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Battle of Antietam September 17, 1862


dem00n

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It's hard to imagine 23,000 casualties in something like a a 20 square mile area, and there was only about 125,000 soldiers involved in the total battle. and fighting was up close and personal back then, no laser guided missile and drone aircraft it was all short range projectile weapons and edged weapons back then.. War is always personal and it always ends up with man against man but this war must have been troy horrible with all the soldiers literally knowing each other or even being neighbors and friends and even family before the war started. somehow civil wars wherever they are almost always seem even worse somehow.

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McClellan was the victor of Antietam, mainly because Lee failed at accomplishing every goal he hoped to achieve by invading Maryland. As you know Lee hoped to gain a overwhelming victory, inspire slave holding Marylanders to join the Southern cause and to gain recognition from Great Britain and France.

 

Union soldiers had found Lee's Secret Order 191 and had passed them up the line of command to McClellan, even with this information Little Mac failed to take decisive action to prevent Rebel forces from advancing on Harpers Ferry, a major failure IMO. McClellan's use of the information is what baffles me;

He knew that;

1. Lee had divided his army and sent General McLaws, with his own division and that of General R. H. Anderson, and General Longstreet to Harpers Ferry.

2. Where the remainder of the Confederate Army was going to march and halt.

3. Where the detached forces were going to rejoin.

Lee's army was at the mercy of McClellan. If he dispatched his left column through Crampton's Gap it would have put them in the rear of McLaw at Maryland Heights, if he had turned his right through Turners Gap he would have split Hill and Longstreet. These two Union columns had less then 20 miles to march to achieve either, the two gaps were not held by any force until the morning of the 14th, and Harpers Ferry did not surrender till 8:00 am on the 15th.

McClellan almost grasped the opportunity, but almost means nothing in warfare.

General Palfrey said it well when he wrote "Of McClellan's conduct of the battle there is little to be said in the way of praise beyond the fact that he did fight it voluntarily, without it being forced upon him."

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the Confederate "battery" from Hills Corps. that occupied an outcrop and held off (I believe it was) Rosecrans 2 corps while the Rebels evacuated was a local lad commanding only 2 cannon. he was so adept at moving and placing the guns that for years afterwards the Yankees believed it was a full battery firing down on them.

as called by Lee, "The Gallant John Pelham" died from Yankee cannonfire a few months later due to riding his horse around in front of his own guns, rallying his gunners.

 

you can't lead from behind

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...General Palfrey said it well when he wrote "Of McClellan's conduct of the battle there is little to be said in the way of praise beyond the fact that he did fight it voluntarily, without it being forced upon him."

 

... which is relevant because McClellan was basically a coward who quite possibly could have ended the war much earlier, but refused to lead his men against the Confederate army dispite out-numbering them overwhelmingly. He was convinced that the enemy had equal numbers, partly because he was exceedingly careful and partly because he was deceived. He constantly requested additional troops from Lincoln.

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Several factors unmentioned here - and include the Somme comment.

 

First, the introduction of the .58 rifled musket and increased efficiency of artillery was not really considered by either sides in the U.S. "second" American Civil War. (I consider the games of the 1770s as the first, btw.) There was no way that Napoleonic tactics that had been successful even in the Mexican American War that tempered so many American military leaders in the CW, would be successful with that advanced technology.

 

Those lessons (and for the Somme, those of the Franco-Prussian War), appear to have been somewhat ignored on both sides. Advanced weaponry and logistics failures almost guaranteed the horrid scenes we read of, and that brought a generation of post WWI anti-war poets telling of the horrid conditions and apparent stupidity of tactics, if not strategy. Antietam was left a lesson largely unlearned.

 

Second, RE McClellan, he probably was the best trainer of armies and soldiers in U.S. military history, with the possible exception of von Steuben. He wrote well for the day - as did his father in law and best-selling author Randolph Marcy (Prairie Traveler), who served as a, or the US inspector general during and after the war. McClellan also made huge improvements in training methods and equipment. Some, I think, had to do with his long connection with Marcy. Functionally his saddle design remains the basis of today's U.S. military saddles, btw.

