confederate signalman were also active during the battle and official maps of the battlefield indicate a CSA signal station was located behind the West Woods.

Antietam Timeline


Three day Battle of Second Manassas or Second Bull Run, VA begins.   CSA Gen. Braxton Bragg leads the Army of the Tennessee North from Chattanooga, TN
    CSA Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith’s Army of Kentucky invades Kentucky
Union Gen. John Pope's Army of Virginia defeated at Second Manassas, begins withdrawal toward Washington, D.C.    



Battle of Chantilly or Ox Hill, VA; Pope's rearguard attacked in driving rainstorm, Union army continues toward Washington    
Union Gen. George B. McClellan restored to command in Virginia and around Washington
CSA Gen. Robert E. Lee concentrating Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) at Chantilly
Lee moves ANV toward Leesburg, VA, writes CSA President Jefferson Davis "The present seems to be the most propitious time since the commencement of the war for the Confederate Army to enter Maryland"   Smith occupies state capitol of Frankfort, Kentucky
Lee begins crossing his army over the Potomac River near Leesburg, VA. All the units will be in Maryland by Sept. 7    
Army of the Potomac begins to move out of Washington    
"Stonewall" Jackson occupies Frederick, MD, Lee's entire army is across the Potomac    
McClellan moves his headquarters out of Washington to Rockville, MD    
Lee issues a Proclamation to the people of Maryland: "It is for you to decide your destiny freely and without constraint"    

Lee issues Special Orders #191 in Frederick outlining plans for taking of Harpers Ferry, VA (now WV)
-CSA Gen John G. Walker's Division leaves Frederick enroute to the Monocacy River Aqueduct and Loudon Heights, VA

-Jackson leaves Frederick toward Middletown at 3 am, over South Mountain to Boonsboro by nightfall
-CSA Gen James Longstreet follows Jackson through Middletown toward Hagerstown
-CSA Gen Layfayette McLaws' Division moves toward Maryland Heights by way of Middletown and Burkittsville.
-Walker fords Potomac at Point of Rocks and camps through the 11th
Confederates enter Hagerstown, MD.
By evening, Jackson within 4 miles of Martinsburg, VA (now WV)
McClellan enters Frederick    
-McLaws begins assault on Maryland Heights
-CSA Gen D.H. Hill at Boonboro -Jackson occupies Martinsburg
-McLaws takes Maryland Heights
-Walker reaches Loudon Heights, VA
-By night, Jackson reaches Bolivar Heights, WV

Copy of Special Orders 191 found in Frederick, delivered to McClellan by early evening; by 10 pm Lee knows of excitement in Federal camp, orders Longstreet to Boonsboro, warns McLaws
Battle of South Mountain
-Union Gen William Franklin's VI Corps takes Crampton's Gap, in line facing South in Pleasant Valley
-Union Gens Jesse Reno (IX Corps) and Joseph Hooker (I Corps) attack at Fox's and Turner's Gaps

-D.H. Hill and Longstreet withdraw after dark
-Walker has artillery in place on Loudon Heights by 1 pm
-McLaws has artillery in place on Maryland Heights by 2 pm

Union Forces at Harpers Ferry Surrender
-Lee stops retreat, orders concentration at Sharpsburg

-Jackson departs Harpers Ferry, leaving A.P. Hill's Division behind
-McLaws crosses Potomac to Harper's Ferry
McClellan crosses South Mountain to Boonsboro and Keedysville

  CSA Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith on Ohio River across from Cincinnati, OH
Jackson's and Walker's Divisions arrive at Sharpsburg around midday. Lee sends word to McLaws and A.P. Hill to hurry to Sharpsburg
Union I and XII Corps cross Antietam Creek late evening and make contact with Lee’s left at 6 pm
McClellan orders Franklin to Sharpsburg from Pleasant Valley

Fighting begins at dawn and continues for 11 hours until 5 pm
McLaws' Division arrives early morning; A.P. Hill's arrives 3 pm
That evening Lee holds council of war at dark, decides to remain in position

  CSA Gen. Braxton Bragg captures 4000 Federals at Munfordville, KY
English Foreign Minister Russell, just hearing the news of 2nd Manassas, writes Prime Minister Palmerston "the time is come for offering mediation to the United States Gov't, with a view to the recognition of the independence of the Confederates."


