Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. By days end almost 23,000 Americans were dead, wounded, or missing, the bloodiest single day of the Civil War. Though it seems to be not much remembered by the general public, it is noteworthy not just for the horrific human toll, but also because it marked the end of the first Confederate invasion of the North in 1862 and dashed any hopes for recognition of the CSA by England or France. And while considered by most to be a tactical draw, the strategic ramifications clearly amounted to a Union victory and gave Lincoln the political capital he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
As I mentioned about a week ago, four days prior to the Battle of Antietam a lost copy General Lee's orders to his Army of Northern Virginia had been discovered by the Union. Lee had been counting on the always pathetically cautious Union General McClellan to take his usual sweet time and he split his army up to take care of several major objectives needed to lay the groundwork for his further invasion northward. McClellan's response to the captured orders was still somewhat sluggish by most standards, but it was quick enough to put Lee's army in great peril.
What followed was an even less known but also critical battle: The Battle of South Mountain.
To get at Lee, McClellan had to get his army across the far north end of the Blue Ridge Mountain chain in Maryland. His men assaulted three passes held by rebels on September 14 and vicious fighting ensued up and down the South Mountain chain. When it was over, the Union had won the field, but the Confederates had bought precious time for Lee in re-consolidating his army.
Two days later the two armies prepared to face off. After a few skirmishes the day before, the armies clashed for real on September 17.
Both sides licked their wounds on September 18 and there is a good argument that McClellan in his caution once again missed a chance to wipe out Lee's army and possibly win the war. I think that is probably true.
As a long time part of the Army of the Potomac, the First Regiment Minnesota Volunteer Infantry was at Antietam also:
The regiment, only 435 men strong, was on the extreme right of the leading brigade (Gorman’s) as Sedgwick’s division charged through the West Woods. Bursting through the far side of the woods, the column was exposed to heavy fire from both flanks. While the First suffered less than regiments on their left, casualties in the action were: 15 killed, 79 wounded, and 21 missing. Unlike other regiments the First departed from the field in good military order, returning fire as they retreated. Color Sergeant Samuel Bloomer was left behind, wounded in the knee. He had saved away the First’s state colors in his shirt from the Confederates while they protected him from incoming shell bursts. He later returned with the colors and to have his leg amputated. The regiment remained camped on the stinking field, doing burial duty, until September 22nd, when they moved to Bolivar Heights overlooking Harper’s Ferry.
You can find stories about the Minnesotans killed and wounded that day at another 1st Minnesota site.