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The Rest of the Story – Antietam

The late pioneering broadcaster Paul Harvey produced a continuing series in which he would recount events or describe persons in such a way that you were never quite certain where the story was heading.  In the end (after a commercial break), he would finally reveal the subject of his narrative, and sign off with his eponymous, “…and now you know the rest of the story.”

Civil War students are well-versed in the events on the banks of the Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17th 1862, the “bloodiest day in American history,” when more than 23,000 casualties piled up in less than twelve hours.  “The Cornfield,” “the Sunken Road” and “Burnside’s Bridge” are indelibly etched in history.  But, Lee’s Maryland Campaign did not end when the sun dipped behind the hills on that late summer day.

First Defenders Civil War Round Table speaker Kevin Pawlak, during the November program, told of three more days in September as Lee looked for ways to continue the fight.  He had hopes of offensive moves against the Federal right on the morning of September 18th, but even the ever-aggressive Stonewall Jackson quickly recognized the folly in that strategy.  Lee would then send J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry off toward Pennsylvania, and would seek to cross the Potomac and circle north by way of Martinsburg, Williamsport and Hagerstown where he would have the option of heading north toward the Keystone State, east toward Baltimore or Washington or south toward the Army of the Potomac.

The Confederate tactical retrograde movement began well enough, but unanticipated aggressiveness on September 19th by the Yankees at the Shepherdstown ford on the Potomac, coupled with tactical mismanagement (and panic) by William Nelson Pendleton, upset Lee’s timetable.  By the time the situation was brought under control, Lee reached the grim realization his campaign would need to come to an end.

Lee did not lose his fighting spirit on the evening of September 17th, nor did he merely sit and stare down George McClellan the following day as many histories would suggest.  It was his desire and intention to continue the fight, and it would be another two days before the Antietam endgame finally came to a close.  

And now you know, the rest of the story!

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