Civil war historians have posited that the Union came extremely close to destroying Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Antietam. Stephen Sears wrote in Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, “The major disadvantage of the battlefield as far as the Confederates were concerned was the restricted Potomac crossing at Boteler’s Ford in their rear should they be broken and have to retreat; defeat could easily turn into disastrous rout on the riverbank.” Stephen Woodworth wrote in Davis and Lee at War, “Lee could well face ruin if his line was broken…the decision to accept battle at Antietam was audacity run amok.”
But Lee and his army barely survived, and nearly three more years of bloodshed ensued.
Among the many reasons why the Union did not win was that during the Maryland campaign, McClellan’s command structure was riven by conflict, bad judgment, and rivalries. Unity of command, historian David Hartwig has written, is essential for military success, but, “McClellan set about undoing that” on September 15, just two days before the Battle of Antietam.
My talk on February 14 will discuss the background and implications of the lack of unity of command. Below are images of the key actors:McClellan, Fitz-John Porter, Burnside, and Jacob Cox.