The Battle of Antietam was considered a turning point in the Civil War since from it came the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The careful planning of this document, with Lincoln releasing it at just the right moment in the war, ensured that it had a great positive impact on the Union efforts and redefined the purpose of the war. That was one major reason that England did not come to the Confederacy’s aid. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation primarily as a war measure. Perhaps its most significant immediate effect was that it, for the first time, it officially placed the U.S. government against the “peculiar institution” of slavery, thereby placing a barrier between the South and its recognition by European nations that had outlawed slavery.
But Lincoln could not introduce the proclamation until there was a union victory. In a cabinet meeting two months before the battle he brought his proclamation up for consideration. Secretary of State William Seward said the proclamation should be postponed to a “more auspicious period” when it would not be “received and considered as a despairing cry—a shriek from and for the Administration, rather than for freedom.” Seward’s idea, “said the President, ‘was that it would be construed our last shriek on the retreat.’ And this “auspicious period” came since the Confederate invasion was turned back.
On the other hand Confederate General D. H. Hill considered it a Confederate victory and gave this opinion in his report after the battle. This is an excerpt from this report of of Operations July 23-September 17 later published in “The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies”. It is his explanation for how the Army of Northern Virginia won the battle but could have done more.
The battle of Sharpsburg was a success so far as the failure of the Yankees to carry the position they assailed. It would, however, have been a glorious victory for us but for three causes:
First. The separation of our forces. Had McLaws and R. H. Anderson been there earlier in the morning, the battle would not have lasted two hours, and would have been signally disastrous to the Yankees.
Second. The bad handling of our artillery. This could not cope with the superior weight, caliber, range, and number of the Yankee guns; hence it ought only to have been used against masses of infantry. On the contrary, our guns were made to reply to the Yankee guns, and were smashed up or withdrawn before they could be effectually turned against massive columns of attack. An artillery duel between the Washington Artillery and the Yankee batteries across the Antietam on the 16th was the most melancholy farce in the war.
Third. The enormous straggling. The battle was fought with less than 30,000 men. Had all our stragglers been up, McClellan’s army would have been completely crushed or annihilated. Doubtless the want of shoes, the want of food, and physical exhaustion had kept many brave men from being with the army; but thousands of thieving poltroons had kept away from sheer cowardice. The straggler is generally a thief and always a coward, lost to all sense of shame; he can only be kept in ranks by a strict and sanguinary discipline.