 

On the other hand, McClellan had two strikes against him: He was a Democrat on the side of the north and actually ran against Lincoln. I think that made him yet more cautious that he might lose a battle and have it listed as somehow politically motivated loss - or at best, a show of lack of competence. George Custer, BTW, likely went the opposite direction as a result of politics - he also was a Democrat - and was looking for a bit of "glory" and also probably a career in politics.

 

Finally, McClellan also did a poorer job of communications for command and control, etc., etc., of his larger force.

 

I don't think McClellan personally per se was a coward. He just didn't want an error.

 

I think we can't forget the impact of rapidly changing technology even this early in the war, and the effect of huge bodies of soldiers on both sides to be coordinated with communications little changed in battle from the Roman era. Lee did better. Still, it was a strategic loss for Lee, if not a tactical one.

 

For both sides... neither adequately adjusted for technical change, IMHO.

 

Most sadly... the Somme wasn't run much differently - and with the same result in that we today tend to recall casualties rather that "who won" tactically or strategically.

 

m

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War is always personal and it always ends up with man against man but this war must have been troy horrible with all the soldiers literally knowing each other or even being neighbors and friends and even family before the war started. somehow civil wars wherever they are almost always seem even worse somehow.

Not as bad as Forum-Participants fighting over the relative ability of Jimi Hendrix!

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All kidding aside, "politics" enter both the Hendrix and "war" discussions in one way or another.

 

One of my favorite subjects is the Red Cloud War of 1867 and 1868. I blame "politics" involving different factions of the Republicans of the time even for the Fetterman massacre or "fight" as it's now politically correctly referred to.

 

After Carrington was relieved, Ft. Phil Kearny then received the technical upgrades of equipment he had requested earlier. The aftermath was filled with internal "politics" of a shrinking military and national "politics" as well, if you study a bit on the folks involved. In that case, though, I think it largely among Republican factions. It was a very turbulent political era we seldom study.

 

As for "Hendrix politics," I'd say that much has to do with the politics of guitar styles. I've never much cared for Hendrix material. His personal life was far from exemplary. Many other musicians had troubles with drugs or booze, but few had such a not-nice personal life.

 

I honestly think that "politics" in terms of musical style preferences and even life perspectives play into this sort of discussion. The latter is not only sad IMHO, but also reflective of current polarities in culture.

 

m

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All kidding aside, "politics" enter both the Hendrix and "war" discussions in one way or another.

 

One of my favorite subjects is the Red Cloud War of 1867 and 1868. I blame "politics" involving different factions of the Republicans of the time even for the Fetterman massacre or "fight" as it's now politically correctly referred to.

 

After Carrington was relieved, Ft. Phil Kearny then received the technical upgrades of equipment he had requested earlier. The aftermath was filled with internal "politics" of a shrinking military and national "politics" as well, if you study a bit on the folks involved. In that case, though, I think it largely among Republican factions. It was a very turbulent political era we seldom study.

 

As for "Hendrix politics," I'd say that much has to do with the politics of guitar styles. I've never much cared for Hendrix material. His personal life was far from exemplary. Many other musicians had troubles with drugs or booze, but few had such a not-nice personal life.

 

I honestly think that "politics" in terms of musical style preferences and even life perspectives play into this sort of discussion. The latter is not only sad IMHO, but also reflective of current polarities in culture.

 

m

 

Well said....but then that's expected!

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What about the 1st day of the Somme 1st July 1916! one of the worst days for Mankind

 

60,000 British casualties on the first day.. 420,000 by the end..

 

Nearly 500,000 Germans and 200,000 French!

 

Over 1 million Casualties for 4 months of war!

 

All good points. But Sept. 17 is the 150th anniversary of Antietam. If you want to talk about the Somme create a thread about it. WWI was a terrible waste, that is what war is.

