The Civil War, the battle of Antietam; what comes to mind when it is mentioned? To me the first thing that comes to mind is a bloody battle in our nation’s history. But what were the Leaders like? What did they think? How did they win and loose their battles? Having visited the battlefields and living in the area for 6 months, I’ve come to learn more about it and realize its purpose. General “Stonewall” Jackson is one pertinent general that comes to my mind. Another would be General Robert E. Lee then George B McClellan. These great leaders fought for a cause and used their battle tactics and strategies that won and lost battles. What were those strategies and how were they useful? That question will be answered or explained in my words to a certain extent in this paper.
First, here is a little information about the Leaders in the Civil War. General Lee was a highly decorated officer in the Military. Lord Wolseley commented,” Lee is stamped in my memory as a being apart and superior to all others in everyway”. He graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1829, ranking second in his class out of 46 students. His role was as an Engineer. He served in the Mexican War with the Rank of Captain and Colonel. Lee resigned his commission to the United States Army on April 20, 1861for the reason that he was “bound by the act of the state” “We are now in a state of war….The South in a state of Revolution…., I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home” Wrote Lee in his resignation. He was then made a Commander-in-Chief in the Virginia State Forces until the Confederate Government was removed; he was then made a full General soon after.
... each other. On the 3 rd day of battle General Lee hoping to end the war ordered the great frontal assault popularly known as ... the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis. Mr. Davis accepted them and Lee was made a general in CSA service. At first General Lee was ... try harder and succeed. Robert was accepted to the United States Military Academy and graduated 2 nd in his class. But ...
General George Brinton McClellan also attended West Point Military Academy, specializing in engineering, just like Lee. His first assignment was the Mexican War as a brevet second lieutenant in the engineering corps. McClellan distinguished his great leadership and order in his positions which brought him up to the rank of Captain. After the Mexican War he became an instructor at West Point until 1852. McClellan made General faster than any other ranking officer. His time as a lower ranking officer didn’t give him the experience that other officers would have. If I was in a position lower than McClellan and having served longer than him, I would be a little upset at him and whomever makes those decisions. However, after seeing his performance in battle, I would quickly understand why he was promoted so quickly.
These two men will be the focal points in this paper as I discuss their tactics, strengths and weaknesses, and overall role in the Antietam Battle. They were both gifted in the engineering department and have a great history of battle experience. They were loved and appreciated by their superiors. General Lee received personal recognition from Lord Wolseley. General McClellan received it in a way that he was promoted quickly through the ranks to General.
After the Glorious victory at Cedar Mountain and Bull Run, General Lee’s army was badly beaten and exhausted. They were short on provisions and equipment; being, shoes, clothing, transport animals, and food. His army was so badly cared for, that they had to keep moving and be extremely aggressive or the North would out-number and crush them quickly. General Lee and Jackson both agreed that an attack on enemy soil was necessary to be aggressive and to ensure confederate victory.
Maryland, although classified as “Southern Sympathizers” was already controlled by the Union Forces in the East in Washington and Baltimore, But General Lee had the idea to go in between Harpers Ferry and Washington up the Potomac midway and work his way up to the town of Frederick. Lee was also attempting to draw Union forces away from Washington and Baltimore. With this being the first battle on Northern soil, Lee hoped for support from the people of Western Maryland. So to have support and gain enlistments, his men were given strict instructions to be polite to all and pay for all supplies and goods. This brought a few hundred troops in, but those few hundred quickly left. Unfortunately, Lee’s 60,000 troops were not in good condition. They had been pushed to walk a great distance which is a given in any war, but with that they were poorly fed and most were barefoot.
... Davis called Lee to Richmond. His plan to prevent reinforcements from reaching General George McClellan, whose army ... duration of the Civil War, Lee gained respect from his troops as well as from any ... its faith. He remained a faithfully religious man throughout his life. In contrast to ... Lee's forces drove the Federal forces from their positions threatening the Confederate capitol. McClellan quickly ...
