The Presidents and the Generals Speak Up Before the Bloodiest Battle of the War
The battle of Antietam, fought between the Union forces led by General George McClellan and General Robert E. Lees Army of Northern Virginia's Confederate soldiers, is known as the single most bloody day of the American Civil War. The battle began at dawn on September 17th, 1862 and took only 12 hours to inflict over 23,000 casualties on the 100,000 soldiers engaged in the battle. In the days preceding the battle, both US President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, as well as the two generals that would be leading the armies into battle, made statements that were written into history.
It was well known that General Lee was ready to invade the North via Maryland and made the following statement on September 3rd, 1862: “The present seems to be the most propitious time since the commencement of the war for the Confederate army to enter Maryland.”
Confederate President Jefferson Davis said the following on September 7th: “…we are driven to protect our own country by transferring the seat of war to that of an enemy who pursues us with a relentless and apparently aimless hostility.” Thus the scene was set for the Souths invasion of United States.
General McClellan knowing the importance, for both sides, of what was building is quoted as saying on September 11th: “…if we defeat the army arrayed before us, the rebellion is crushed, for I do not believe they can organize another army”. He went on to say that if defeated he believed the war was lost for the Union.
On September 15th, as the opposing armies were gathering for battle, United States President Abraham Lincoln gave General McClellan and his Union Soldiers their marching orders. He simply told them God bless you and if possible destroy the rebel army.
The day after the bloodiest Civil War battle, September 18, the two armies buried their dead, took up their wounded and Lee withdrew to Virginia, ending his short lived invasion of the United States. President Lincoln quickly issued an early edition of the Emancipation Proclamation turning Civil War into a war to end slavery as well as preserving the Union.
Before the National Park Service took over active management of the battlefield, it was a favorite place for early Civil War reenactment participants and relic collectors alike. The battlefield was a treasure trove of buried Civil War guns including revolvers and musket rifles, mortar shells, swords and bayonets and other memorabilia items.
Most of the above quotes can be seen on the The Maryland Campaign of 1862 marker at the Antietam National Battlefield.