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No doubt, McClellen was too cautious, but he was facing Lee. Lee was greatly feared on the battlefield. He won huge victories and was almost always heavily outnumbered. Lee had already defeated a large army led by McClellen when the North tried to march on Richmond. Even though Lee and his army had won that battle, Lee had hoped to not only defeat the Union Army, he had hoped to actually capture it, but it escaped. .......Fortunately for The North and ultimately the nation, McClellen chose to make his stand at Gettysburg. Had he not fought at Gettysburg this country would likely be far different than it is, and not in a good way. Lee knew the unliklihood of The South winning a long and protracted war. He thought that a strong move northward could force The North into a truce or perhaps bring in some Europeon support for The South. The loss at Gettysburg pretty much ended those hopes. Interesting topic. So many families that were related or at least knew each other fought against each other. Practically all the generals knew each other well, and many were very good friends. Another interesting point is that at the start of the war, Lee was offered the position of commander-in-chief of The Union Army. Lee was one of those generals who make you think about what he might have accomplished had he had adequate supplies for his troops (food, shoes, transportation, ammunition, winter clothing). If he had taken command of Union forces, the war might have been over very quickly. Of course, wars are dangerous and unpredictible. "If" the dog hadn't stopped to piss, he'd have caught the rabbit........Interesting topic.

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Missouri...

 

Actually McClellan was out of it by the time of Gettysburg. Antietam pretty much did that.

 

Antietam was pretty much the end, too, for "the south" strategically. Tactically it was pretty much a draw, but without the political side of things, it was a failure. Gettysburg sealed that one.

 

McClellan, by the way, probably made his worst mistake by not recognizing during his observations of the Crimean War the impact of that rifled musket. Both sides - Lee and Jeff Davis were and everybody else - were still on the same side at the time and might have recognized it represented a major technology change.

 

Lee had the advantage of far better cavalry early in the war, and used it to great advantage in terms of intelligence, planning and communications. At Gettyburg without it, one might say in modern terms, "mistakes were made."

 

In fact, one reason this particular war was a harbinger of things to come is that it had very large armies with very deadly variations in weaponry and rotten communications.

 

All those folks writing about "tactics" and "strategy," even those more professional who discuss logistics, too often will mention in passing how this or that error was made due to "communications." WWI may have been yet worse with yet larger armies, far better weapons technology and... yet little or no major improvement in communications.

 

Missouri - you're absolutely correct about many of those folks knowing each other. Gens. Armistead and Hancock were such close friends as to be brothers, for example. Long interesting story there, too...

 

m

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Missouri...

 

Actually McClellan was out of it by the time of Gettysburg. Antietam pretty much did that.

 

Antietam was pretty much the end, too, for "the south" strategically. Tactically it was pretty much a draw, but without the political side of things, it was a failure. Gettysburg sealed that one.

 

McClellan, by the way, probably made his worst mistake by not recognizing during his observations of the Crimean War the impact of that rifled musket. Both sides - Lee and Jeff Davis were and everybody else - were still on the same side at the time and might have recognized it represented a major technology change.

 

Lee had the advantage of far better cavalry early in the war, and used it to great advantage in terms of intelligence, planning and communications. At Gettyburg without it, one might say in modern terms, "mistakes were made."

 

In fact, one reason this particular war was a harbinger of things to come is that it had very large armies with very deadly variations in weaponry and rotten communications.

 

All those folks writing about "tactics" and "strategy," even those more professional who discuss logistics, too often will mention in passing how this or that error was made due to "communications." WWI may have been yet worse with yet larger armies, far better weapons technology and... yet little or no major improvement in communications.

 

Missouri - you're absolutely correct about many of those folks knowing each other. Gens. Armistead and Hancock were such close friends as to be brothers, for example. Long interesting story there, too...

 

m

 

Milo, weren't you IN the Army back then? A Captain?

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Yup.

 

Solo photo is detached duty at Ft. Wadsworth, DT, in '61. Still the older uniform regs. Long story on the enlisted kepi and such, but... we won't go there.