General Lee had a Marvelous plan to bring victory to the confederacy and gain democratic support in Congress and end the War. He also needed this victory to create a supply line from the south to the north. It involved his 60,000 troop force meeting in Frederick and splitting off in four groups in four different directions. Lee sent General Jackson with 22,000 men down to dismantle McClellan’s 12,000 troops in Harpers Ferry, which was just across the Potomac in Virginia. Lee then would send the remaining troops northwest towards Hagerstown and Boonsboro, across the mountain ranges which would be used in his plan later on to protect his army. After McClellan’s forces were defeated in Harpers Ferry, General Jackson would then regroup with Lee and his troops. With General Lee having around 60,000 men under his command, he could follow the rail line northeast to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Harrisburg being a key Union town mainly for the railroad.
Now this plan conjured up by General Lee seems to be well planned and thought out. He sent a division to destroy and army down south which would open the valley for future reinforcements, and was going to go over the mountains and up to Harrisburg to capture a key union city. The railroad rich city would be very useful in obtaining munitions, supplies and men from the south. And he would use the mountains to protect the right flank of his army. It seemed like it should have worked out just fine, with a few bumps here and there because nothing works out as it should, perfectly that is. From the sources I have, they seemed to not only favor McClellan, but criticize Lee and his Judgments, to me at least. Like I mentioned earlier, Lee was second in his class and admired by his superiors; he was not a stupid man, but very intelligent. I can’t be sure on the amount of troops that Lee brought with him into Maryland either. Why didn’t it work out like it was thought?
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Unfortunately, General Lee made a few misassumptions, mistakes, and negatives. Lee claimed to know McClellan well enough to a point that he was a slow mover. Even if McClellan got wind of Lee’s plan, it would be too late for him to react to what was already in motion. One of Lee’s men, D.H. Hill, dropped or left behind the orders which were wrapped around three cigars. (I have two sources that say one of each) So McClellan got one of the hard copies of what was really going on, which of course gave him more time and motivation to move faster. Also, if you think about it, Lee brought his troops across a river hindering reinforcements and then splitting his forces. It’s like when you think of Ben Franklin and his arrows. One is weak, but 4 or so will last longer.
Once McClellan got Special Order 191, which was the name for General Lee’s plan, he was excited. McClellan wrote President Lincoln and informed him of the situation and was very confident of success.
General Jackson moved with great haste to Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. On the dawn of the 13th, Jackson’s army had forced the surrender of Harpers Ferry from Commander D.H. Miles. Miles surrendered 11,500 men, 73 guns, 13,000 small arms, 200 wagons, and camping equipment; which would do the confederates more good than anything. As I mentioned earlier, McClellan obtained a copy of Lee’s orders, so McClellan urged the removal of the garrison in Harpers Ferry, but his orders never got there, neither did the. Also, later on that same day in the afternoon, Jackson’s army captured Martinsburg and the two high places overlooking Harpers Ferry. Jackson was very swift in his actions, and didn’t waste anytime. He received the official surrender, wrote Lee a quick note and on the 15th in the morning he was underway back north to regroup with Lee in Hagerstown. “Stonewall” Jackson was left behind to defend the newly captured Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg with an army larger than that of Cornwallis during the Revolutionary War.
... died. While Grant harassed Lee, Sherman forced the Confederate forces to Atlanta. On September 2, the city fell, and Union forces occupied the hub of ... spring of 1862, McClellan launched an offensive on the Confederate capital of Richmond, but was stopped by Confederate forces. The two armies ... believed in using the North's superior numbers of men and materiel to overwhelm the South. He accepted large ...
Jackson and Lee met in Sharpsburg on the morning of the 16th. Lee said to his officers, “We will make our stand on these hills”. (The hills being the low ridge that runs North and South of the town.) Lee had placed cannons overlooking the lower bridge (Today known as Burnside Bridge), the high point to his left, and the ridge just east of Sharpsburg. Of course his men were scattered about these areas like “bloody lane” and Burnside Bridge. Unfortunately Lee’s 30,000 men were no match for 60,000 well trained and equipped Union Troops. Lee even broke down and demanded reinforcements of 25,000 men; it was unusual for Lee to do this.
