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Civil War Battles

How Many Civil War Battles Were There?

The simple answer is, there were a lot of them. I estimate there were at least 9,620 battles during the Civil War. That’s not an exact number and the vast majority of these battles were skirmishes between small groups.

These were not all Gettysburg size encounters. When the Civil War began in 1861 at Fort Sumter the fighting was continuous the entire time up until the end of the war in 1865.

civil war battles

Almost every single day during the Civil War there was a battle or small skirmish somewhere in the country. The Civil War was the most violent time in American history which led to the deaths of 750,000 Americans.

No other war the United States has fought has seen as many casualties as the American Civil War. The only other war that comes close was World War Two where roughly 420,000 Americans were killed.

Civil War Battles Map

If you want to get a better idea of the sheer scale of the fighting that took place during the Civil War a great resource is the Battles of the Civil War Map from National Geographic.

This map shows the battles fought during the war with outstanding detail and quality. It’s good for seeing the overall picture of all of the fighting that occurred during the war.

Below are detailed descriptions of the most well-known Civil War battles during the war. These are the battles you often hear and read about. The results of these battles determined which side was going to win and which side was going to lose the war.

Also listed are the Civil War battles fought in each individual state.

To learn more about these famous battlefields take a look at The Civil War Battlefield Guide

Below is a list of the more famous battles. Also a Civil War timeline with every state in which there was a battle in the order in which they occurred, from Alabama to West Virginia.

Pick a state and see information about the battles that took place there.

Civil War Battles Timeline by State

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Civil War Battle Summaries

Antietam

September 17, 1862 The battle of Antietam took place on September 17, 1862. This was Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s first [...]

Appomattox

Near Appomattox Courthouse VA on April 7, 1865 at 5 PM Union General Ulysses S. Grant commander of the [...]

Ball’s Bluff

October 21st 1861 The Battle of Ball’s Bluff  although not as monumental or tactically important during the Civil War [...]

Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg Battle Of - July 1st 1863 The battle of Gettysburg is the most well known battle of the [...]

Battle of Jonesborough

August 31, 1864 - September 1, 1864 The battle of Jonesborough was the last battle fought during the Atlanta Campaign. [...]

Battle of New Orleans

April 25th - May 1st 1862 The battle of New Orleans was the start of the Anaconda Plan; this [...]

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Civil War Battles2019-07-25T21:41:55-04:00

Civil War Battles in Arkansas

Arkansas saw a great deal of fighting during the Civil War. The Union won the vast majority of the battles that took place.

The most well known and largest battle that occurred in Arkansas was the battle of Pea Ridge fought in 1862. Pea Ridge was a Union victory.

This was a very significant outcome because after this battle the Confederate army was never able to remove the Union army from the state of Arkansas.

The Confederates were able to win a couple of battles in Arkansas however it was never enough to do any real damage to the Union forces there.

The following is a list of all Civil War battles in Arkansas. They are in the order in which they occurred during the Civil War.

Some great books about Arkansas are Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West, Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide and Arkansas Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff

Civil War Battles in Arkansas

Civil War Battles in Arkansas


Pea Ridge

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: Elkhorn Tavern

Location: Benton County

Campaign: Pea Ridge Campaign (1862)

Date(s): March 6-8, 1862

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis [US]; Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn [CS]

Forces Engaged: Army of the Southwest [US]; Army of the West [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 5,949 total (US 1,349; CS 4,600)

Description: On the night of March 6, Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn set out to outflank the Union position near Pea Ridge, dividing his army into two columns. Learning of Van Dorn’s approach, the Federals marched north to meet his advance on March 7. This movement compounded by the killing of two generals, Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch and Brig. Gen. James McQueen McIntosh, and the capture of their ranking colonel halted the Rebel attack. Van Dorn led a second column to meet the Federals in the Elkhorn Tavern and Tanyard area. By nightfall, the Confederates controlled Elkhorn Tavern and Telegraph Road. The next day, Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, having regrouped and consolidated his army, counterattacked near the tavern and, by successfully employing his artillery, slowly forced the Rebels back. Running short of ammunition, Van Dorn abandoned the battlefield. The Union controlled Missouri for the next two years.

