A Civil War Battle to Defend the Capital and Gateway to the North

August 8, 2017

Travel & Leisure

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Student groups studying the Civil War Battle of Antietam will find a visit to this historic place to be a beneficial learning experience. Named after a creek in Maryland near Sharpsburg, Antietam Creek once ran through farmland and forests. It was in this remote section of Maryland that General Robert E. Lee made his first incursion into the North and took a firm stand against the Union Army.

The fated day of the battle of Antietam was on September 17, 1862. This first battle in Maryland was traumatic, with 100,000 soldiers clashing. Over 23,000 soldiers were lost during the 12-hour battle of Antietam with casualties the heaviest on the Confederate side, around 15,000 soldiers. Although most people believe Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, in fact it was the Battle of Antietam.

Antietam was part of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s overall strategy of advancing his Army of Northern Virginia into the North. This would bring the Civil War to the Union territories. He hoped to inspire some to rethink their position on the Civil War altogether. In Maryland, the populace was divided as to allegiance to North or South. Lee sought to convince the slaveholders and propertied landowners of Maryland to join the Confederate cause.

Not far away, Washington D.C., the Union Capital city, needed to be defended. Lee’s first attempt to bring the battleground North was also seen as a mighty force being brought upon the nation’s capital. His invasion was answered with the full force of the Union Army.

General Robert E. Lee gathered his army on the western banks of Antietam Creek. Meanwhile, Stonewall Jackson’s troops held the left flank and General James Longstreet’s army held the center position for the Confederates. Human losses at Antietam were devastatingly large because the battle lasted over 12 hours. There were huge casualties on both sides. On September 18th, both armies carried the wounded away and buried their dead.

Lee and the Confederate Army took leave of Sharpsburg and Maryland altogether. They crossed the Potomac River back into Virginia, much to the relief of the Union soldiers and citizens of the North. This first decisive battle would leave its mark on Confederate and Union troops. It surely was a bold move by a General whose strategy was unique and took chances.

For the small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland this battle of the Civil War was a devastating blow. Properties were destroyed and crops were burned. Much was lost, including livestock and other food sources. Now the people of the North knew what it was like to live amongst battle torn countryside and ruins.

Students Travel to Battle Site to Learn More About Antietam
Prior to a planned class trip to Antietam National Battlefield, students will want to study this year in the Civil War that included other decisive battles. One such battle was for Harpers Ferry, which took place in tandem with Antietam. While Lee positioned troops on the northern front, Stonewall Jackson’s army took Harpers Ferry, a town that possessed a strategic railway station and a large munitions cache.

Another focus area of study may include an investigation into Lee’s strategy to bring the Confederate Army – and Civil War – North. By visiting Antietam, students can participate in the Parks as Classroom program and learn more about the background of the land, its people and the soldiers who fought there. At the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center students can review historical photographs, sketches and paintings of the battlefields during Revolutionary times and tour the battlefields today to learn more about pivotal skirmishes during the battle.