America’s Bloodiest Day
Throughout coverage on September 11th reporters repeatedly mentioned that it was one of, but not the, bloodiest day in American history. That day remains on September 17th when at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpbsurg, Maryland and Antietam when 3,654 Union and Rebel forces were killed and 22,717 total were killed, wounded or missing. It was also the first major battle of the war to take place on Union soil.
On the 75th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, which had institutionalized slavery, soldiers christened in blood a new nation that would free itself from slavery partly as a result of this battle. One such soldier, William McKinley, would go on to become President.
The battle was the culmination of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Maryland campaign. Lee had won victories in Manassas and Harpers Ferry and wanted to secure Southern independence through victory in the North; influence the fall mid-term elections; obtain much needed supplies; move the war out of Virginia, possibly into Pennsylvania; and to liberate Maryland, a Union state, but a slave-holding border state divided in its sympathies.
President Abraham Lincoln turned to Major General George B. McClellan to protect the capital and respond to the invasion. McClellan lead approximately 75,000 Union troops in pursuit of Confederate Robert E. Lee’s army of 38,000. The 12-hour battle had push Lee’s army back, but not far enough for McClellan to advance his center attack, leaving a sizable Union force that never entered the battle. Despite over 23,000 casualties of the nearly 100,000 engaged, both armies stubbornly held their ground as the sun set on the devastated landscape.
The next day, September 18, the opposing armies gathered their wounded and buried their dead. That night Lee’s army withdrew back across the Potomac to Virginia, ending Lee’s first invasion into the North. Lee’s retreat to Virginia provided President Lincoln the opportunity he had been waiting for to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which discouraged the British and French governments from potential plans for recognition of the Confederacy.
That same day, the Allegheny Arsenal, an important supply and manufacturing center for the Union Army less than 200 miles north, exploded killing 78 workers (mostly young women). The explosion was likely caused by leaked gunpowder
The explosion shattered windows in the surrounding community and was heard in Pittsburgh, over two miles (3 km) away. At the sound of the first explosion, Col. John Symington, Commander of the Arsenal, rushed from his quarters and made his way up the hillside to the lab. As he approached, he heard the sound of a second explosion, followed by a third. By the time the fire was put out, the lab had been reduced to a pile of smoldering rubble. 78 workers, mostly young women, were killed. 54 bodies were unidentified, and were buried in a mass grave in the nearby Allegheny Cemetery.