At dark, Lee begins to withdraw toward the Potomac    
Lee’s Army completes Potomac crossing by late morning
Raiding party from Union Gen. Fitz John Porter's V Corps crosses Potomac and captures four CSA cannon and returns
  Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans defeats CSA Gen. Sterling Price at Iuka, MS. Price now cannot aid Bragg in KY
Battle of Shepherdstown
Two brigades of Porter's V Corps cross the Potomac but are repulsed by a counterattack from A.P. Hill's Division
President Abraham Lincoln announces the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation    
    Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell beats Bragg to Louisville, KY

Lincoln arrives at Antietam Battlefield to meet with McClellan   Palmerston, learning of Lee's withdraw, writes Russell, "The whole matter is full of difficulty and can only be cleared up by some more decided events between the contending armies."
Lincoln leaves Antietam for Washington D.C.   Battle of Corinth, MS - CSA Gens. Van Dorn and Price repulsed in attacks
Lincoln orders McClellan to "cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy or drive him south"    
    Battle of Perryville, KY - Bragg withdraws ending Kentucky invasion
CSA Gen. J.E.B. Stuart rides around McClellan's army    
McClellan's army crosses the Potomac    



    Congressional elections in the North. Republicans retain a majority in the House and gain 5 seats in the Senate
Lincoln writes the order relieving McClellan from command

Battle of Fredericksburg
McClellan's replacement Gen. Burnside defeated by Lee

1, 1863


    Emancipation Proclamation takes effect

* Alexander Gardner and Antietam

Alexander Gardner
Alexander Gardner.jpg
(Library of Congress)

Alexander Gardner (October 17, 1821 – December 10, 1882) was a Scottish and American photographer. He is best known for his photographs of the American Civil War, American President Abraham Lincoln, and the execution of the conspirators to Lincoln's assassination.


When war threatened the nation in the spring of 1861, thousands of soldiers flocked to Washington, D.C., to defend the capital. Photographers followed in their footsteps capturing camp scenes and portraits of untested, jubilant greenhorns in their new uniforms. It happened that Alexander Gardner had just opened a new studio in the capital for the most notable photographer of his era - Mathew Brady. Gardner also took advantage of the coming storm to increase his business. All of the early war photographs were taken in studios or tents. No one had produced images in the field.


It wasn't until September of 1862 that the first true images of war were produced. Antietam was the first battle to depict the grim and bloody truth of civil war through the lens of photographer Alexander Gardner and his assistant James Gibson. Gardner made two trips to Antietam. The first was just two days after the battle, the second, two weeks later when President Abraham Lincoln visited the battlefield.


President Abraham Lincoln visited Antietam Battlefield two weeks after the battle and spent four days visiting General George McClellan, touring the battlefield and visiting the wounded of both sides.

President Lincoln and General George B. McClellan
President Abraham Lincoln.jpg
(Library of Congress)

(About) President Lincoln and General George B. McClellan in the general’s tent at Antietam, Maryland, on 3 October 1862. This rare photograph is from the original negative of left half. Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882, photographer.


President Lincoln and General George B. McClellan
President Lincoln General McClellan.jpg
(Library of Congress)

Alexander Gardner
Alexander Gardner Civil War photographer.jpg
(Library of Congress)

(About) President Lincoln and General George B. McClellan in the general’s tent at Antietam, Maryland, on 3 October 1862. This photograph is from the original negative of right half. Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882, photographer.


During both of his trips, Gardner moved across the battlefield taking advantage of another new photographic technique that increased the impact of war images – stereograph. Two lenses capture two simultaneous photographs, and when seen through a viewer, the mind creates a three-dimensional image.


Parlors were filled with cards and viewers as stereo views became the rage in America. Of the approximately ninety images Gardner took at Antietam, about seventy were in stereo, adding a new, horrific view of the American landscape to home collections.


