By The Associated Press
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Sept. 16: Battle of Antietam.
It remains the single-bloodiest day of fighting on American soil and it was fought 150 years ago this week in the Civil War: The Battle of Antietam began on Sept. 17, 1862, when Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan clashed with Confederate rivals under the direction of Gen. Robert E. Lee in a cornfield at Sharpsburg, Md., or Antietam. The bitter battle raged around such spots now burned into the American history books as Dunker Church and the Sunken Road. Marked by attacks and counterattacks, the pitched 12 hours of fighting claimed at least 23, 000 wounded, missing and disappeared. When the roar of combat was over, Lee's limping Army of Northern Virginia was forced to withdraw on Sept. 18 amid last skirmishing to cross the Potomac River southward to the safety of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Neither side could claim this as an outright tactical victory. Yet Antietam was, nonetheless, a turning point in the Civil War and seized upon as a strategic victory for the Union. The federal forces, though they failed to pursue Lee's retreating army, had shown it could stop the savvy Confederate commander's opening invasion of the North. Historically, the battle's aftermath gave President Abraham Lincoln the moment he needed to roll out his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Within days, Lincoln would declare the Civil War had the double aim of both keeping the Union intact and abolishing slavery. The Associated Press, reporting on the fighting soon after the shooting subsided, said hundreds of civilians watched from surrounding hills. "The sharp rattle of 50,000 muskets and the thunder of a hundred pieces of artillery is not often witnessed," AP's correspondent wrote. "It is impossible at this writing to form any correct idea of our losses or that of the enemy. It is heavy on both sides." AP added that so fierce was the fighting that the dead were "thickly strewn over the field and in many places lying in heaps."
This week in the Civil War for week of Sunday, Sept. 23: Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
President Abraham Lincoln has just announced his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862. This week 150 years ago in the Civil War, a nation divided is just beginning to absorb the blunt message that Lincoln's war will now be a war against slavery in addition to a fight to reunite North and South. Lincoln declares that if the rebels do not end their fight and rejoin the Union by Jan. 1, 1862, all slaves in the rebellious states would be deemed "forever free" from that time forward. His move comes a week after the bloody fighting at Antietam. After the battle, The Associated Press reported on Sept. 20, 1862, that hundreds of Confederate stragglers were captured as Robert E. Lee's battered Army of Northern Virginia retreated southward from Maryland across the Potomac River. It added: "The Confederate army has succeeded in making its escape from Maryland." AP's account of the fighting in Maryland gives new details of the harrowing ordeal for local residents, many of whom hid in their cellars to escape heavy shelling. AP also reports the Antietam losses for the rebels in dead and wounded "will not come far from 18,000 to 20,000" casualties. Modern-day estimates of the battle have put the overall casualty count at 23,100 dead, missing and wounded. Elsewhere, Confederates who encroached on Kentucky in the summer of 1862 have skirmished with Union forces. But those engagements are overshadowed by the enormity of the Battle of Antietam. Even so, Union soldiers will eventually force the Confederates in Kentucky to withdraw to Lexington and ultimately leave the state for the most part in October 1862.
This week in the Civil War for week of Sunday, Sept. 30: Battle of Corinth, Miss.
Some 22,000 Confederate soldiers converged on Corinth, Miss., 150 years ago this week in the Civil War, intent on snatching back a key Southern railroad hub from Union control. Fighting on Oct. 3, 1862, saw Confederate soldiers battering the Union troops on their outer defenses ringing Corinth. The Associated Press reported the fighting was pitched when the Confederates opened up with an attack six miles northeast of Corinth. "The engagement became general, and a fierce and sanguinary battle was fought," AP's correspondent wrote in an Oct. 8, 1862, dispatch. That account reported how Union soldiers "were forced slowly backward, fighting desperately" as they were hemmed in by the onslaught of the Confederate troops. AP added: "The Confederates pushed forward with determined obstinacy" but then sunset brought an overnight pause to the fighting. Combat resumed the morning of Oct. 4, 1862, but by then the Union forces had regrouped. Union artillery raked the attackers. AP reported the fighting was fierce. "The federal batteries opened a destructive fire upon the exposed ranks of the Confederates, mowing them down like grass. Their slaughter was frightful," the account stated. At times the battle appeared to seesaw, AP noted. But "the Confederates wavered and then fell back" in full retreat. It was a strategic victory for the Union to retain Corinth, one of the most important Southern rail junctions, which had been seized earlier in the year. Corinth afforded the Union a springboard for federal gunboat operations down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg and for exerting control over much of middle and western Tennessee. The Union victory at Corinth - shortly after Lee was thwarted in his first invasion of the North at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862 - was the second of two important setbacks for the Confederacy at a crucial moment in the war.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Oct. 7: Fight for Kentucky.
This week 150 years ago, Kentucky's biggest Civil war battle was fought at Perryville, or Chaplin Hills. A border state coveted both by North and South, Kentucky was at the crossroads of the Civil War and Confederate and Union fighters fought on Oct. 8, 1862, in its crossroads town of Perryville. Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg had invaded Kentucky in the fall of 1862, nearly reaching Louisville before falling back. In central Kentucky, more than 50,000 federal troops caught up with Bragg's army and skirmishing on Oct. 7, 1862, led to a wider battle the next day at Perryville. Savage combat saw Confederate fighters pummeling a Union flank, then forced back under a Union counterattack. Fighting raged for hours. But in the end, the weary rebels under Bragg retreated at night following the battle, headed for eastern Tennessee. Thus a major Confederate incursion to take Kentucky ended with the Union in control of the border state. The Union's strategic victory was not without a cost. Perryville's bloody combat claimed more than 7,400 in dead, missing and wounded on both sides - but more heavily on the Union side. Elsewhere, The Associated Press reported in early October of 1862 that Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation stirred anger in the Southern slave states and Confederate calls to redouble the fight. One AP dispatch quoted The Richmond Whig newspaper as saying Lincoln's proclamation aiming to eventually free of slaves in states in rebellion was tantamount to "ordering servile insurrection in the Confederate States." Said The Richmond Whig, it was "a dash of the pen to destroy four thousand millions of our property, and it is as much as a bid to the slaves to rise in insurrection - with assurance of aid, from the whole military and the naval power of the United States."
This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources.
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