 

Duo photo is actually after the war - with Marcus Reno in the field sharing a libation. I again was on detached duty in the west at the direction of Gen. Marcy.

 

Both have been well colorized for use here. In the intervening years I've learned to use computers and such which are almost as wonderful an invention as Mr. Eastman's instantaneous dry plates for photography.

 

m

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Yup.

 

Solo photo is detached duty at Ft. Wadsworth, DT, in '61. Still the older uniform regs. Long story on the enlisted kepi and such, but... we won't go there.

 

Duo photo is actually after the war - with Marcus Reno in the field sharing a libation. I again was on detached duty in the west at the direction of Gen. Marcy.

 

Both have been well colorized for use here. In the intervening years I've learned to use computers and such which are almost as wonderful an invention as Mr. Eastman's instantaneous dry plates for photography.

 

m

 

Didn't Reno end up with the 7th? Little Bighorn?

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Milo, Amen on McClellen. I had the wrong George. Should have caught it when I wrote it. A mind is a terrbile thing to waste, or lose. Anyway, it was Gen. George Meade..........Another interesting tidbit about the war is that Lee was in command of the Union forces that captured John Brown at Harper's Ferry.... Antietam itself was a cluster-you-know-what. Lots of mistakes on both sides. McClellen was very hesitant to attack Lee, even when he knew that Lee had already split his army, he advanced very slowly on Lee's position. Even when a massive union assualt pushed-back the smaller confederate army and McClellen's generals begged for reinforcements to keep the attack going, McClellen still hesitated. The Union had some 80,000 plus troops to Lee's eventually approx 40,000. Had The South won clearly at Antietam, this alone might have brought a Europeon power into the war. Had The North won deceisively it might have delayed or even made impossible Lee's later invasion of the north and inhibited further any attempt by The South to pull a foreign power into the war. Of course, no way of knowing for sure. Interesting to discuss and study these historical events. We can sit back and give our opinions with all of the now-known facts. All Lee and McClellen, and the rest had was what they could see and what "might" have been accurate 2-3 hours before.....Ahhhh, but we humans do war so well. Sadly.

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Yes.

 

Reno had three troops (companies) entering the village opposite Custer. He was engaged first and was hit with overwhelming opposing forces. Several glitches and a face full of brains from an Indian scout who was shot right next to him. Reno functionally had his troopers do a disorganized retreat to what's now called Reno Hill, a decent, albeit not good, defensive position where Benteen, who had not been engaged, soon arrived.

 

Reno had some 30 percent casualties by the time he and the troops got to the top of the hill.

 

He later served at Ft. Abercrombie where various factors brought him trouble with the bosses; later he was at Ft. Meade (both were DT) at today's Sturgis, S.D. Again, alcohol and at least a degree of internal Army as well as party politics of the day brought his dismissal from the service. He died in poverty at age 54. Far, far later, a review of the records changed his discharge from "general" to "honorable." Libby Custer, btw, despised him.

 

Reno wasn't my best buddy, but he was good to work with. Few at the time knew he was in the field when his wife died, and was refused even leave to attend her funeral. That was prior to the Custer debacle. Most of the officers under him throughout the years seemed to like and respect him, but without a real "friendship" sort of relationship. Benteen, btw, similarly left the service with alcohol being a major factor and was not, I think, overall the quality officer as Reno.

 

Neither Reno nor Benteen were cowards and had been proven in many battles and fights. Ft. Phil Kearny and the Red Cloud War pretty much proved, though, that both internal and external politics in the military were taking a terrible toll.

 

That quarter century between 1865 and the official closing of the frontier at the dawn of the 1890s saw incredible changes in population, technology and economic change. And... yup... politics.

