Minnesota at the Crossroads: Battle of Antietam - 1862

Minnesota governor Alexander Ramsey responded quickly to President Lincoln’s call for troops after the April 1861 attack on Fort Sumter. As a result, the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment was engaged early and often: for example, at the Battle of First Bull Run (July 1861), Peninsula Campaign (March-July 1862) and Battle of Second Bull Run (August 1862).

There was much at stake for the Union and Confederate forces at the Battle of Antietam. Several members of the First Minnesota recorded accounts of this decisive battle, which took place on September 17, 1862.

The memoir of Civil War solider James Wright, No More Gallant a Deed, is a thorough record of the First Minnesota. In the aftermath, the regiment was on burial detail for 3 days. On Sunday, September 21, Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple visited with and preached to the regiment. The bishop had traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss with President Lincoln the U.S.-Dakota War raging in Minnesota.

For Minnesotans, the news of the Maryland battle and Lincoln’s Preliminary Proclamation that followed arrived a day before news of the Battle of Wood Lake much closer to home.

For more information about the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, check out the MNopedia entry.


Special thanks to...

2012 Civil War Symposium
Antietam National Battlefield - National Park Service
Calvary Cemetery
Library of Congress
Civil War Commemoration Task Force
Ken Fliés, Soldier's Recognition Subcommittee
Samuel Henderson, Videographer
Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State
James Rosebrock, Battlefield Guide

The Battle of Antietam proved consequential:

  • In addition to issuing the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln narrowly maintained Congressional support for the war in November’s midterm election. Lincoln also relieved General McClellan of his command. The general then ran against Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election.
  • The Confederacy’s prospects for European intervention faded with Lee’s failed invasion of the north and Lincoln’s move to end slavery.
  • Clara Barton, a teacher by training, came upon the battlefield’s bloody cornfield just hours after the First Minnesota passed over it. She cared for the wounded and assisted surgeons. Barton went on to found the American Red Cross.
  • Antietam marked the first time a battlefield had ever been photographed before the dead were buried. The photos by Alexander Gardner, later displayed in Mathew Brady’s Gallery, shocked citizens.
  • To honor those killed and wounded, Maryland residents light 23,000 candles to illuminate the battlefield every first Saturday in December.

Historian Bruce Catton said of the Battle of Antietam:

“What America is and hoped to be dates from the fight along Antietam Creek. The fight cost an enormous number of lives, and inflicted pain and disability on many thousands more; but in the infinite economy of the advance of the human race it may have been worth what it cost.”