1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Antietam
ANTIETAM, the name of a Maryland creek, near which, on the 16th–17th of September 1862, was fought the battle of Antietam or Sharpsburg (see American Civil War), between the Federals under McClellan and the Confederates commanded by Lee. General McClellan had captured the passes of South Mountain farther east on the 14th, and his Army of the Potomac marched to meet Lee’s forces which, hitherto divided, had, by the 16th, successfully concentrated between the Antietam and the Potomac. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia occupied a position which, in relation to the surrounding country, may be compared to the string of a bow in the act of being drawn, Lee’s left wing forming the upper half of the string, his right the lower, and the Potomac in his rear the bow itself. The town of Sharpsburg represents the fingers of the archer drawing the bow. The right wing of the position was covered by the Antietam as it approaches the Potomac, the upper course of that stream formed no part of the battlefield. Generals Longstreet and Jackson commanded the right and left wings. The division of A. P. Hill was at Harper’s Ferry, but had received orders to rejoin Lee. McClellan’s troops appeared late on the 16th, and Hooker was immediately sent across the upper Antietam. He had a sharp fight with Jackson’s men, but night soon put an end to the contest. Early on the 19th the corps of Sumner and Mansfield followed Hooker across the upper stream whilst McClellan’s left wing (Burnside’s corps) drew up opposite Lee’s extreme right. The Federal leader intended to hold back his centre whilst these two forces were rolling up Lee’s wings. The battle began with a furious assault on the extreme right by Hooker’s corps. After a very severe struggle he was repulsed with the loss of a quarter of his men, Jackson’s divisions suffering even more severely and losing nearly all their generals and colonels. It was only the arrival of Hood and D. H. Hill which enabled Stonewall Jackson’s corps to hold its ground, and had the other Federal corps been at hand to support Hooker the result might have been very different. Mansfield next attacked farther to the left and with better fortune. Mansfield was killed, but his successor led the corps well, and after heavy fighting Hood and D. H. Hill were driven back. Again want of support checked the Federals and the fight became stationary, both sides losing many men. Sumner now came into action, and overhaste involved him in a catastrophe, his troops being attacked in front and flank and driven back in great confusion with nearly half their number killed and wounded; and their retreat involved the gallant remnants of Mansfield’s corps. Soon afterwards the Federal divisions of French and Richardson attacked D. H. Hill, whose men were now exhausted by continuous fighting. Here occurred the fighting in the “Bloody Lane,” north of Sharpsburg which French and Richardson eventually carried. Opposed as they were by D. H. Hill, whose men had fought the battle of South Mountain and had already been three times engaged à fond on this day, proper support must have enabled the Federals to crush Lee’s centre, but Franklin and Porter in reserve were not allowed by McClellan to move forward and the opportunity passed. Burnside, on the southern wing, had received his orders late, and acted on them still later. The battle was over on the right before he fired a shot, and Lee had been able to use nearly all his right wing troops to support Jackson. At last Burnside moved forward, and, after a brilliant defence by the handful of men left to oppose him, forced the Antietam and began to roll up Lee’s right, only to be attacked in rear himself by A. P. Hill’s troops newly arrived from Harper’s Ferry. The repulse of Burnside ended the battle. Pressure was brought to bear on McClellan to renew the fight, but he refused and Lee retired across the Potomac unmolested. The Army of the Potomac had lost 11,832 men out of 46,000 engaged; the cavalry and two corps in reserve had only lost 578. Lee’s 31,200 men lost over 8000 of their number.