Result(s): Union victory


Saint Charles

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: None

Location: Arkansas County

Campaign: Operations on White River (1862)

Date(s): June 17, 1862

Principal Commanders: Col. Graham N. Fitch and Cdr. Augustus H. Kilty [US]; Capt. Joseph Fry, C.S.N. [CS]

Forces Engaged: 46th Indiana and Union Gunboat [US]; fifty men and C.S. boats [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 290 total (US 135; CS 155)

Description: On the morning of June 17, USS Mound City, St. Louis, Lexington, Conestoga, and transports proceeded up White River towards Saint Charles attempting to resupply Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis’s army near Jacksonport. A few miles below Saint Charles, the 46th Indiana Infantry under the command of Col. Graham N. Fitch disembarked, formed a skirmish line, and proceeded upriver towards the Rebel batteries on Saint Charles bluffs, under the command of Capt. Joseph Fry, C.S.N. At the same time, the Union gunboats went upriver to engage the Rebel batteries; Mound City was hit and her steam drum exploded scalding most of the crew to death. More than 125 sailors from the Mound City were killed, but the other ship was towed to safety. Col. Fitch halted the gunboat activities to prevent further loss and then undertook an attack on the Confederate batteries with his infantry. He turned the Rebel flank which ended the firing from the batteries and left Saint Charles open to Federal occupation.

Result(s): Union victory


Hill’s Plantation

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: Cache River, Cotton Plant, Round Hill

Location: Woodruff County

Campaign: Operations near Cache River, Arkansas (1862)

Date(s): July 7, 1862

Principal Commanders: Col. Charles Hovey and Brig. Gen. William P. Benton [US]; Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman and Col. William Parsons [CS]

Forces Engaged: 1st and 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, Army of the Southwest [US]; unknown [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 308 total (US 63; CS 245)

Description: Union Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis moved on Helena, Arkansas, in search of supplies to replace those that had been promised but never delivered by the Navy. The Confederates under Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman attempted to prevent this change of supply base by continually skirmishing with the Union troops. The Confederates made a stand at the Cache River on July 7. As Union Col. C.L. Harris moved forward with elements of the 11th Wisconsin, 33rd Illinois, and the 1st Indiana Cavalry, moved forward, he blundered into an ambuscade. The fighting became more general, and the Confederates, with a frontal attack, forced the Union to retreat about a quarter of a mile. The next Confederate attack, however, was stopped. With reinforcements, the Federals pursued the retreating Confederates and turned the retreat into a rout as the day progressed. Curtis was able change his supply base, but Hindman, despite suffering defeat at Hill’s Plantation, remained between Curtis and Little Rock, his objective.

Result(s): Union victory


Cane Hill

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: Canehill, Boston Mountains

Location: Washington County, Arkansas

Campaign: Prairie Grove Campaign (1862)

Date(s): November 28, 1862

Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. James G. Blunt [US]; Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke [CS]

Forces Engaged: Department of Missouri [US]; two cavalry brigades [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 475 total (US 40; CS 435)

Description: In late November, Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman detached Brig. Gen. John Marmaduke’s cavalry from Van Buren north to occupy the Cane Hill area. Hearing of this movement, Brig. Gen. James Blunt advanced to meet Marmaduke’s command and destroy it, if possible. The Union vanguard encountered Col. Joe Shelby’s brigade, which fought a delaying action to protect their supply trains. Shelby gradually gave ground until establishing a strong defensive perimeter on Cove Creek where he repulsed a determined attack. The Federals withdrew to Cane Hill, while the Confederates returned to Van Buren. Although fighting well, Marmaduke’s withdrawal was a setback for Hindman’s plans for recapturing northwest Arkansas. Victory at Prairie Grove a few weeks later, solidified Union control of the region.

