|Battle of Antietam, by Thure de Thulstrup, 1887|
After the Federal attacks in the northern sector of the field were repulsed, the fighting in this area became quiescent by mid-morning. True to character, McClellan then began feeding troops from two more Federal corps into the battle in the center portion of the field immediately east of the town of Sharpsburg. Again, the fighting was intense and brutal as Lee shuffled his troops to meet the new threats, and two farm roads along which much of the fighting occurred are now well known features of the battlefield--The Bloody Lane and The Sunken Road. Repeated Federal charges and Confederate repulses resulted in the dead and dying being stacked like cord-wood along these two roads. By mid-afternoon, the two more Federal corps were largely thrashed and the fighting slowly died down along the center.
|Burnside's Bridge, by Edwin Forbes, 1862|
Once the bridge was taken and successfully crossed, much of the IX Corps then poured across Antietam Creek and began advancing through the fields southeast of Sharpsburg towards Lee's main lines. It was at just this moment though that a division of Lee's army, under A.P. Hill, that had been tasked with capturing the Federal garrison at Harper's Ferry reached the field after a hard 17-mile forced march. Hill's men struck Burnside's left flank and threw most of them back almost to Antietam Creek. For all intents and purposes, the Battle of Antietam was over and combat across the field slowly died down.
Over the course of the day of battle, the Federals suffered 12,400 casualties, including 2,108 killed. The Confederate army suffered a total of 10,318 casualties, including 1,546 killed. McClellan lost about 25% of his total force during the battle, and Lee sustained losses approximating 31% of his total force. Bluntly put, more Americans died on this day (a total of 3,654 killed), 150 years ago, than on any other day in our country's military history. In fact, a soldier in the 9th New York, part of Burnside's IX Corps, wrote after the battle that--
The mental strain was so great that I saw at that moment the singular effect mentioned, I think, in the life of Goethe on a similar occasion--the whole landscape for an instant turned slightly red.Finally, I think it is important to point out that for much of the day Lee's army's entire position had been in dire straits, and had McClellan thrown his entire army forward in one concerted effort it is hard to imagine any other outcome other than the complete defeat of the rebel army. It didn't happen though, because all along McClellan just couldn't convince himself that he wasn't horribly outnumbered by Lee's army, and that his own army was near complete disaster itself. While McClellan was a good organizer of the Union army, he was essentially incapable of actually using the army to fight. McClellan was imbued with what Lincoln called "the slows". In fact, for several days after the battle McClellan, and his army, remained on the field near Sharpsburg, and had let Lee safely disengage his army and slip away back across the Potomac River unimpeded and into Virginia. President Lincoln was not impressed, to say the least, and finally relieved McClellan of his command of the Army of the Potomac on November 7, 1862.
If you are interested in reading more about the Battle of Antietam, I would offer the following suggestions--
The Gleam of Bayonets: The Battle of Antietam and Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign, September 1862
By James V. Murfin
Softcover, 472 pages
Louisiana State University Press, 1965 (reprinted 2004)
Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam
By Stephen W. Sears
Softcover, 464 pages
Mariner Books, 1985
The Maps of Antietam: An Atlas of the Antietam (Sharpsburg) Campaign, Including the Battle of South Mountain, September 2-20, 1862
By Bradley Gottfried
Hardcover, 326 pages
Savas Beatie, 2011