In a 12 hour period, from 5:30 AM to 5:30 PM, on September 17, 1862, America saw its bloodiest battle in its young history – a battle which continues to hold said record. On this day 151 years ago, approximately 113,000 men laid their lives on the line to fight for beliefs they believed were worth dying for. Pride was on the line for Union, who were attempting to defend against the first Confederate invasion of the North since the Civil War had begun. Momentum was on the line for the Confederacy, who were coming off of a fantastic victory at Second Bull Run just 18 days before. However, by the end of the day, neither side would be able to claim victory.
The Battle of Antietam saw a total of around 23,000 casualties, with 3,654 total dead. It was surprising actions by Robert E. Lee and consistent behavior by General George McClellan that probably amounted to the high casualty count. Lee had pursued a defensive strategy for the entirety of the war up to this point. However, feeling the momentum from the victory at Second Bull Run and acknowledging the necessary advantage of acquiring the food supplies available in Maryland, Lee decided now was the time to push into the North and move from defense to offense.
McClellan, though, was presented with a prime advantage. Several days before the battle was to occur, Union troops intercepted battle plans written by Lee, in which he revealed his plans to divide his smaller amount of troops in order to create a tactical advantage. McClellan, being the slow-operator he was, failed to capitalize on this information, though, and concocted a fail-certain battle plan in which no general knew what the entire battle-plan was; each general was only responsible for the actions of his troop and nothing else.
McClellan’s ineptitude essentially eliminated his numbers advantage of having twice as many troops as Lee. As a result of McClellan’s patchwork plan, Lee was able to constantly move his troops to areas in which the most help was needed. This allowed the battle to continue longer than necessary, culminating in the huge loss of life on that day. If he would have had it his way, Lincoln would have wanted to see even more casualties. The President was upset when he realize that McClellan did not pursue the retreating Confederate forces and further decimate their strength.
Despite the fact that the Confederacy retreated first, the battle is viewed as a draw today – except in one regard. By protecting the North from a Confederate invasion, Union troops allowed Lincoln the opportunity to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, the document that would go on to free all Southern slaves.
So, how are we remembering this momentous battle today? Apparently, through demonstrations by the Ku Klux Klan. The Confederate White Knights, as the group is called, applied for a permit allowing them to demonstrate their beliefs on the battlefield where Antietam was fought. What is their platform, you ask? The group has decided to use their event to protest against Barack Obama: Barack Hussein Obama has been out to destroy American from the beginning. Our forefathers would have already started something.” The Confederate White Knights also believe that the Affordable Healthcare Act is the best form of “communism”, and that while slavery was bad, “things for the United States started to go wrong with Lincoln. … He was the first liberal president.”
Being a former history major, I am not going to advocate that everyone know every detail concerning our nation’s short history. However, every person should be able to appreciate the events that transpired in arguably our second most important (first being the Revolutionary War – duh) event ever. Demonstrations such as the ones exhibited by the Confederate White Knights should be allowed to occur (There is that one document which allows for free speech and protest, you know.), but they should be drowned out by demonstrations exhibiting proper remembrance of such an important event. As George Santayana so eloquently stated “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. If that is the case, I dread the day in which America forgets that the 80’s were just a bad time.
Image via Wikipedia