Result(s): Confederate tactical victory


Prairie Grove

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: Fayetteville

Location: Washington County

Campaign: Prairie Grove Campaign (1862)

Date(s): December 7, 1862

Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron and Brig. Gen. James G. Blunt [US]; Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman [CS]

Forces Engaged: Army of the Frontier [US]; I Corps, Trans-Mississippi Army [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 2,568 total (US 1,251; CS 1,317)

Description: Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman sought to destroy Brig. Gen. Francis Herron’s and Brig. Gen. James Blunt’s divisions before they joined forces. Hindman placed his large force between the two Union divisions, turning on Herron first and routing his cavalry. As Hindman pursued the cavalry, he met Herron’s infantry which pushed him back. The Rebels then established their line of battle on a wooded high ridge northeast of Prairie Grove Church. Herron brought his artillery across the Illinois River and initiated an artillery duel. The Union troops assaulted twice and were repulsed. The Confederates counterattacked, were halted by Union canister, and then moved forward again. Just when it looked as if the Rebel attack would roll up Herron’s troops, Blunt’s men assailed the Confederate left flank. As night came, neither side had won, but Hindman retreated to Van Buren. Hindman’s retreat established Federal control of northwest Arkansas.

Result(s): Union strategic victory


Arkansas Post

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: Fort Hindman

Location: Arkansas County

Campaign: Operations against Vicksburg (1862-1863)

Date(s): January 9-11, 1863

Principal Commanders: Rear Adm. David D. Porter and Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand [US]; Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Churchill [CS]

Forces Engaged: Army of the Mississippi [US]; Fort Hindman Garrison [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 6,547 total (US 1,047; CS 5,500)

Description: From Fort Hindman, at Arkansas Post, Confederates had been disrupting Union shipping on the Mississippi River. Maj. Gen. John McClernand, therefore, undertook a combined force movement on Arkansas Post to capture it. Union boats began landing troops near Arkansas Post in the evening of January 9, 1863. The troops started up river towards Fort Hindman. Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s corps overran Rebel trenches, and the enemy retreated to the protection of the fort and adjacent rifle-pits. Rear Adm. David Porter, on the 10th, moved his fleet towards Fort Hindman and bombarded it withdrawing at dusk. Union artillery fired on the fort from artillery positions across the river on the 11th, and the infantry moved into position for an attack. Union ironclads commenced shelling the fort and Porter’s fleet passed it to cutoff any retreat. As a result of this envelopment, and the attack by McClernand’s troops, the Confederate command surrendered in the afternoon. Although Union losses were high and the victory did not contribute to the capture of Vicksburg, it did eliminate one more impediment to Union shipping on the Mississippi.

Result(s): Union victory


Chalk Bluff

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: None

Location: Clay County

Campaign: Marmaduke’s Second Expedition into Missouri (1863)

Date(s): May 1-2, 1863

Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. William Vandever [US]; Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke [CS]

Forces Engaged: 2nd Division, Army of the Frontier and force under command of Brig. Gen. John McNeil [US]; Marmaduke’s Cavalry Division [CS]

Estimated Casualties: Unknown

Description: Union Brig. Gen. William Vandever pursued Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke to Chalk Bluff, where the Confederates hoped to cross the St. Francis River. To ford the river, Marmaduke established a rearguard that received heavy punishment on May 1-2. Although most of Marmaduke’s raiders crossed the St. Francis River, they suffered heavy casualties and therefore ended the expedition.

Result(s): Confederate tactical victory (The results, however, forced Marmaduke to end his expedition, making this a Union strategic victory.)