Newspapers could not reproduce photographs, but woodcuts from the Antietam images spread across the country. Gardner’s original images were put on display in New York City at Brady’s gallery. New Yorkers were shocked and appalled. The New York Times stated that Brady was able to "bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along streets, he has done something very like it…"

(Sources and related reading are listed below.)

Recommended Reading: The Antietam Campaign (Military Campaigns of the Civil War). Description: The Maryland campaign of September 1862 ranks among the most important military operations of the American Civil War. Crucial political, diplomatic, and military issues were at stake as Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan maneuvered and fought in the western part of the state. The climactic clash came on September 17 at the battle of Antietam, where more than 23,000 men fell in the single bloodiest day of the war.

Approaching topics related to Lee's and McClellan's operations from a variety of perspectives, numerous contributors to this volume explore questions regarding military leadership, strategy, and tactics, the impact of the fighting on officers and soldiers in both armies, and the ways in which participants and people behind the lines interpreted and remembered the campaign. They also discuss the performance of untried military units and offer a look at how the United States Army used the Antietam battlefield as an outdoor classroom for its officers in the early twentieth century. Also available in paperback: The Antietam Campaign (Military Campaigns of the Civil War)

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Related Reading:

Editor's Pick: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Ezra A. Carman's Definitive Study of the Union and Confederate Armies at Antietam (Hardcover). Description: Completed in the early 1900s, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 is still the essential source for anyone seeking understanding of the bloodiest day in all of American history. As the U.S. War Department’s official expert on the Battle of Antietam, Ezra Carman corresponded with and interviewed hundreds of other veterans from both sides of the conflict to produce a comprehensive history of the campaign that dashed the Confederacy’s best hope for independence and ushered in the Emancipation Proclamation. Nearly a century after its completion, Carman's manuscript has finally made its way into print, in an edition painstakingly edited, annotated, and indexed by Joseph Pierro. The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 is a crucial document for anyone interested in delving below the surface of the military campaign that forever altered the course of American history. Continued below...

Editorial Reviews:

Ted Alexander, Chief Historian, Antietam National Battlefield

"The Ezra Carman manuscript is the definitive study of that bloody September day in 1862. By editing it Joseph Pierro has done a tremendous service to the field of Civil War studies. Indeed, this work is one of the most important Civil War publications to come out in decades."


James M. McPherson, author of Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam

"Many accounts of Civil War battles were written in the decades after the war by soldiers who had participated in them. None rivals in accuracy and thoroughness Ezra Carmen's study of the battles of South Mountain and Antietam, in which he fought as colonel of the 13th New Jersey. Students of the 1862 Maryland campaign have long relied on this manuscript as a vital source; Joseph Pierro's scrupulous editorial work has now made this detailed narrative accessible to everyone. A splendid achievement."


Jeffry D. Wert, author of The Sword Of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac

"At last, after a century, Ezra A. Carman's The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 has received the attention it deserves. A Union veteran, Carman authored a remarkable primary study of the critical operations that ended along Antietam Creek. Editor Joseph Pierro has given students of the Civil War and American history a most welcome and long overdue book."


Edwin C. Bearss, author of Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War

"My introduction to the Ezra A. Carman Papers at the Library of Congress and National Archives came in the spring of 1961. I was astounded and amazed by their depth and scope. The correspondence, troop movement maps, etc, along with Carman's unpublished manuscript on the Antietam Campaign constitutes then as now an invaluable legacy to the American people by Carman and the veterans of Antietam. But for too long that resource has only been available to the general public as microfilm or by traveling to Washington. Now thanks to the publishers and skilled, knowledgeable, sympathetic, but light-handed editor Joseph Pierro, an annotated copy of Carman's masterpiece The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 will be available to the public."


William C. Davis, author of Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America

"Joseph Pierro brings into the open one of the great and largely unknown masterworks of Civil War history. Ezra Carman's work on Antietam is a fountainhead for study of that pivotal battle, written by a man who was in the fight and who spent most of his life studying and marking the battlefield. No student can afford to ignore this stunningly thorough and brilliantly edited classic."


