20 Battle of Antietam Facts to Improve Your Civil War Knowledge

The collected Battle of Antietam facts will reflect upon one of the bloodiest moments of the United States history. Similar to battles such as the Battle of Sumter and the First Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam was one of the first major battles that took place during the American Civil War.

The battle is notorious for its bloodsheds and inhumane struggles. It was the bloodiest single-day battle of the American Civil War. For instance, Union General George McClellan described the Battle of Antietam with a negative view. He said: “I am tired of the sickening sight of the battlefield with its mangled corpses & poor suffering wounded. Victory has no charms for men when purchased at such cost.”

To be much more concise about the topic, I have collected 20 most valuable historical facts about the battle. These facts will give you a general idea about the Battle of Antietam. And, they possibly improve your grades if you are taking a history course.


1. The battle of Antietam is also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg.

The battle has two names and both of them relate to the location where the battle took place. It was a clash between the Union and Confederate forces in Sharpsburg, Maryland. 

More specifically, clashes took place near a tributary of Potomac River called Antietam Creek.


2. The Battle of Antietam began when Confederate General Robert E. Lee attempted to invade north.

A picture of Confederate General Robert Edward Lee
Confederate General Robert E. Lee / Credit: Wikipedia

After gaining a victory in Manassas, confederate forces decided to take the war to the northern soil. In other words, the Battle of Antietam was the result of the attempted southern invasion of North. 

Under the leadership of General Lee, about 40,000 confederate forces marched towards northern strongholds. However, the results of the battle were not favorable for both sides.


3. The Battle of Antietam was the first major battle that was fought in the northern soil.

Confederate forces decided to take over the northern states so they could establish their government there. With that hope in mind, confederates marched towards the north and crossed the Potomac River. And they entered into the lands controlled by the Union states.


4. Confederate forces marched towards the north during the Battle of Antietam to show themselves credible for foreign support. 

The Confederate leaders believed that if they tense their muscles and run successful offensive against northern states, their actions will draw foreign attention. 

They reasoned that their eagerness and determination will help them to have a circle of foreign countries that would recognize the Confederate government as a legitimate government. 


5. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single-day battle of the American Civil War. 

Dead Corpses laying near the Dunker Church
Dead Confederate Soldiers laying near Dunker Church after the Battle of Antietam / Credit: Library of Congress

The battle was much crueler and bloodier than expected. During the single-day clash, 23000 American soldiers lost their lives. More specifically, Federals lost 12, 410 men while the Confederates suffered 10,700 losses.  

The most discouraging part of this battle was that none of the sides firmed their position as a winner. However, the Union states considered it their victory. Because they were able to hold the southern aggression on their soil.


6. During the Battle of Antietam, the Union army outnumbered confederate forces.

General Lee marched with his 40,000 troops. However, the Union general George McClellan was ready to intercept Confederate forces with his 87,000 troops. 

Knowing his forces are outnumbered with a two-to-one ratio, General Lee led all of his soldiers to the battlefield. Whereas general McClellan committed about three-quarters of his army. 


7. After the unsuccessfully attempted invasion, Great Britain postponed the recognition of the Confederate government.

The Confederate government could not earn much-needed foreign support with the attempted invasion of North. Instead, the battle weakened the political position and army capacity of the South. 

On the other hand, the battle allowed the Union president Abraham Lincoln to formulate the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The proclamation declared that the slaves of Confederate states free.


8. The Battle of Antietam began at dawn on September 17, 1862

During the early morning, sides positioned their battle lines in the west and east of Antietam Creek. The battle began when General Joseph Hooker ordered firing of artillery on “Stonewell” Jackson’s troops. 

After an hour of aggressive shelling, a fierce battle erupted in the open fields. Both sides gave their might to prevent each other from further advancing. The war ended on the same day when General Lee withdrew his army across the Potomac River.


9. Before the Battle of Antietam, two Union soldiers discovered general Lee’s secretive military plan known as Special Order 191 or Lee’s “Lost Order”. 

That secretive document included Lee’s detailed military movement plans for the battle. Concisely, the document which was wrapped around three cigars got into the hands of Union General George McClellan.

A picture of Union General George McClellan
Union General George McClellan / Credit: Wikipedia

The Special Order 191 helped the Union generals to formulate counter plan knowing where general Lee would position his divisions.

According to a source, Lee’s “Lost Order” included information on how to win the upcoming battle. Lee’s primary plan was to divide the army into portions and reuniting them in predetermined spots. However, that plan benefitted the Union forces then it did Confederates. 


10. Some parts of the Battle of Antietam took place in cornfields.

As we all know, cornfields are open fields where there are no obstacles to protect behind. The artillery shelling and gunshots were raining directly over the soldiers of both sides. Some historians believe that it was one of the reasons why the battle resulted in so many casualties.


11. The Battlefield of Antietam is well-preserved and you can visit there. 

A present-day picture of Antietam Battlefield.
Present-day picture of the Antietam Battlefield / Credit: Wikimedia

According to the American Battle Field Trust, the site where the Battle of Antietam took place is saved and restored. The intention was to preserve the historic remnants of the Civil War for the generations to come. Currently, history enthusiasts can visit Washington County of Maryland to see the environment where the battle took place.  

