Image courtesy of Dr. Dan Clasby Students in Dr. Thomas Mackaman’s American Civil War class, along with Mackaman and Dr. Daniel Clasby, pause for a photo outside the visitors’ center at the Antietam battlefield.
Image courtesy of Dr. Dan Clasby
Students in Dr. Thomas Mackaman’s American Civil War class, along with Mackaman and Dr. Daniel Clasby, pause for a photo outside the visitors’ center at the Antietam battlefield.

If you were asked what the bloodiest day in American history was you may have a few events that come to mind. The current students at King’s College may think of the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon. Perhaps others might think of the Normandy landings by the Allied forces on D-Day in 1944. Those major points in history would both be popular guesses but, even combined, they would not top the bloodshed that took place near a small town called Sharpsburg, Md., next to Antietam Creek, in 1862.

This battle is something that those of us in Dr. Thomas Mackaman’s American Civil War class have been studying, and we had the opportunity to visit the site of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. 6,300 to 6,500 men were killed or mortally wounded at Antietam, and 15,000 lost arms and legs. The number of casualties is four times the number of those at Normandy, and twice the number of the September 11 attacks. More people died in the battle at Antietam than in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War and all the Indian wars combined.

The battle of Antietam took place on Sept. 17, 1862, and was an immensely important battle that dictated the course in which the American Civil War turned. For starters, the Union was in desperate need of a victory. The Confederates had strung an impressive number of victories together and there was fear in the North that the Confederates would soon be invading; this fear reached all the way up to our very own Wilkes-Barre, Penn.

Next, across the Atlantic Ocean the European nations were contemplating recognizing the Confederate States of America (CSA) as its own independent nation. However, the largest power in the world at the time, Great Britain, wanted to see the Confederates pull off a major victory before recognizing them and joining them in the war.

Antietam would serve perfectly as that battle. It pitted the two top generals at the time, the Union’s George B. McClellan, of the Army of the Potomac, and the Confederate’s Robert E. Lee, of the Army of Northern Virginia, against each other. With highly recognizable names like that the Europeans would have sided with the Confederacy, which would have made life difficult for the Union.

Finally, President Abraham Lincoln wished to emancipate the slaves in the South to ruin the Confederates economically. However, at the time, the Confederates had a lot of political momentum (in regards to the European nations) and military momentum at home. As a result, Lincoln needed a strong victory before he could issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Antietam provided that victory.

It was with all this in mind that I, along with the rest of the class, viewed the battlefield at Antietam.

When we arrived in Antietam I got a very eerie feeling there. It was overcast and slightly rainy which kept many other tourists from coming that day. It seemed like those in our class were the only people there at times. On top of that, all of the trees were still vacant of leaves, giving off a deathly vibe while crows cawed in the background.

The battlefield was surprisingly accessible compared to a battlefield like Gettysburg. Tourists are allowed on most parts of the actual battlefield and you can see the vantage points of the Confederate and Union soldiers.

The highlight for me was being allowed to walk into “Bloody Lane.” It was a Confederate defensive trench in which 5,500 men died fighting. It was very rewarding as a student of history to stand in the exact location of such important historical events as I am sure my peers would agree.

Going to the Antietam Battlefield is worth the trip and comes highly recommended from this history major as a place that anyone interested in American history can enjoy.

Stephanie Zedolik “Bloody Lane” from atop the observation tower.
Stephanie Zedolik
“Bloody Lane” from atop the observation tower.