A brilliant idea of Lee’s was the small battle at South Mountain. When Lee discovered McClellan was closing in on him with a great number of troops, and his forces were scattered, he needed time; time to regroup his forces. Lee positioned Jacob D. Cox’s division at the pass to slow down and delay McClellan’s arrival across the mountains into the Sharpsburg area. Cox’s men fought and retired promptly, since it was only a delaying action. McClellan boasted that he had already defeated part of Lee’s army and thought “they were retreating in panic”. Little did he know, it was just a ploy to delay his arrival into the Sharpsburg area.
McClellan had been going north from Washington since he received word of Lee’s entry into Maryland; and quickly reorganizing the position his forces along the way. Such as leaving General Banks in command of the Washington garrison and concentrating his forces towards Sharpsburg.
On the cold, damp morning of the 17th of September, Union cannons began to fire on the Confederate lines. McClellan sent his forces north to “Miller’s Cornfield”. Lee’s men acted like snipers and picked them off one by one, as many as possible. The Union forces retreated and cannon fire replaced them. One account from General Hooker states “Every stock of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely have been done with a knife.” The men in the field were like those corn stalks, cut down like with a knife. For the next hour the two forces exchanged fire until the Confederates were reinforced and the Union driven back.
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A big mistake and bad strategy in my opinion is when the confederates were positioned in the sunken lane, or Bloody Lane. The Union came from the north and the confederates stacked wooded fence rails to defend them selves. For 3 and a half hours there was a Stalemate between the two forces. The confederates gave way and fell back to their lines. But the cost was a staggering 5,600 men lying in the sunken lane. The term “bloody lane” is derived from the thousands of men whose blood soaked the ground that day. The mistake I meant to point out was with the confederates down lower than the Union, and on top of that, placing wooden fence posts across to trap them in a little tighter. The Union just needed to look and shoot down.
The battle at the lower bridge was another key point in the battle as well. The confederates were unable to hold off the Union troops. They did for about 4 hours until 8,000 Union troops pushed their way across. The confederates jammed the streets of Sharpsburg in retreat. But just as they were doing so, like in a movie, General Jackson comes in with 3,000 more soldiers. With the combined forces of the two armies, they manage to push the Union troops back to the heights that were taken earlier. This attack resulted in 3,470 casualties, more Union than Confederate. It’s been said that McClellan could have destroyed the rebellion by sending his reserve troops, and number of 20,000, in to wipe out Lee’s forces.
At 5:30 pm the Battle was over and done. The next day the leaders struck a formal truce to recover the dead and wounded. Lee accepted defeat and began to take his forces back into confederate territory to Virginia.
As a general, how would you feel? You’ve sent thousands of men into battle, in which 23,110 were killed. What would go through your mind? I would imagine that these men had been trained and disciplined to deal with a situation like this. But to this magnitude? 23,110 men is a lot of people. It’s roughly 2 ½ times the size of my home town of Loomis. Gone, all gone. It’s absolutely unimaginable.
Now these Generals did what they thought was in the best interest of their cause. What could they have done different? I’m not a military minded person so I really couldn’t say without deep analysis. I can say that some of these moves by General Lee were not of the best tactical and strategic interest. He did make a good choice with the battle at South Mountain. Perhaps he could have kept all his forces together for strength, or been more aggressive and attacked the Union going downhill from South Mountain.
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My sources were good. I didn’t realize it till I started to research the paper, but they were all geared towards the Union and gave more detail there than with the confederacy. I used my internet sources to gain more information about the Confederacy. The books were a little negative towards General Lee and his leadership decisions.
The Battle of Antietam is known in history as the bloodiest day ever fought; not week or month. From when the battle started at 7:00 am till it ended at 5:30 pm, an average of 38 men were shot and killed per minute. Almost one every second. Hard to imagine!