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|Introduction: Death in September||3|
|1||The Pendulum of War: 1861-1862||11|
|2||Taking Off the Kid Gloves: June-July 1862||41|
|3||"The Federals Got a Very Complete Smashing": August-September 1862||73|
|4||Showdown at Sharpsburg||97|
|5||The Beginning of the End||133|
More than 6,000 men were killed or mortally wounded at Antietam, making September 17, 1862, by far the bloodiest single day in American history. It was also the most important turning point in the Civil War. During the previous three months, Confederate arms had won victory after victory. Many in the North had become profoundly discouraged. Antiwar Democrats looked forward to capturing control of the House of Representatives in the fall elections of 1862 and to forcing the Lincoln administration to open peace negotiations with the Confederacy.
General Robert E. Lee decided to force the issue by invading Maryland. Another Confederate victory, this time on Union soil, would boost the prospects of the antiwar faction in the North. It might win Maryland for the Confederacy. It would also achieve foreign diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy as an independent nation. The British and French governments were awaiting the expected success of Lee's invasion to offer mediation to end the war between a defeated United States and a victorious Confederate States of America. Two months earlier, President Lincoln had shelved his proposed Emancipation Proclamation in expectation of a Northern military victory that now seemed like it would never come.
But Antietam turned out to be that victory. After the battle, Lee's crippled army was forced to retreat across the Potomac to Virginia without accomplishing his goals. Maryland remained in the Union. Northern morale shot upward. The Lincoln administration retained control of the House. Britain and France backed away from intervention and from recognition of the Confederacy. Five days after the battle, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, giving the United States a new birth of freedom. Looking back nearly three years later, when Union victory in the war was assured, Northern general Winfield Scott Hancock said that "the battle of Antietam was the heaviest disappointment the rebels had met with. They then felt certain of success and felt that they should carry the war so far into the Northern states that the recognition of the Confederacy would have been a necessity." And 20 years after the war, Confederate general James Longstreet wrote: "At Sharpsburg was sprung the keystone of the arch upon which the Confederate cause rested."
The Battle of Antietam has been the subject of many books. No single one of them, however, places it in the deep context of events in 1862 and weaves together the military, political, diplomatic, and emancipation stories as I have tried to do in Crossroads of Freedom, which also relates these developments to home-front morale in both the North and South in a way that no other study has done. I have thus tried to show how Antietam was truly one of the key pivotal moments in American history. (James McPherson)