Helena

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: None

Location: Phillips County

Campaign: Grant’s Operations against Vicksburg (1863)

Date(s): July 4, 1863

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Benjamin Prentiss [US]; Lt. Gen. Theophilus H. Holmes [CS]

Forces Engaged: District of Eastern Arkansas [US]; District of Arkansas [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 1,842 total (US 206; CS 1,636)

Description: Lt. Gen. Theophilus Holmes’s troops attacked Helena in an attempt to relieve pressure on Vicksburg. Although the Rebels had more troops and did initially capture some of the fortifications, the Union forces repelled them. Thus, Helena continued as an important Union enclave in the Trans-Mississippi theater and served as a base for the expedition that captured Little Rock.

Result(s): Union victory


Devil’s Backbone

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: Backbone Mountain

Location: Sebastian County

Campaign: Operations to Control Indian Territory (1863)

Date(s): September 1, 1863

Principal Commanders: Col. William F. Cloud [US]; Brig. Gen. W.L. Cabell [CS]

Forces Engaged: 2nd Kansas Cavalry, 6th Missouri Cavalry, and two sections of Rabb’s 2nd Indiana Battery [US]; Cabell’s Brigade [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 81 total (US 16; CS 65)

Description: Union Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt ordered Col. William Cloud to continue in pursuit of the Confederate forces that had withdrawn from Fort Smith and were chased to Old Jenny Lind. The Rebels turned on Cloud and skirmished with him at the base of Devil’s Backbone. Cabell’s forces ambushed approaching Union troops and momentarily halted their advance. Regrouping, the Union forces, with the help of artillery, advanced again and forced the Confederates to retire in disorder to Waldron.

Result(s): Union victory


Bayou Forche

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: Little Rock

Location: Pulaski County

Campaign: Advance on Little Rock (1863)

Date(s): September 10, 1863

Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. John W. Davidson [US]; Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke

Forces Engaged: Cavalry Division, Army of Arkansas, Arkansas Expedition [US]; District of Arkansas [CS]

Estimated Casualties: Total unknown (US 72; CS unknown)

Description: On September 10, 1863, Maj. Gen. Fred Steele, Army of Arkansas commander, sent Brig. Gen. John W. Davidson’s cavalry division across the Arkansas River to move on Little Rock, while he took other troops to attack Confederates entrenched on the north side. In his thrust toward Little Rock, Davidson ran into Confederate troops at Bayou Fourche. Aided by Union artillery fire from the north side of the river, Davidson forced them out of their position and sent them fleeing back to Little Rock, which fell to Union troops that evening. Bayou Fourche sealed Little Rock’s fate. The fall of Little Rock further helped to contain the Confederate Trans-Mississippi theater, isolating it from the rest of the South.

Result(s): Union victory


Pine Bluff

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: None

Location: Jefferson County

Campaign: Advance on Little Rock (1863)

Date(s): October 25, 1863

Principal Commanders: Col. Powell Clayton [US]; Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke [CS]

Forces Engaged: Pine Bluff Garrison (two under-strength cavalry regiments and a company of state militia) [US]; division [CS]

Estimated Casualties: Total unknown (US 56; CS unknown)

Description: At 8:00 am, October 25, Col. Powell Clayton sent a company of cavalry toward Princeton which ran into Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke’s men advancing. After some fire, the Rebels, under a flag of truce, came forward demanding surrender. Lt. M.F. Clark answered that there would be no surrender. Clayton slowly retreated back into Pine Bluff. In the meantime, about 300 African-American soldiers rolled cotton bales out of the warehouses for barricades to protect court square. After failing to take the square by force, the Rebels attempted to burn out the Union forces but to no avail. The Confederate forces retired, leaving Pine Bluff to the Federals.

Result(s): Union victory


Elkin’s Ferry

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: Okolona

Location: Clark County and Nevada County

Campaign: Camden Expedition (1864)

Date(s): April 3-4, 1864

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Fred Steele [US]; Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke [CS]

Forces Engaged: 3rd Division, VII Corps and 2 cavalry brigades [US]; 3 cavalry brigades [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 92 total (US 38; CS 54)

Description: During the expedition, Union forces sought a ford to cross the Little Missouri River because other roads were impassible. They reached Elkin’s Ferry before the Confederates. As they crossed, the Confederates attempted to stop them but to no avail.

