While the Battle of Gettysburg was the largest, bloodiest, and one of the most decisive battles of the American Civil War, it wasn't the only great engagement. The Battle of Antietam (also called the Battle of Sharpsburg) was also one of the massive and devasting battles of the war.

Gettysburg was the most deadly battle in American history, but it happened over the course of three days. The Battle of Antietam on the other hand was the bloodiest single day in American history with 22,717 counted as dead, missing, or wounded. It is one of the many powerful sites in the USA that beckons soul searching and remembrance of the country's often blood-stain past.

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What To Know About The Battle of Antietam

The Battle of Antietam was fought between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Union Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac in Maryland.

  • Date: September 17, 1862
  • Location: Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek
  • Total Combined Casualties: 22,717 Dead, Wounded, and Missing
  • Outcome: Tactical Stalemate, Strategic Union Victory

The battle was part of the wider Maryland Campaign and was the first battle in the Eastern Theater of the war to happen on the territory of the Union.

The battle was a Union victory that ended the Confederate invasion of Maryland although the Union suffered heavier losses than the South. The battle was tactically inconclusive and the battered Confederates were able to withdraw in good order to fight another day.

After the battle, Lincoln felt emboldened enough to announce his Emancipation Proclamation that freed over 3.5 million slaves in the Confederate South (that did not apply to Union slave states like Delaware and Maryland).

It also had the effect of discouraging the British and French from interfering in the war.

Related: Lest We Forget: Gallipoli - The Most Important Site To The ANZACs

Sites To See At Antietam National Battlefield

The main places to go in the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center are the visitor center (at least when it re-opens), Dunker Church, and the National Cemetery. In the summer months and on the weekends in the spring and fall also pop into the Pry House Field Hospital.

Pry House Field Hospital Museum:

The new Pry House Field Hospital Museum is a new museum that served as the headquarters of Union Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac during the battle.

The exhibits include a re-creation of an operating theater, interpretive panels and objects relating to the care of wounded and the effects on the civilian population in the area, and information on the Pry House.

  • Call: All The Museum To Confirm Hours (301) 416-2395
  • Admission Fee: $5.00 per person

Dunker Church:

One of the main attractions of the battlefield is Dunker Church. The church stands as a stark contrast to the fire and bleed-letting of battle. The church began as a humble country house of worship built by local Dunker farmers.

During the battle, the church was the focal point of a number of Union attacks against the Confederate left flank. The memoirs of both sides make reference to the church. At the end of the battle, the Confederates controlled the church and used it as a temporary medical aid station.

A sketch depicting a truce between the two warring sides to exchange wounded depicts the church. The church emerged heavily battle-scarred with hundreds of bullet marks and damaged from artillery, it was repaired in 1864.

Antietam National Cemetery:

There are 130 cemeteries in the National Cemetery System. The Antietam National Cemetery is the resting place of some 4,776 Union remains (1,836 or 38% are unknown).

The stones are coded to mark if the remains are known or unknown and how many soldiers are buried in the grave.

  • Union Remains: 4,776 Union Remains Are Buried At Antietam National Cemetery

Related: What You Need To Know About The Lincoln Memorial Before Visiting

Visit The Antietam National Battlefield

Today the site of the battle is managed by the National Park Service. At the site, one will find the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center which has been open to the public since 1963. As of the time of writing (April 2022) the visitor center is closed for a major renovation and is expected to reopen later in the year. However, there is a temporary visitor center open.

  • Open: Year-Round
  • Temporary Visitor Center: Open 7 Days a Week from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Pets are permitted in the park but must be on a leash at all times.

  • Tip: Check the NPS's Calendar for Their Special Programs Held Throughout The Year

Special Programs:

  • Memorial Day Commemoration (Monday of Memorial Day Weekend at the National Cemetery)
  • Independence Day Commemoration (First Saturday in July)
  • Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), September 17
  • Memorial Illumination (First Saturday in December)

Another place to see the history of the Civil War is in the Confederate capital of Richmond. Richmond has what one functioned as the "White House" of the South.

Next: Fort McHenry: The Site of The Star-Spangled Banner