Meeting of March 28, 2023

Alan Sissenwein on “Antietam: A Pivotal Diplomatic Turning Point in the Civil War”

“Battle of Antietam” by Kurz & Allison

After a summer of military victories, Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland on September 2, 1862, precipitating the greatest crisis the Union would face in the Civil War. The governments of Britain and France were following Lee’s progress closely. The British were considering granting the Confederacy formal recognition if Lee continued his string of battlefield successes, and the French planned to follow Britain’s lead. For Jefferson Davis, foreign recognition offered the possibility of securing Confederate independence. Abraham Lincoln, for his part, needed a Union victory in Maryland as a prelude to issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, a measure that would, in addition to its sweeping social effects, do much to undermine Confederate support in Europe.

With November mid-term elections looming in the North, the campaign was also important to domestic politics. Lee hoped a Union military defeat would lead to a Republican defeat at the polls that would make it impossible for Lincoln to continue the war.

With so much at stake, no other military campaign would be more vital to determining the Civil War’s outcome than the Antietam campaign.

Alan Sissenwein has been a member of the South Bay Civil War Round Table since 1997 and currently serves as its vice president. He holds a bachelor’s in history from UC Berkeley and a master’s in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He is currently writing the second draft of a nonfiction book about the Battle of Fredericksburg.