Southern Editorials after the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg)
The Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg), fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on Sept. 17, 1862, was one of the most significant battles of the Civil War. For one thing, it remains the bloodiest day in the military history of the United States, with the two armies suffering a combined loss of nearly 23,000 casualties. For another thing, although the battle was technically a draw, the North and South reached very different conclusions about this battle.
The battle occurred because Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia were invading Maryland—the first significant battle of the war fought on Union soil. Opposing Lee was Union General George B. McClellan, whose Army of the Potomac’s fighting force outnumbered Lee’s by 2-1. Despite the great difference in numbers, Lee’s swift, well-coordinated responses to the Union’s numerous attacks, and McClellan’s cautious, poorly-executed battle plans and hesitancy to use his reserves, resulted in a stalemate. On the evening of the next day, September 18, Lee began withdrawing his men across the Potomac River back into Virginia.
Then the differing responses to the battle began.
Since Lee withdrew first, McClellan felt emboldened to declare that he had won a great victory. He had stopped Lee’s invasion of the North, and he had driven the enemy back to Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln, who had been anxiously awaiting a Union victory so that he could issue his Emancipation Proclamation without it appearing to be an act of desperation, seized on this charade of a smashing Union victory and announced the proclamation five days after the battle, on Sept. 22, 1862.
Privately, however, Lincoln was greatly disappointed. He could not understand how McClellan, with a huge and powerful army twice as large as his opponent’s, failed to defeat Lee. Worse, Lincoln was incensed that McClellan allowed the entire Southern army to calmly cross the Potomac back into the safety of Virginia without any attempt to attack and destroy the withdrawing foe. Disgusted at McClellan’s habitual caution, Lincoln removed him from command of the Army of the Potomac, all but ending the once-promising general’s military career.
The South viewed the outcome of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg, as it was most often referred to in the South) much the way Lincoln did. They scoffed at McClellan and the Northern press’ claims of a great victory. The Confederacy rejoiced that Lee had once again out-thought, and the Southern army again had out-fought, McClellan and a larger Northern force. They saw Lee’s return to Virginia not as a retreat, but a reasonable plan to regroup his men and try another Northern invasion—which Lee did, into Pennsylvania the next summer, culminating in the decisive Battle of Gettysburg.
These two editorials were published by the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on Sept. 25, 1862. That paper reprinted Southern accounts of the Battle of Sharpsburg, and the first editorial accompanies these reports and pokes fun at the Northern claims of a Union victory. The second editorial points out how divisive the Union was becoming, and gleefully speculates that after the North stops kidding itself that a great victory was won at Sharpsburg, the political divisions in the North would once again tear at each other.
The Sharpsburg Fights
We copy from the Richmond Enquirer of the 20th and 22d (Saturday and Monday), what that paper claims to be, and what we doubt not is, an authentic account of the recent battles at Sharpsburg.
The Enquirer is a cautious, candid and truthful print—having ready access to all sources of information in Richmond, and would not willingly create a false or erroneous impression about the result. It will therefore be peculiarly gratifying to the reader to notice the very strong and significant language used by this paper. The great battle of Wednesday [Sept. 17] is claimed to have “resulted in one of the most complete victories that has yet immortalized the Confederate arms!” The reader may be confident the Enquirer has a good reason for this assertion—a reason probably stronger than the facts which [it] furnishes in the brief narrative of the fight. These are however worthy of particular note, especially the enormous disparity of the forces.
One fact should be borne in mind by the reader in conning over the Federal boasts and jubilations about their victory at Sharpsburg: these wild exultations are, for the most part, founded upon telegrams sent before the conclusion of the fight on Wednesday, and indeed most of them refer to the battle of the preceding Sunday. It is not improbable that the Federal presses had sobered down a good deal by the 19th, and had discovered the necessity of some special pleading to make out a victory in a case where they were obliged to abandon the field. But the fact is, they are in straits—they must have a victory [even] if they have to manufacture them entirely in the papers. They had an uninterrupted series of victories all the time they were retreating from Virginia. They were never once defeated, by their own accounts, and now that our army is in Maryland, it is still more important to have victories. We may rest sure that the Federals will never be defeated by their own confession.
A Kilkenny Fight in the North
The “glorious news” of the “grand Union victory” at Sharpsburg, the killing of Longstreet, wounding of Lee, capture of Cobb, and the destruction of seventeen thousand rebels, interrupted and suspended, for the nonce, as promising a domestic quarrel as the black and mulatto Republicans of the North have yet got into. The Herald and the World distinctly and furiously charge the ultra Republicans, with Wilson and Gov. Andrews at their head, with a diabolical scheme to overturn the foundations of Northern “liberty,” and by a coup d’etat, like that of Louis Napoleon in France in 1848, pitch the immortal Ape out of the Presidential Chair, and install a military dictator, who will carry on the war “according to their notions.” Their papers say they have documentary evidence to prove the plot—letters from the parties; and that the recent attempt to organize an independent volunteer force under Fremont—the scheme of Morton and Company to undertake the war in the West upon their own hook—the appointed Convention of the Republican Governors, all were links in the treasonable conspiracy.
On the other hand, the Tribune and the other ultra Republicans presses charge the yellow Republicans with a conspiracy equally atrocious—not to oust Lincoln, but virtually to supersede him by McClellan, as Dictator, and to use McClellan and his army to compel the Ape to change his Cabinet and policy, and, in short, to reduce him to a condition as powerless as the Egyptian mummy he is said to resemble. To see these rascals denouncing each other as “plotting traitors” is entertaining to honest men. They will resume the business as soon as they have settled McClellan’s victory; and though strictly a man of peace, we shall, in this case, not object to see a fight. It is evident, in the meantime, that Lincoln is thoroughly played out. Both sides are mortally tired and disgusted with him, and have settled down upon his true value, which is small. A continued run of ill-luck in the war will, in a short time, reduce the North to a condition bordering on anarchy.
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