Result(s): Union victory


Prairie D’Ane

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: Gum Grove, Moscow

Location: Nevada County

Campaign: Camden Expedition (1864)

Date(s): April 9-13, 1864

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Fred Steele [US]; Maj. Gen. Sterling Price [CS]

Forces Engaged: Department of Arkansas [US]; District of Arkansas [CS]

Estimated Casualties: Unknown

Description: On April 10, Maj. Gen. Fred Steele’s Union forces, combined with Brig. Gen. John M. Thayer’s division, marched south from the Cornelius Farm. They soon encountered a Confederate line of battle at Prairie D’Ane and attacked, driving it back about a mile before being checked. Skirmishing continued throughout the afternoon of April 11, forcing Steele to divert line of march forces away from Shreveport toward Camden. Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s Confederates returned to Prairie D’Ane on April 13, falling upon Steele’s rearguard under Thayer. After a four-hour battle, Price disengaged, and Steele’s column continued to Camden, occupying the city.

Result(s): Union victory


Poison Spring

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: None

Location: Ouachita County

Campaign: Camden Expedition (1864)

Date(s): April 18, 1864

Principal Commanders: Col. James M. Williams [US]; Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke and Brig. Gen. Samuel Bell Maxey [CS]

Forces Engaged: Brigade (1,100 men) [US]; Marmaduke’s and Maxey’s Divisions [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 415 total (US 301; CS 114)

Description: Dwindling supplies for his army at Camden forced Maj. Gen. Fred Steele to send out a foraging party to gather corn that the Confederates had stored about twenty miles up the Prairie D’Ane-Camden Road on White Oak Creek. The party loaded the corn into wagons, and on April 18, Col. James M. Williams started his return to Camden. Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke’s and Brig. Gen. Samuel B. Maxey’s Confederate forces arrived at Lee Plantation, about fifteen miles from Camden, where they engaged Williams. The Rebels eventually attacked Williams in the front and rear forcing him to retreat north into a marsh where his men regrouped and then fell back to Camden. The Union lost 198 wagons and all the corn.

Result(s): Confederate victory


Marks’ Mills

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: None

Location: Cleveland County

Campaign: Camden Expedition (1864)

Date(s): April 25, 1864

Principal Commanders: Lt. Col. Francis Drake [US]; Brig. Gen. James B. Fagan [CS]

Forces Engaged: Infantry brigade [US]; two divisions [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 1,793 total (US 1,500; CS 293)

Description: A Union force escorted 240 wagons from Camden to Pine Bluff to pick up supplies and transport them back to Maj. Gen. Fred Steele’s army. At first the Union escort rebuffed Rebel attempts to halt them. Then the Confederates moved in on the Union rear and front, causing a rout. The Rebels captured most of the men and all of the supply wagons. Thus, Steele gave up all thoughts of uniting with Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks on the Red River and realized that he had to save his army.

Result(s): Confederate victory


Jenkins’ Ferry

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: None

Location: Grant County

Campaign: Camden Expedition (1864)

Date(s): April 30, 1864

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Fred Steele [US]; Gen. E. Kirby Smith [CS]

Forces Engaged: Department of Arkansas [US]; Army of Arkansas [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 964 total (US 521; CS 443)

Description: Maj. Gen. Fred Steele’s forces retreated from Camden after being mauled at Marks’ Mills and Poison Spring. On the afternoon of April 29, the Union forces reached Jenkins’ Ferry and began crossing the Saline River, which was swollen by heavy rain. Rebel forces arrived on the 30th and attacked repeatedly. The Federals repulsed the attacks and finally crossed with all their men and supply wagons, many of which they were compelled to abandon in the swamp north of Saline. The Confederates bungled a good chance to destroy Steele’s army, which after crossing the river, regrouped at Little Rock.

