A Diplomatic Turning Point ~ Battle of Antietam

Looking out over what is now bucolic rolling farmland, it is inconceivable that on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest one-day battle of the Civil War took place here, the Battle of Antietam, near the small town of Sharpsburg, MD.

A discovery made four days earlier set the wheels in motion for this meeting of competing forces.  A copy of General Lee’s Special Order 191, outlining his plan of operations for the campaign, was discovered at a campground by a Union soldier. An innocuous envelope containing three cigars wrapped in a note may likely have changed the course of the war.  This note became known as the “Lost Order“.

At dawn on this clear autumn day, a 12-hour battle ensued, with counter-attacks sweeping back and forth through Miller’s Cornfield and the West Woods.  The Union forces outnumbered the Confederates, but Stonewall Jackson’s men near the Dunker Church, where the battle began, held their ground.

During the second phase of the battle, the Confederate forces felt they had found a natural defensive position, a narrow road used by farm wagons worn by use, known as the Sunken Road.  The battle raged for four hours, but in the end, the loss of lives for the Confederacy was great.  This stretch of ground later became known as the “Bloody Lane”, where it was said “the blood flowed like a river inside it”.

After 12 hours of fighting Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the north resulted in a draw. On this one day alone, about 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or listed as missing. Due to the tragic nature of many of the Civil War battles, exact numbers were impossible to calculate.  The Confederate retreat later that day gave President Lincoln the “victory” he hungered for before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle of the Civil War, influenced how our nation would memorialize future battlefields.  Each December, 23,000 luminaries are lit to honor those killed, wounded, and missing during this fateful conflict.

50 thoughts on “A Diplomatic Turning Point ~ Battle of Antietam

    • You know, I’m not much of a history buff either but we have been to so many battlefields and historic buildings that I thought I should write about a few of them. I just finished reading “Killer Angels, also about the Civil War, so it is a topic I know just a bit about. I am pleased that you like my header Gunta. 🙂

  • Another great history lesson, LuAnn, along with great pictures, as well, as usual. Thanks for taking us along with you.

  • wow; that makes my heart very heavy.  i cannot find words to articulate the sadness i feel when i reflect on so many lives lost in our world’s past… will it ever stop? will we ever live in harmony?  there’s no need to answer – i’m just wondering ‘out loud.’



  • This was one of my favorite battlefields because we had a wonderful guide that made the event come to life. Glad you are getting around to the various sites in the area. Good job on finishing Killer Angels. John will prepare your quiz:)

    • Thanks Ingrid. I am not much of a history buff either but I have gotten into the Civil War, given the places we have visited and the books I have recently read.

  • This is one place I would love to visit. I love learning about our history, and visiting battle fields is high on my list.

    I agree…very difficult to wrap my mind around all those that died on that battle field.

  • Thank you for creating such a thoughtful history lesson, LuAnn. I’m going to be referring to your posts when we travel up the east coast next year. I also wonder if we’ll ever learn to live in harmony in this beautiful world. One would think (hope) we would learn from history.

    • One would think Laurel, but history seems to be repeating itself. We have just designed more sophisticated machinery for which to do battle.

  • Love the contrasting colors in your new header, LuAnn.
    Steve and I were not into history, but our visit at Montgomery last year opened the door for more understanding.Then our route last year took us back to places where Civil War History and American Revolution happened. We were into it that we discussed about the people and events as we moved on the history belt. To supplement it we watched Ken Burns documentary in PBS and bought a DVD about the American Revolution to get behind the scenes stories. There were so many brave and great people then.
    Scenes such as the Battle of Antietam is replicated in other areas and your just sad and amazed at what those before us have gone through to achieve unity and enjoy our freedom today.
    But don’t quiz me LuAnn 🙂

    • It is difficult not to get caught up in our nation’s history if you spend any time in this part of the country. I have read and seen so much about the Civil War now, which always makes going to these battlefields that much more meaningful. We too loved the Ken Burns series and I just finished reading “Killer Angels”, recommended to us by my history teacher John. Although I told Pam I would be better prepared for a quiz from John, I’m still not sure I would pass. 🙂

      I find war in general to be senseless and wonder, as I wander the battlefields, how many men may have lost their lives on the very spot I was standing. Walking part of the Sunken Road was a bit eerie for me.

  • I enjoyed your post and information regarding the Battle of Antietam. No matter how many sources I have read about the different battles, I am intrigued and saddened at times by history. I guess it will always be this way long after we are gone. We don’t learn from it, I say we in the communal mankind sense. Great blog and pictures. Thanks

    • I too am saddened by our history. The countless deaths and wounded seems so senseless to me, and sadly history continues to repeat itself.

      Welcome to the road! Hope you enjoy your travel adventures as much as we have. Although we have been on the east coast for a bit (brought here due to elderly parents needing some assistance) our love is the west. We spent many years in AZ so that has always felt like home to us. Montana is another state we spent time in and fell in love with it. Thanks for stopping by. Safe travels and grand adventures to you. 🙂

  • Those numbers are staggering, and it is so heart wrenching to think of a little farm wagon road becoming a strategic location for such a bloody battle. You make the history come alive, LuAnn, something my history books never did. Thanks!

    • My pleasure Emily. As I told another reader, walking part of the Sunken Road was a bit eerie for me. Such a lovely piece of farmland with such a tragic history.

    • It seems so peaceful now, beautiful farmland, but I couldn’t help but wonder how many young men lost their lives in the very spot I was standing.

  • Such peaceful locations … yet they saw such horror. I always imagine the farmer, settler, who suddenly had their family life turned upside down, as their home became a battlefield.

  • It is hard to envisage such a collision but I do like your history lessons, you teach me stuff and that makes me happy. The luminaries are a wonderful tribute as well, very symbolic.

    • It is hard for me to envision lines of men, miles long, marching toward one another across a cornfield being gunned down as they marched.

    • I know how you feel Amy. Although I wanted to see these battlefields, it was so sad to know that these peaceful rolling hills were once such tragic killing fields. Thanks for stopping by Amy.

  • It was nice to learn about the use of “avenues of approach” back then. The Lost Orders is so interesting. Thanks for leading me to it. I Wikipedia-d it and read the copy. Why battle in grounds that look so beautiful when it’s grassy? 😀

    • It is hard for me to fathom soldiers lining up for miles across a field from one another, walking toward each other while firing their rifles.

  • Nice post LuAnn. I love the photo of the Sunken Road – classic. After years of living and traveling in the Southeast US, I’ve seen my share of Civil War sites and heard lots of battle fatality statistics. Numbers like 23,000 are hard to imagine, but with me there’s always a sort of disconnect with what it really means. I’m sure that seeing 23,000 luminaries would be a poignant reminder of how horrific the loss of life really was. ~James

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