Recommended Reading: Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide (This Hallowed Ground: Guides to Civil War) (Paperback). Description: In September 1862 the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac conducted one of the truly great campaigns of the Civil War. At South Mountain, Harpers Ferry, and Antietam, North and South clashed in engagements whose magnitude and importance would earn this campaign a distinguished place in American military history. The siege of Harpers Ferry produced the largest surrender of U.S. troops in the nation’s history until World War II, while the day-long battle at Antietam on September 17 still holds the distinction of being the single bloodiest day of combat in American history. Continued below…

This invaluable book provides a clear, convenient, stop-by-stop guide to the sites in Maryland and West Virginia associated with the Antietam campaign, including excursions to Harpers Ferry and South Mountain. Thorough descriptions and analyses, augmented with vignettes and numerous maps, convey the mechanics as well as the human experience of the campaign, making this book the perfect companion for both serious students of the Civil War and casual visitors to its battlefields. "Insightful and informed, written in a graceful style, with excellent maps, Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide will be an invaluable resource for the Civil War aficionado, as well as the casual visitor to the battlefield."-Edwin C. Bearss, chief historian emeritus of the National Park Service. About the Author: Ethan S. Rafuse is an associate professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is the author of several books, including McClellan’s War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union, and is the coeditor of The Ongoing Civil War: New Versions of Old Stories.


Recommended Reading: Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (Pivotal Moments in American History) (Hardcover). Description: The bloodiest day in United States history was September 17, 1862, when, during the Civil War battle at Antietam, approximately 6,500 soldiers were killed or mortally wounded, while more than 15,000 were seriously wounded. James M. McPherson states in Crossroads of Freedom the concise chronicle of America’s bloodiest day and that it may well have been the pivotal moment of the war, as well as the young republic itself. Continued below...

The South, after a series of setbacks in the spring of 1862, had reversed the war's momentum during the summer, and was on the "brink of military victory" and about to achieve diplomatic recognition by European nations, most notably England and France. Though the bulk of his book concerns itself with the details--and incredible carnage--of the battle, McPherson raises it above typical military histories by placing it in its socio-political context: The victory prodded Abraham Lincoln to announce his "preliminary" Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves. England and France deferred their economic alliance with the battered secessionists. Most importantly, it kept Lincoln's party, the Republicans, in control of Congress. McPherson's account is accessible, elegant, and economical. Also available in paperback: Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (Pivotal Moments in American History)


Recommended Reading: Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War, by Edwin C. Bearss (Author), James McPherson (Introduction). Description: Bearss, a former chief historian of the National Parks Service and internationally recognized American Civil War historian, chronicles 14 crucial battles, including Fort Sumter, Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Sherman's march through the Carolinas, and Appomattox--the battles ranging between 1861 and 1865; included is an introductory chapter describing John Brown's raid in October 1859. Bearss describes the terrain, tactics, strategies, personalities, the soldiers and the commanders. (He personalizes the generals and politicians, sergeants and privates.) Continued below...

The text is augmented by 80 black-and-white photographs and 19 maps. It is like touring the battlefields without leaving home. A must for every one of America's countless Civil War buffs, this major work will stand as an important reference and enduring legacy of a great historian for generations to come. Also available in hardcover: Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War.


Recommended Reading: The Civil War Battlefield Guide: The Definitive Guide, Completely Revised, with New Maps and More Than 300 Additional Battles (Second Edition) (Hardcover). Description: This new edition of the definitive guide to Civil War battlefields is really a completely new book. While the first edition covered 60 major battlefields, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox, the second covers all of the 384 designated as the "principal battlefields" in the American Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report. Continued below...

As in the first edition, the essays are authoritative and concise, written by such leading Civil War historians as James M. McPherson, Stephen W. Sears, Edwin C. Bearss, James I. Robinson, Jr., and Gary W. Gallager. The second edition also features 83 new four-color maps covering the most important battles. The Civil War Battlefield Guide is an essential reference for anyone interested in the Civil War. "Reading this book is like being at the bloodiest battles of the war..."