There are trails for both hikers and drivers. By visiting the site, one can see the historic remnants of the civil war. Government-funded projects preserved and restored farm properties, a church, and a bridge to their original state. 


12. During the Battle of Antietam, African Americans fight along with Union soldiers. But Confederates were afraid to give them weapons.

Since the Union government was actively fighting for the cause of African American freedom, some black people joined the battle. They fought along with the Union forces with great determination knowing that their freedom depends on victory.

Confederates also accepted some African Americans into their army as supporters. But they were afraid to give them weapons fearing that they might revolt against them.


13. Although there was no decisive victory during the Battle of Antietam, some historians believe that the battle gave an advantage to the Union forces.

Confederates retreated from the northern lands crossing the Potomac River when the Union forces responded with a series of fierce offensive attacks. Concisely, the Confederate army could not realize their invasion plan. And they could not earn foreign support, although it was the initial goal.

On the other hand, the Union forces could secure their position in their territory. They repelled the Southern threats. And the battle also gave confidence for Abraham Lincoln to issue his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. 


14. Jefferson Davis and his General Robert E. Lee marched towards the northern soil to take over their supply center located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

Confederate leadership agreed that the invasion of Harrisburg would open up a possibility for the Confederate to cripple the Union government. They reasoned that if they block the north’s supply chains, Union states would be unable to function properly. 

With that goal in mind, General Lee led his army through Maryland. Lee also hoped that he would get support from Maryland residents. However, locals did not give confederates much support. Because Maryland was one of the states of the Union.


15. Some historians believe that if Lee’s Special Order 191 hadn’t gotten into the hands of the Union forces, the South may have won in the Battle of Antietam.

A copy of General Robert E. Lee's Special Order 191. The Battle of Antietam Facts
A copy of General Robert E. Lee’s Special Order 191 / Credit: Wikimedia

However, those are just claims. There are so many “what if” scenarios that are still under debate. Of course, the results of the battle might have taken a different turn if the Union forces did not intercept Lee’s strategic plan. Then again, we have to note that the Union forces outnumbered the Confederate army. 


16. The bloodiest portion of the Battle of Antietam took place near the Sunken Road, which is now referred to as the Bloody Lane.

There is a good reason for such a nickname. Forces of both sides clashed for hours on that road trying to advance their positions. More specifically, over 8000 troops died in that area alone.

Near the Sunken road, there is a stone wall that runs along the road. About 3000 Confederate soldiers were positioned there to intercept incoming Union soldiers. It was a very convenient location for Confederate forces to intercept Union forces. Because the northern army needed to pass through open fields to get to the Confederate soldiers. 

A picture of dead soldiers on the Bloody Lane-Sunken Road.  The Battle of Antietam Facts
Dead soldiers laying on Sunken Road (the bloody lane) / Credit: Library of Congress

On the other hand, confederates fired behind the stonewall and repelled waves of Union attacks. Trying to capture the Sunken Road, the Union forces suffered about 8000 casualties. 

Also, there are some high hills near the Sunken road. Those hills served as a convenient position for Confederates to install their artillery.


17. The Burnside Bridge was the place where the final moments of the battle happened. 

Picture of Union General Ambrose Burnside
Union General Ambrose Burnside / Credit: Wikimedia

The bridge is called Burnside for the honor of Union General Ambrose Everett Burnside. He crossed the bridge with his 8000 men to crush the 2000 confederate soldiers who retreated from the northern areas.

Although Burnside crossed the bridge, he faced fierce resistance and lost many of his soldiers. The most resistance came from about 500 hundred Georgian sharp-shooters who turned the bridge into a “killing zone”.  

In general, the Battle of Antietam ended near the Burnside bridge, marking it the bloodiest day in the history of the United States.


18. General Lee brought 246 pieces of artilleries to the Battle of Antietam. However, they weren’t as effective as intended.

According to a source, the quality of the artillery and ammunition were an issue. For example, artillery was primarily designed to fire at a short distance. In some cases, poor quality ammunition exploded inside the artillery, making them unusable for the next rounds. 

Nevertheless, the Confederates could utilize their short-range artilleries. They used them to protect their position while the Union soldiers attacked. 


19. After bloody single-day Antietam Battle, neither side wanted to attack the next day.

Photo of the Burnside Bridge. Facts about the Battle of Antietam
A photo of the Burnside Bridge / Credit: Library of Congress

General Lee ordered his division commanders to attack only if the Union forces attacked first. The southerners understood that the invasion of the north would be costly and somewhat impossible unless there are a good amount of resources.

The next day was a battle free. Neither side initiated aggression against each other. General Lee left the place crossing from the Potomac River. 


20. Photographer Alex Gardner took pictures of the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam. 

This was the first American Battlefield that was photographed displaying dead bodies. Alex Gardener who was at the age of 41 at the time came to the battlefield and took pictures of the dead before they were buried. Therefore, one can see the aftermath of the battle in images.

By watching those disturbing images, one can feel that the battle was indeed costly and bloody. Those images are open to the public. Anyone can download them in the original format from the Library of Congress.



American Battlefield Trust;;

The University of Richmond;;

Britannica; East Carolina University; National Park Service;

By Arslan Batyrovich

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Writer, Researcher, Fact-finder, and All-in-one
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