Result(s): Union victory in retreat


Old River Lake

Civil War battles in Arkansas

Other Names: Ditch Bayou, Lake Chicot, Lake Village, Furlough, Fish Bayou, Grand Lake

Location: Chicot County

Campaign: Expedition to Lake Village (1864)

Date(s): June 6, 1864

Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. Joseph A. Mower [US]; Col. Colton Greene [CS]

Forces Engaged: Two brigades of XVI Army Corps [US]; Marmaduke’s Division [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 280 total (US 180; CS 100)

Description: Maj. Gen. A.J. Smith ordered Brig. Gen. Joseph A. Mower to demonstrate against Lake Village. Mower camped near Sunnyside Landing on the evening of June 5 and took up his line of march again the next morning. The skirmishing Confederates fell back to Red Leaf where Col. Colton Greene and his men were encamped. As the Federals advanced, Greene’s men, assisted by artillery, fought a delaying action at Ditch Bayou and then withdrew to Parker’s landing on Bayou Mason. The Union troops advanced to Lake Village, camped there overnight, and the next day rejoined the flotilla on the Mississippi River at Columbia. The Rebels delayed the Union advance but, eventually, allowed them to continue to their objective: Lake Village.

Result(s): Union victory

Civil War Battles in Arkansas2019-07-24T16:40:35-04:00

Antietam

September 17, 1862

The battle of Antietam took place on September 17, 1862. This was Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the north. Following his recent victories over the Union during the Seven Days battles and Second Manassas, Lee wanted to continue his good fortunes with an attack into Maryland.

The bloodiest day in the Civil War was the Battle of Antietam.

The bloodiest battle of the Civil War was the Battle of Gettysburg.

On September 3, 1862 Robert E. Lee crossed the Potomac with 40,000 troops. Lee had several reasons for taking the war north. First he wanted to liberate Maryland, which was a slave holding border state with many southern sympathizers. If he could win a great victory here he could add another state to the Confederate cause. He also wanted to prove to the great European powers that the Confederacy was a legitimate country.

A detailed look at the battle of Antietam is To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862

A big victory on Union soil would surely do just that. If Europe recognized the south as an independent country they would begin to send supplies and weapons, which the Confederacy desperately needed.

Antietam Battlefield

Antietam Battlefield

There would also be a chance that a European power could enter the war on the side of the south thus ensuring their victory and independence. It was of vital importance that the south gain a great victory in Maryland. On the other hand it was just as vital for the north to stop the south from achieving anything other than a defeat in their territory.

Robert E. Lee Divides His Army before Arriving at Antietam

Arriving in Frederick Maryland Lee decided to split his army in half. He sent General Stonewall Jackson south to capture Harpers Ferry. Taking Harpers Ferry would allow supplies to freely flow from the Shenandoah Valley to Lee’s army. After Jackson defeated the 12,000-man garrison at Harpers Ferry he was to join back up with Lee and the rest of the army.

Sending Jackson south Lee continued with the other half of his army north toward Hagerstown Maryland. On September 13th a Union soldier stumbled upon three cigars wrapped around a piece of paper. This was lucky for the soldier because now he had three cigars to enjoy. It was the paper the cigars were wrapped around that was much more interesting.

This lucky soldier had found Lee’s Special Order number 191. This order detailed the plan of dividing the Army of Northern Virginia to attack Harpers Ferry. This piece of paper made it’s way up the ranks and eventually landed in the lap of the commander of the Army of the Potomac General George McClellan

George McClellan and his Staff

George McClellan and his Staff

McClellan exclaimed after seeing it that “Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home.” For all of his confidence and boastfulness McClellan did…nothing. He did not attack he simply did nothing.

It wasn’t long before Lee had found out that his orders were intercepted from a southern sympathizer. He quickly acted and moved his troops into a defensive position near Sharpsburg Maryland with his back against the Potomac River.

