Episode Eight - America's Bloodiest Day: Twelve Hours at Antietam
In late August 1862, the Confederate States of America were riding the crest of victory. The Army of Northern Virginia had decisively defeated yet another union army at The Second Battle of Manassas. General Robert E. Lee decided now was the time to take the fight north. He hoped that by invading Western Maryland and Pennsylvania he could protect Virginia's harvest, rally Marylanders to his cause, and threaten Washington and Baltimore. In early September, the Southern Army, numbering over 50,000, crossed the Potomac. Lee planed to divide the army. Stonewall Jackson was to capture the Union garrison at Harper's Ferry, then reunite and move north. General George McClellan had been restored to command of the Army of the Potomac and was hoping for a second chance against General Lee. McClellan got a lucky break when a copy of Lee's plan of attack fell into his hands. Now he knew where the rebel army was and thought he could trap it and destroy it.
America's Bloodiest Day: Twelve Hours at Antietam is hosted by Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr. and William C. Davis, Virginia Tech's nationally recognized Civil War authors and historians. They will guide viewers through what many historians believe to be the most decisive battle of the war: from Stonewall Jackson's encirclement of Harper's Ferry, leading to the largest surrender of Union Troops in the war; from the valiant delaying actions at South Mountain, through the twelve-hour bloodbath at Sharpsburg that left 23,000 casualties. The Battle of Antietam was fought in three phases, each giving American history memorable landmarks. The morning battle was fought through The Cornfield toward the Dunker Church; the midday battle turned a sunken farm road into Bloody Lane; the afternoon fight crossed over The Burnside Bridge. Those who survived never forgot these battle sites. Both sides claimed victory, but in truth -- there were no winners at Antietam.
Afterward the nation saw for the first time shocking photographs of the aftermath of battle displayed at Matthew Brady's studios. The Union claim of victory gave President Lincoln the courage to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. And the hope for European support of the Confederacy faded away.