Sources: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Antietam Battlefield Board; Antietam National Battlefield Park; National Park Service; James Murfin, Gleam of Bayonets: A thorough story of the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam; Stephen Sears, Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam; Time-Life Books, The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam; William Frassanito, Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day; Jay Luvaas and Harold W. Nelson, U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Antietam: The Maryland Campaign of 1862; John M. Priest, Antietam: The Soldiers' Battle; National Park Service Handbook, Antietam; Antietam Battlefield Board, Map of the Battlefield of Antietam; Confederate Military History; General Officers of the Confederate States of America; Medical Histories of Confederate Generals; Civil War High Commands; Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders; Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders; The Union Army; National Archives (Compiled Military Service Records); Library of Congress; Battles and Leaders of the Civil War; Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy; Sounding the Shallows: A Confederate Companion for the Maryland Campaign of 1862; Taken at the Flood: Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign; The Gleam of Bayonets: The Battle of Antietam and Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign, 1862; Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865; Bailey, Ronald H., and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Forward to Richmond: McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, Time-Life Books, 1983, ISBN 0-8094-4720-7; Bailey, Ronald H., and the Editors of Time-Life Books, The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam, Time-Life Books, 1984, ISBN 0-8094-4740-1; Beagle, Jonathan M., "George Brinton McClellan", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X; Beatie, Russel H., Army of the Potomac: Birth of Command, November 1860 – September 1861, Da Capo Press, 2002, ISBN 0-306-81141-3; Eckenrode, H. J., and Col. Bryan Conrad, George B. McClellan: The Man Who Saved the Union, University of North Carolina Press, 1941, ISBN 978-0-548-14788-7; Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals, Simon & Schuster, 2005; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States), Oxford University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-19-503863-0; McPherson, James M., Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War, Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-19-513521-0; Nevins, Allan, The War for the Union, Vol. I: The Improvised War 1861 – 1862, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959, ISBN 0-684-10426-1; Rafuse, Ethan S., McClellan's War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union, Indiana University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-253-34532-4; Rowland, Thomas J., "George Brinton McClellan", Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary, Ritter, Charles F., and Wakelyn, Jon L., eds., Greenwood Press, 1998, ISBN 0-313-29560-3; Rowland, Thomas J., George B. McClellan and Civil War History: In the Shadow of Grant and Sherman, Kent State University Press, 1998, ISBN 978-0-87338-989-1; Sandburg, Carl, Storm Over the Land: A Profile of the Civil War, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1942, ISBN 978-0-8317-1433-8; Sears, Stephen W., Controversies and Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999, ISBN 0-395-86760-6; Sears, Stephen W., George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon, Da Capo Press, 1988, ISBN 0-306-80913-3; Sears, Stephen W., Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, Houghton Mifflin, 1983, ISBN 0-89919-172-X; Sears, Stephen W., To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, Ticknor and Fields, 1992, ISBN 0-89919-790-6; Blount, Roy, Jr. Robert E. Lee Penguin Putnam, 2003. 210 pp., short popular biography; Carmichael, Peter S., ed. Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee Louisiana State U. Pr., 2004; Connelly, Thomas L., "The Image and the General: Robert E. Lee in American Historiography." Civil War History 19 (March 1973): 50-64; Connelly, Thomas L., The Marble Man. Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977; Connelly, Thomas L., "Robert E. Lee and the Western Confederacy: A Criticism of Lee's Strategic Ability." Civil War History 15 (June 1969): 116-32; Cooke, John E., "A Life of General Robert E. Lee" Kessinger Publishing, 2004; Dowdey, Clifford. Lee 1965; Fellman, Michael (2000), The Making of Robert E. Lee. New York: Random House (ISBN 0-679-45650-3); Fishwick, Marshall W. Lee after the War 1963; Flood, Charles Bracelen. Lee — The Last Years 1981; Gary W. Gallagher; Lee the Soldier. University of Nebraska Press, 1996; Gary W. Gallagher; Lee & His Army in Confederate History. University of North Carolina Press, 2001; McCaslin, Richard B. Lee in the Shadow of Washington. Louisiana State University Press, 2001; Pryor, Elizabeth Brown; Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters. New York: Viking, 2007; Reid, Brian Holden. Robert E. Lee: Icon for a Nation, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005; Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton & Co., 1995 (ISBN 0-393-03730-4) full-scale biography; Civil War Preservation Trust.

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