On this day in 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac fight to a standstill along a Maryland creek on the bloodiest day in American history. 22,000 men would be killed and wounded. Although the battle was a tactical draw, it forced Lee to end his invasion of the North and retreat back to Virginia.
On this day in 1776, General George Washington writes to the president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, reporting on the Battle at Harlem Heights and relaying the unfortunate news of the death of Captain Thomas Knowlton.
In the early morning hours of this day in 1777, British General John Burgoyne launches a three-column attack against General Horatio Gates and his American forces in the First Battle of Saratoga, also known as the Battle of Freeman’s Farm.
On this day in 1863, In one of the bloodiest battles of the war, the Confederate Army of Tennessee drives the Union Army of the Cumberland back into Chattanooga, Tennessee, from Chickamauga Creek in northern Georgia. Although technically a Confederate victory, the battle had little long-term effect on the military situation in the region.
On this day in 1780, during the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold meets with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. The plot was foiled and Arnold, a former American hero, became synonymous with the word “traitor.”
Motivated by his growing concern for the inhumanity of slavery as well as practical political concerns, President Abraham Lincoln changes the course of the war and American history by issuing the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Announced a week after the nominal Union victory at the Battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, this measure did not technically free any slaves, but it expanded the Union’s war aim from reunification to include the abolition of slavery.
The proclamation announced that all slaves in territory that was still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would be free. Lincoln used vacated congressional seats to determine the areas still in rebellion, as some parts of the South had already been recaptured and representatives returned to Congress under Union supervision. Since it freed slaves only in Rebel areas that were beyond Union occupation, the Emancipation Proclamation really freed no one. But the measure was still one of the most important acts in American history, as it meant slavery would end when those areas were recaptured.
On this day in 1779,the U.S. ship Bonhomme Richard, commanded by John Paul Jones, wins a hard-fought engagement against the British ships of war Serapis and Countess of Scarborough, off the eastern coast of England. During the hotly contest, John Paul Jones is said to have said, “I have not yet begun to fight” Thus encouraging his men to fight harder and eventually win over the British.