Download FREE briefings. Have an account? Please log in. Text Size: A A A

The Antietam Death Toll

Civil War

The Antietam Death Toll

The ferocity of that single day of fighting and the haphazard means by which graves were arranged has made the Antietam death toll hard to truly measure.

The ferocity of that single day of fighting and the haphazard means by which graves were arranged has made the Antietam death toll hard to truly measure.

by Mike Haskew

The Battle of Antietam, fought September 17, 1862, was the culmination of the first invasion of the North during the American Civil War by General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The bloodiest single day in the history of the United States and the bloodiest day’s fighting ever in the Western Hemisphere, the Antietam death toll has always been hard to accurately determine.

Three Phases of Bitter Fighting

The Battle of Antietam swirled in three phases from north to south and lasted from early morning until dusk. During the first phase, fighting raged in a 24-acre cornfield and on high ground surrounding the Dunker Church, which belonged to the German Baptist Brethren, a Christian sect that believed in baptism by full immersion and were, therefore, known as “Dunkers.” Casualties were extremely heavy in the Cornfield, with some regiments suffering greater than 70 percent casualties. At midday, the fighting had shifted to a sunken road that formed a natural trench-like defensive position. Confederate troops shot down rank after rank of attacking Union troops from the sunken road, later to be called Bloody Lane, until their position was flanked and the depression became a deathtrap. Confederate bodies were strewn so thickly through Bloody Lane by the end of the day that it was impossible to take a step without touching a corpse.

The Battle of Antietam swirled in three phases from north to south and lasted from early morning until dusk.

Late in the afternoon, Union troops finally succeeded in crossing a stone bridge over Antietam Creek and moving up the slope on the stream’s western bank. Although they left scores of dead and wounded in their wake, the Union troops pressed on toward the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, and were poised to trap Lee’s army against the Potomac River. However, the timely arrival of A.P. Hill’s Light Division from Harpers Ferry, 12 miles away, blunted the Union drive and ended the battle.

Night Might Never Come

One veteran of the fighting at Antietam remembered that the sun seemed to pause high in the sky and it felt as if night would never come. The ferocity of the battle is reflected in the appalling casualties suffered by both sides. Nearly 23,000 men were killed and wounded, with more than 1,500 Confederate dead and over 2,100 Union soldiers slain. Six generals either died on the field or succumbed to wounds suffered at Antietam, including Union Major Generals Joseph K.F. Mansfield and Israel Richardson and Brigadier General Isaac Rodman, and Confederate Brigadier Generals Lawrence O. Branch, William E. Starke, and George B. Anderson.

Before the dead were buried, photographer Alexander Gardner and his assistant James Gibson, employed by the famed Mathew Brady, traveled to the battlefield and recorded a series of images depicting with stark clarity the horror of war. In many of Gardner’s photographs, the dead lay where they fell, their bodies in grotesquely contorted positions, frozen before his lens. Many of the images were displayed in Brady’s New York gallery, and the exhibition was billed as “The Dead of Antietam.” The death studies stunned the public and emphasized that the cost of the war would be substantial.

Buried Hastily in Shallow Graves

So many soldiers of both sides died during the Battle of Antietam that some were buried hastily in shallow graves and never moved to formal cemeteries. As recently as 2009 the remains of soldiers who were interred on the field, their final resting places forgotten, have been rediscovered. Although it is most often impossible to specifically identify the remains, one soldier was determined to have been from a New York regiment that fought in the cornfield. His name will never be known; however, the buttons of his jacket identified his home state. The remains were accorded full military honors and returned to a New York cemetery for burial.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *



Issue Previews

How Jean Rapp Saved Napoleon Bonaparte’s Life… Three Times

How Jean Rapp Saved Napoleon Bonaparte’s Life… Three Times

French General Count Jean Rapp saved Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s life three times under widely varying circumstances.

The Life of a Military Historian: Walking Through the D-Day Invasion

The Life of a Military Historian: Walking Through the D-Day Invasion

Flint Whitlock shares with us his experiences leading European tours during the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Military Weapons: NATO’s FN-FAL Rifle

Military Weapons: NATO’s FN-FAL Rifle

One of the most-used military weapons in history, the FN-FAL rifle was the most successful of the NATO military rifles and was used across the globe.

Remembering Edward Saylor & the Doolittle Raiders

Remembering Edward Saylor & the Doolittle Raiders

Edward Saylor, one of four surviving Doolittle Raiders, passed away this January. In this article we look back on their legacy.

facebook gplus twitter youtube rss

Enter Your Log In Credentials

Forgot your Password?

×
.