Fall 1862 Battles in Maryland and Virginia


Two of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War took place in the Fall of 1862 in Sharpsburg, Maryland and Fredericksburg, Virginia.

At Antietam, 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on September 17, 1862.  Three months later nearly 18,000 casualties occurred at Fredericksburg in a futile Union offensive on Lee's defenses on Marye's Heights.

Fredericksburg is located 50 miles and Antietam 70 miles from Washington, DC.  

Please click on the links below for maps.

Antietam National Battlefield (national battlefield), Maryland, United StatesFredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center (visitor center), Virginia, United States

The Battle of Antietam (September 16-18, 1862) ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into the North and led to Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. On September 16th, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan confronted Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, Maryland. At dawn September 17th, Hooker’s corps mounted a powerful attack on Lee’s left flank that began the single bloodiest day in American military history. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller’s cornfield and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church. Union assaults against the Sunken Road eventually pierced the Confederate center, but the Federal advantage was not followed up.

Late in the day, Burnside’s corps finally got into action, crossing the stone bridge over Antietam Creek and rolling up the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, A. P. Hill’s division arrived from Harpers Ferry and counterattacked, driving back Burnside and saving the day. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout September 18th and removed his wounded south of the river. McClellan did not renew the attacks. After dark, Lee ordered the battered Army of Northern Virginia to withdraw across the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley.

See the National Park Service website for directions.

Begin your tour with "Antietam Visit," a 26-minute movie that recreates the battle as well as President Abraham Lincoln's visit to the Union commander General George B. McClellan.  Also see  a new one hour documentary about the battle of Antietam narrated by James Earl Jones is shown in the visitor center theater.

The best way to view the battlefield is to take the self-guided driving tour. The tour road is 8½ miles long with 11 stops. Most visitors drive the route, but walking and biking are encouraged. Audiotape or CD programs, which enhance the self-guided tour, may be purchased from the bookstore.

On November 14th, Burnside, now in command of the Army of the Potomac, sent a corps to occupy the vicinity of Falmouth near Fredericksburg. The rest of the army soon followed.  Lee reacted by entrenching his army on the heights behind the town. On December 11th, Union engineers laid five pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock under fire.  On December 12th, the Federal army crossed over. On December 13th, Burnside mounted a series of futile frontal assaults on Prospect Hill and Marye’s Heights that resulted in staggering casualties.  Meade’s division, on the Union left flank, briefly penetrated Jackson’s line but was driven back by a counterattack. On December 15th, Burnside called off the offensive and re-crossed the river, ending the campaign. Burnside initiated a new offensive in January 1863, which quickly bogged down in the winter mud.  The abortive “Mud March” and other failures led to Burnside’s replacement by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker in January 1863.

The National Park Service has directions to Fredericksburg on its website

Jay Wertz has written a brief touring guide "The Hallowed Ground of Antietam" for his fine column "In Their Footsteps" on pages 29-30 of the September 2007 Civil War Times.

Please check out the following guides:


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Revised 04/06/2013