Remembering the Significance of Antietam

AntietamOn Sept. 17, 1862, Union forces hurled back a Confederate invasion of Maryland in the Civil War battle of Antietam. With nearly 23,000 killed, wounded and missing or captured, it remains the bloodiest day in U.S. military history.

I find that a remarkable, but under-exposed fact of history, is that Lincoln used the Battle of Antietam as a sign from God to move forward with the Emancipation Proclamation.   Lincoln said, “God had decided this question in favor of the slave (Meacham, 2005, p. 117).”

Even a current national parks web-site confirms this:

When Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River and began its invasion of Maryland, Lincoln made “a solemn vow” that should Lee be stopped, he would “crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves (National Parks Services, 2013) ”

Writing on this historical milestone, Doris Goodwin states:

The victory, incomplete as it was, was the long-awaited event that provided Lincoln the occasion to announce his plans to issue  . . . He told them that when Lee’s army was in Maryland, he had decided “as soon as it should be driven out” of the state, he would issue his proclamation. “I said nothing to any one; but I made the promise to myself, and to my Maker.(Goodwin, 2005, p. 481-482).”


Goodwin, D. K. (2005). Team of rivals: The political genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Meacham, J. (2006). American gospel: God, the founding fathers, and the making of a nation. New York: Random House.

National Parks Services, 2013.  Taken on June 6, 2013, from

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