Unfurl Those Colors! Mcclellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign

Unfurl Those Colors! Mcclellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign

Unfurl Those Colors! Mcclellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign

Unfurl Those Colors! Mcclellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign

Excerpt

The Antietam Campaign in Maryland has long been recognized as one of the pivotal campaigns of the Civil War. It resulted from the first invasion of northern territory by Robert E. Lee and his fabled Army of Northern Virginia. Lee's objective in the campaign was recognition of southern independence by winning a decisive battle on northern soil, and in doing so demonstrating to the northern people the hopelessness of subjugating the South. Coming as it did in September 1862, the campaign took place when the military fortunes of the North were at low ebb, perhaps the lowest they would be during the war. In the Eastern Theater, where the campaign took place, the early prospect of success for the Federal a rmies— the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Virginia— had been completely reversed in two summer campaigns that restored almost all of Virginia to southern control. The Federal armies themselves were at a low state of operational capability, needing rest, reorganization, refitting, and an infusion of new recruits. The northern command structure was discredited, and no torchbearer appeared on the horizon to correct the situation. Politically, an ever-growing peace movement threatened sooner rather than later to force the president, Abraham Lincoln, to negotiate an end to the conflict based on the recognition of southern political independence. To bolster the Federal war effort, Lincoln had decided on issuing an emancipation proclamation that would free slaves in the rebellious states and make the war about ending slavery, not just about political reunification. But when he proposed this to his cabinet, the secretary of state, William Seward, pointed out that such a move could not be taken before achieving some military success, lest it should be seen as “our last shriek on the retreat.” The opportunity for achieving that success, or failing to achieve it, would come with the Antietam Campaign. It was with good reason, then, that a century after the campaign the emi-

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