The Civil War, Day by Day

Sharpsburg War Council


Sharpsburg War Council

General Robert E. Lee’s army of 40,000 troops had faced a superior force of 75,000 Federals commanded by General George B. McClellan, who was also armed with a lost copy of Lee’s troop deployments. By day’s end, obscure local landmarks - the Sunken Road, Burnside’s Bridge, the East Woods, Dunkard Church - had earned battlefield fame through fire and blood. And when numbers were finally counted, the cost of a single day of battle at Sharpsburg would be more than 24,000 casualties. The common soldiers on both sides had again established their reputations for valor and sacrifice.

On the night of the battle, Lee assembled his key commanders outside his headquarters tent. Should they stay and fight or should they retreat? In the end, the hard choice was left to Lee - and he chose to face the enemy again the next day. When dawn came on the 18th, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would be in place and ready to receive another enemy attack.

Mercifully, the Federal Army of the Potomac was equally battered, and General McClellan chose to avoid further engagement. The two bloodied armies glowered at each other for most of the day, but the battle was not renewed. After sundown on the 18th, the Army of Northern Virginia withdrew from the field on Lee’s orders. His attempted invasion of the North had been turned back, and his army had been severely mauled. But despite the superior numbers arrayed against him, Lee’s legions had held their own - and they would fight again.





May's Archived Features:

Friday May 1, 2020
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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.