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I noticed in the news today that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is celebrating its first anniversary.

Of course you couldn’t expect the European press to notice that today is also the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or Battle of Sharpsburg) in the American Civil War. But at least the American press remembers this horrifying battle.

In September 1862, following the Confederate victory at the second battle of Bull Run (2nd Manassas) general Robert E. Lee had decided to try to invade the North in an attempt to force peace negotiations. However, Union general George B. McClellan and his Army of the Potomac met the Confederates outside Sharpsburg, Virginia. This led to the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. With combined Union and Confederate casualties of more than 23,000, it became the bloodiest single day in American history.

Historians consider the outcome a draw, since neither general could force the other to retreat. However, after the battle Lee was able to withdraw back over the Potomac and regroup to fight on for another two and a half years. McClellan, being over-cautious (as always) failed to deploy all his reserves, which might have forced Lee to surrender. As such, it can be seen as a Southern tactical victory. On the other hand president Lincoln called it a Northern victory and used the battle as political backing to issue his Emancipation Proclamation.

(A historical note: It is widely believed that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves in the United States. This is not true. The proclamation declared all slaves to be free in the states currently in rebellion against the Union and explicitly excepted slaves in Confederate territories held by Union forces. In other words, Lincoln only “freed” the slaves not under his control. 😉 )

Antietam was only one of a series of bloody battles during the Civil War. Several battles, for example Shiloh and Gettysburg, had even more casualties but were fought over several days.

In my view, the Civil War was the first war to be fought between two largely industrialized nations, and the first to rack up such horrific casualties. Estimates are that at least 750,000 people died as a direct consequence of the war – in or following battles, or of diseases such as diarrhea and cholera which were rampant among the troops. If Europe had learned anything, which we unfortunately didn’t, we should have predicted the what would happen in a major war between the European nations and thus avoided World War I (and its consequences, one of which was World War II).

This picture, nicked from CNN, is from a re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam.

Civil War Reenactment