As we continue as a nation to remember the 150th anniversary of the Civil War we come upon certain days that stand out more than others. Living in Maryland has only heightened my sense of the Battle of Antietam as a “hinge of history” if ever there was one. So many things led to and resulted from that day, September 17, 1862, and a battle that is even now “the bloodiest day in American history.” As is fitting of a day of such consequence, the Associated Press has published a stirring article on the story of Antietam. That fine piece includes the following:
It's easy to see inevitability in events as consequential as the Antietam struggle. But many who've studied it, from participants to scholars generations later, dwell on the razor's edge of chance or fate or providence on which this event teetered.
Interestingly, Lincoln told his cabinet during the unsettled days back in July that he'd made a private vow to read the outcome of the next battle, for or against the North, as an indication of divine will on the question of emancipation. God, he concluded, had "decided this question in favor of the slaves."
Maj. Walter Taylor, an aide to Lee, also perceived a divine hand, but in a different place. He called the lost order a turning point and concluded, "It looks as if the good Lord had ordained that we should not succeed."
Looking back, Lee himself said, "Had the Lost Dispatch not been lost, and had McClellan continued his cautious policy for two or three days longer, I would have had all my troops concentrated on the Maryland side, stragglers up, men rested and intended then to attack McClellan, hoping the best results from (the) state of my troops and those of the enemy. Tho' it is impossible to say that victory would have certainly resulted, it is probable that the loss of the dispatch changed the character of the campaign."