The Battle of Antietam
September 17, 1862
dawn, the hills of Sharpsburg, Maryland, thundered with
artillery and musket fire as the Northern and Southern armies
struggled for possession of the Miller farm cornfield during the
Civil War. For three hours, the battle lines swept back and
forth across the land. More lives would be lost on September 17,
1862, than on any other day in the nation's history.
By mid-morning, General Robert E. Lee's Confederate troops were
crouched behind the high banks of a country lane. They fired
upon advancing Union troops, but the Union General, George B.
McClellan, held a strategic advantage--a scout had discovered a
copy of the Confederate army's battle plan.
An overwhelming number of Northerners broke through the
Confederates' line. Union bullets rained down the lane onto
Confederate soldiers, and the former Sunken Road came to be
known as Bloody Lane because of the tragic death toll suffered
Covered by cannon fire from General Stonewall Jackson's
artillery, the Southerners retreated toward Sharpsburg, while
the Union troops fell back. New Southern troops arrived in time
to repel a second Union attack led by General Ambrose Burnside.
By nightfall, the Confederates occupied the town of Sharpsburg,
but the battle was a Union victory. More than 23,000 men were
killed, wounded, or missing in action. The next day, Lee began
his retreat across the Potomac River. Lee's plan to find new
recruits and supplies in Maryland, a slave-holding state that
remained in the Union, had failed. The next year he would launch
another assault into Union territory, which came to a head at
the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.