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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Antietam was not really a Union victory


Lee

issued a dignified and persuasive proclamation in which he declared that he came among the people of Maryland as a friend and liberator. But Maryland showed no desire to be liberated. He and his soldiers were everywhere coldly received. Hardly a volunteer joined them. In many towns Union flags were flaunted in their faces--a fact upon which is based the fictitious story of Barbara Fritchie.

The political failure of the move led to considerable military embarrassments. Lee met with no defeat in arms, but his difficulties increased day by day.

Believing that he would be operating among a friendly population he had given less thought than he would otherwise have done to the problem of supplies, supposing that he could obtain all he needed from the country. That problem now became acute, for the Marylanders refused to accept the Confederate paper, which was all he had to tender in payment, and the fact that he professed to be their liberator actually made his position more difficult, for he could not without sacrificing a moral asset treat them avowedly as an enemy people. He found himself compelled to send Jackson back to hold Harper's Ferry lest his communications might be endangered. Later he learnt that McClellan, who had been restored to the chief command after Pope's defeat, was moving to cut off his retreat. He hastened back towards his base, and the two armies met by Antietam Creek.

justify;">Antietam was not really a Union victory. It was followed by the retirement of Lee into Virginia, but it is certain that such retirement had been intended by him from the beginning--was indeed his objective. The objective of McClellan was, or should have been, the destruction of the Confederate army, and this was not achieved. Yet, as marking the end of the Southern commander's undoubted failure in Maryland, it offered enough of the appearance of a victory to justify in Lincoln's judgment an executive act upon which he had determined some months earlier, but which he thought would have a better effect coming after a military success than in time of military weakness and peril.

We have seen that both the President and Congress had been careful to insist that the war was not undertaken on behalf of the Negroes. Yet the events of the war had forced the problem of the Negro into prominence. Fugitive slaves from the rebel States took refuge with the Union armies, and the question of what should be done with them was forced on the Government. Lincoln knew that in this matter he must move with the utmost caution. When in the early days of the war, Fremont, who had been appointed to military commander in Missouri, where he showed an utter unfitness, both intellectual and moral, for his place, proclaimed on his own responsibility the emancipation of the slaves of "disloyal" owners, his headstrong vanity would probably have thrown both Missouri and Kentucky into the arms of the Confederacy if the President had not promptly disavowed him. Later he disavowed a similar proclamation by General Hunter. When a deputation of ministers of religion from Chicago urged on him the desirability of immediate action against Slavery, he met them with a reply the opening passage of which is one of the world's masterpieces of irony. When Horace Greeley backed the same appeal with his "Prayer of Twenty Millions," Lincoln in a brief letter summarized his policy with his usual lucidity and force.


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