As Americans, we are often obsessed with terms like “the most,” “the best,” “the least,” and “the worst” in nearly everything we do. In years books individuals are rated as the “most likely to succeed.” We have BFF – “best friends forever.” We discuss sports teams as the “least likely to win a championship. A lot of this obsession is rooted in our innate competitiveness, despite the Herculean efforts of the politically correct crowd to eliminate it lest we offend someone by labeling them.
The same applies to military history as well. Trivia like, the “General with the longest beard,” the “tallest man in the Union army,” and “The Bloodiest Day in U.S. History” appeal to many individuals. In this case, I have chosen to discuss the casualties at Antietam. Why? I wanted to explore the veracity of that title. Here are the results:
1. The editors of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume II examined the reports of Confederate corps and division commanders, which included the losses from September 14, 1862 through September 20, 1862 in their casualty returns.
Those tabulations also excluded the numbers for Jones’ and Rodes’ brigades and A. P. Hill’s entire division.
a. The officers recorded 1,800 killed, 9,770 wounded, and 2,304 missing in action, which totaled 13,694 casualties.
2. The editors arbitrarily multiplied those numbers by 80% based upon the assumption that only 20% losses occurred before and after September 18 – 18, 1862.
a. In turn, they reported 1,512 killed, 7,816 wounded, and 1844 missing which equaled 11,172 casualties.
3. The Union losses, as tabulated in the Official Records, was 12, 410 which included September 16 – 18, 1862.
4. When added together, the editors arrived at 23,582, thereby making Antietam the bloodiest single day battle in U.S. history, “fact” which so many historians, myself included, accepted as fact, until now.
a. We neglected to take into account the editors’ admonition that, at best, the calculations were not necessarily accurate.