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On September 18th, 1862, Robert E Lee sent a letter to Confederate Jefferson Davis giving him information on the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) which had raged for 12 hours at the cost of 22,720 casualties. I find it quite interesting that these few words can describe the bloodiest day in American history. I know that Lee’s intent was simply to give Jefferson Davis the salient facts about the battle and that is my only consideration about this point, not Lee’s unconcern about casualties.  Below is the essence of the letter.

HEADQUARTERS, Sharpsburg, Md., September 18, 1862-6.30 a.m.

His Excellency President DAVIS, Richmond, Va.

Mr. PRESIDENT: On the afternoon of the 16th instant the enemy, who, you were informed on that day, was in our front, opened a light fire of artillery upon our line. Early next morning it was renewed in earnest, and large masses of the Federal troops that had crossed the Antietam above our position assembled on our left and threatened to overwhelm us. They advanced in three compact lines. The divisions of Generals McLaws, R. H. Anderson, A. P. Hill, and Walker had not arrived the previous night, as I had hoped, and were still beyond the Potomac. Generals Jackson’s and Ewell’s divisions were thrown to the left of Generals D. H. Hill and Longstreet. The enemy advanced between the Antietam and the Sharpsburg and Hagerstown turnpike, and was met by General Hill’s and the left of General Longstreet’s division, where the contest raged fiercely, extending to our entire left..

 The enemy was driven back and held in check, but before the divisions of McLaws, Anderson, and Walker–who, upon their arrival on the morning of the 17th, were advanced to support the left wing and center–could be brought into action, that portion of our lines was forced back by superior numbers. The line, after a severe conflict, was restored and the enemy driven back, and our position maintained during the rest of the day. In the afternoon the enemy advanced on our right, where General Jones’ division was posted, who handsomely maintained his position. General Toombs’ brigade, guarding the bridge over Antietam Creek, gallantly resisted the approach of the enemy; but his superior numbers enabling him to extend his left, he crossed below the bridge, and assumed a threatening attitude on our right., which fell back in confusion. By this time, between 3 and 4 p.m., General A. P. Hill, with five of his brigades, reached the scene of action, drove the enemy immediately from the position they had taken, and continued the contest until dark, restoring our right and maintaining our ground.

 R. E. LEE, General

Two days later, Lee wanted to apprise Davis of the situation of the opposing armies and his actions in taking his army back into Virginia.


His Excellency JEFFERSON DAVIS, Richmond, Va.

SIR: Since my last letter to you of the 18th, finding the enemy indisposed to make an attack on that day, and our position being a bad one to hold with the river in rear, I determined to cross the army to the Virginia side. This was done at night successfully, nothing being left behind, unless it may have been some disabled guns or broken-down wagons, and the morning of the 19th found us satisfactorily over on the south bank of the Potomac, near Shepherdstown, when the army was immediately put in motion toward Williamsport. Before crossing the river, in order to threaten the enemy on his right and rear and make him apprehensive for his communications, I sent the cavalry forward to Williamsport, which they successfully occupied. At night the infantry sharpshooters, left, in conjunction with General Pendleton’s artillery, to hold the ford below Shepherdstown, gave back, and the enemy’s cavalry took possession of that town, and, from General Pendleton’s report after midnight, I fear much of his reserve artillery has been captured. I am now obliged to return to Shepherdstown, with the intention of driving the enemy back if not in position with his whole army; but, if in full force, I think an attack would be inadvisable, and I shall make other dispositions. I am, with high respect, your obedient servant.

R. E. LEE, General

from the Official Records of the Union and Confederate armies