George McClellan was on the way to engage Lee. Slowly but surely he was coming with his 80,000 strong army. On September 16th General Thomas Stonewall Jackson had rejoined Lee’s army after defeating the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry. Robert E. Lee now had a force that numbered 40,000.

If you like battlefield maps check out The Maps of Antietam: An Atlas of the Antietam (Sharpsburg) Campaign, including the Battle of South Mountain, September 2 – 20, 1862

Battle of Antietam Begins

At dawn on September 17th George McClellan finally attacked Lee starting the battle of Antietam. He ordered General Joseph Hooker to attack the Confederate left with three divisions of I Corps. Each division had a target, the Dunker Church.

One division attacked the West Woods initially driving the rebels out of the woods and rushing to take Dunker Church. Confederate General John Bell Hood and his Texas veterans quickly counterattacked stopping the advancing Union troops. The fighting in the woods teetered back and forth.

Meanwhile another Union division under General Mansfield attacked through Miller’s Cornfield. This cornfield saw the most bloody and brutal fighting of the entire war. The corn was head high and very thick.

Troops on both sides blindly fought each other in hand-to-hand combat, shot and shell ripped through the corn hitting soldiers from all sides. Confederate General Mansfield was killed in the cornfield and General Hooker was hit.

Despite the brutal fighting Union troops scrambled out of the cornfield and successfully captured Dunker Church. Despite this success the three divisions of I Corps practically ceased to exist after Antietam.

At around mid-morning the 2nd Corps under General Sumner started an attack on Lee’s center. The attack started at Dunker Church attacking D.H. Hill’s division who had taken up defensive positions in a sunken road near the church.

The Bloody Lane at Antietam

The rebels in the sunken road at Antietam were in a very good position to fire on the advancing Federals. The Confederates repulsed attack after attack by the Union troops inflicting extremely heavy casualties.

Union troops eventually were able to get around the road and found a spot where they could fire straight down the lane into the rebels. This created chaos in the sunken road and it quickly filled with rebel dead.

This stretch of road was forever to be remembered as Bloody Lane. At this point the entire confederate line was faltering and ready to collapse under the sheer weight of the Union attack.

If McClellan had sent reinforcements to the center and continued the attack he would have easily defeated Lee in a great victory. He chose however, not to send reinforcements saying that it was not “prudent.”

Burnside Bridge at Antietam

Meanwhile on the Confederate right Union General Ambrose Burnside ordered his men across a bridge over Antietam Creek. Burnside ordered his 12,500 men across the bridge.

The bridge was being defended by two Georgia regiments under the command of General Robert Toombs which numbered around 400 men. The Georgians had taken up defensive positions in a stone quarry overlooking the bridge.

For three hours the Confederates repulsed the Union attempts at crossing the bridge inflicting heavy casualties on the Federals. The Confederates killed or wounded hundreds of men as they tried to run across the bridge. It was only after they began to run out of ammunition that the rebel troops on the hill had to withdraw. Burnside’s men were able to cross the bridge at that point.

Antietam Creek is very shallow and soldiers could have easily walked through it to the other side at many locations. Burnside however wanted to use that bridge. This might be one of the reasons historians consider Burnside one of the worst military leaders of all time.

The bridge has been known as Burnside Bridge ever since.

Confederate Reinforcements arrive at Antietam

At this point victory was in sight for the Union as they smashed into the Confederate right. It was also at this point that the final Confederate division returning from the capture of Harpers Ferry arrived on the scene.

Confederate General A.P. Hill and his three thousand men immediately attacked the flank of the Union troops blunting their advance. Burnside begged McClellan for reinforcements but was refused.

This final clash was the end of the battle of Antietam. In the end the south had lost 2,700 dead 9,024 wounded and 2000 missing. The north had 2,108 dead 9,549 wounded and 753 missing.

This all occurred in a span of 12 hours. There has never been a bloodier day in American history.

Antietam2019-07-19T22:48:29-04:00