As the morning of the 15th of September dawned, the situation did not look good for Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army. George McClellan's Army of the Potomac sat atop South Mountain, holding several key passes. Stonewall Jackson was still at Harper's Ferry with nearly half the Confederate army. Worse yet, the Union 6th Corps was threatening the rear of Confederate forces at Harper's Ferry. It appeared as though the clock had struck midnight for the Confederate invasion of Maryland.
However, as Confederate guns on the heights overlooking Harper's Ferry unleashed their fearful shot and shell into the town below, Colonel Dixon Miles decided to surrender his 12,000 man garrison. They were in an indefensible position, as Confederate forces had taken all three of the heights overlooking the town. Jackson, elated with his success, sent off a quick message to Lee, informing him that the Union garrison at Harper's Ferry had surrendered. This telegram would change the campaign yet again. It was what led these two armies to Antietam.
After receiving this telegram, Lee began concentrating his forces near the small town of Sharpsburg. Over the next two days, Confederates would stream into the town, most of them arriving from Harper's Ferry to the south. On the eastern banks of Antietam Creek, Union soldiers began to arrive in droves, having just made the march down South Mountain, through Boonsboro, and toward Sharpsburg. As they arrived, they took position on the hills and fields to the north, east, and south of Sharpsburg. Surely, many of them knew that a battle was imminent. However, none knew of the price they would be forced to pay on the approaching Wednesday, September 17, 1862.
Our Country's Fiery Ordeal
A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)
Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.
"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)