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Antietam: “The Most Terrible Battle of the Age”

This is a guest post by Manuscript Division reference librarian Lara Szypszak.

On September 17, 1862, Union and Confederate forces met just outside the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. The battle, known by Union forces as the Battle of Antietam (after the nearby creek) and by the Confederates as the Battle of Sharpsburg (after the nearest town), is often remembered as the bloodiest single-day battle not only in the Civil War, but in all of American history. This coming Saturday marks its 160th anniversary. Commemorative events will be carried out by the National Park Service and numerous groups of historians, educators, and those active in living history communities.

Screenshot of header for Antietam story map, with battle sketch in background

In a joint effort, staff from the Library’s Manuscript Division and Geography and Map Division have published an exploratory Story Map in an effort to demonstrate how anyone can utilize Library of Congress collections to learn about this battle, its geography, its participants, and the Civil War at large. Antietam: “The Most Terrible Battle of the Age” utilizes selected correspondence, maps, books, photographs, and other collection items to provide a new and interesting view of the events.

The items featured in the Story Map are a small sample of the immense resources available online and at the Library of Congress to tell the story of this epic confrontation, the Confederate army’s first invasion into the North, which led to a bloody battle that would have profound and lasting effects on the American people.

In addition to addressing the battle’s preceding days and its aftermath, the story focuses on three major phases in the battle itself, centered on three distinct geographical areas, commonly known as the Cornfield, Bloody Lane, and Burnside Bridge. These phases are already widely known, but this Story Map offers a different way of digging deeper, utilizing GIS technology in combination with archival collections.

Among the maps, manuscripts, and newspapers presented in the newly published Story Map are this 1862 map of the Battlefield of Antietam, prepared by Lt. William H. Willcox; a September 16, 1862, telegram from Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin to Abraham Lincoln; and a post-battle account written for the National Tribune newspaper in 1882 by a participant, Rev. Theodore Gerrish.

Map of the battlefield of Antietam. 1862. Geography and Map Division.

Telegram concerning military affairs, A. Lincoln to A.G. Curtin. Sept 16, 1862. Manuscript Division.

The National tribune. Oct 5, 1882. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

The site also includes an interactive map based on the work of William A. Frassanito. Users can select and view the geo-located historic photographs taken of the battlefield and nearby town by Alexander Gardner and his assistant James Gibson, which are held in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Battle of Antietam is a well-known event, and while this Story Map cannot begin to touch on every detail from that brutal day in Sharpsburg, Maryland, 160 years ago, and those leading up to it, this new resource suggests novel ways to access and interpret the rich Civil War collections at the Library of Congress.

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