 

m

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The mythology of the Civil War has created a image of Lee that is greatly exaggerate. He was very successful when facing opposing generals who were unimaginative and lacked aggression. Military leaders must always be judged by the quality of their opponent, not by the size of the army their opponent commanded. At the Battle of Cheat Mountain Robert E Lee commanded a force of 3,500 men and was defeated by a Union force of 300 men, this was Lee's first battle of the Civil War, Lee was dubbed "Granny Lee" by the Richmond Va. Press and when Davis suggested he be placed in command of the Army of Northern Virginia many Southerner's thought he wouldn't cut it. Lee had the great fortune of having attended the best military school in the US, West Point. He was not the "product of the South", he was for most of his adult life a loyal American who served in the US Army, but form four short years. He wrote to his son and his niece in 1860 from his post in Texas that he wrote;"As an American citizen, I take great pride in my country, her prosperity and her institutions, and would defend any State if her rights were invaded. But I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution." It was Longstreet's observation that Lee was at his best when he was on defense, that when on offense he took to many chances, The fact is the every time he led a invasion of the North he suffered defeat. Longstreet and many other CSA generals were opposed to his campaign of June 1863 that led to the Battle of Gettysburg, that had submitted plans to advance against Baltimore instead. And on the face of it, their plan was superior to Lee and Davis's plan. One must keep in mind that in the West, Grant was moving against Vicksburg, Union forces were pushing into Tennessee, New Orleans was lost, and if Vicksburg fell Texas would be cut off and the North would have control of the Mississippi. In the previous two battles, Antietam and Chancellorsville Lee had lost Jackson and 15% of his men. Even though Antietam was a numerical draw and Chancellorsville was a Southern victory, the South could not afford to lose that many men. Davis and Lee had the illogical idea that, if they could just draw the North (Army of the Potomac) into battle on Northern soil and defeat them, the popular support in the North would collapse and the South would gain recognition by Europe. The strategic flaw in their thinking was that these battles would be fought beyond the South's ability to provide logistical support to hold any territory they may gain, in other words they never had the ability to occupy any area outside of the South, in fact, they could not hold on to any area outside of Virginia. And with the lost of West Virginia by popular vote, the crack in the foundation appeared early in the war. When Lee's forces stumbled into Gettysburg looking for shoes, the real man of the day (July 1) was Hancock, taking command after the death of the Gen. Howard and directing Union forces to retreat to the high ground, Lee had a chance on the next morning to take the Round Tops as no Union forces were posted there until 12:00, Longstreet upon seeing the Union Cav. abandon those two hills that morning said to Lee we have out smarted them again, but lee was hellbent on a frontal attack and refused the idea. The rest is history written in the blood of to many men.

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please allow me to introduce a gentleman that was most likely involved at Sharpsburg(Antietam) IF the 6th Va. Cavalry was there.

 

my Great-Great Grandfather, Evan James Hughes, Corporal, Co.C 6th.Va.Cavalry...he served from the wars beginning, thru Gettysburg, where he lost an eye & was captured.

Here he is, ready to go to war....

 

GarysCam003.jpg

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I think Jax hit excellent points. Heavens, all this is going to be discussed long after we're all gone, too.

 

Jax's point on Davis and Lee's hopes... well, both were well-trained officers tempered in the cauldron of war. Davis also had served as a US Senator and Secretary of War - what we now call "secretary of defense."

 

I've wondered at times whether both didn't realize there was no way they could defeat the Anaconda Plan of old Fuss 'n' Feathers in any sort of protracted war - which ended up being the case and likely had been inevitable. Their hopes of damaging Northern support for the war and a negotiated two-nation settlement was, far more than hopes of European recognition, about the only way a protracted war could be resolved in favor of the south.

 

One might note also that neither in their own positions of power called for continuation of a guerrilla warfare. I think both also perceived the aftermath of an unsuccessful war would be hurtful enough to the economy of the south.

 

In effect, I see both as tragic figures.

 

--- As for relatives in the war... I had a number of them on both sides of my family. As I've mentioned before, one who has my full name could check the records and discover "I" served from late August of 1862 through the end of the war.

 

"My" final CW diary, one might note, carried not a word against men on the other side regardless that "my" unit suffered some significant casualties even in a role largely of "rear defense." I think many, if perhaps not most, men actually in combat service may have had similar feelings long after the war, if not during.

 

m

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