September 17th, 1862 was considered the deadliest single day of battle in the Civil War. The Battle of Antietam took place near Sharpsburg, Maryland less than 10 miles from the Potomac River and western Virginia. More specifically, less than 10 miles from the oldest town in western Virginia, Shepherdstown. Although the Union is considered the victor of the Battle of Antietam, more Union soldiers died in the battle. Neither side was able to continue the fight after that single day.
The following day, the confederate Army of General Robert E. Lee, withdrew by crossing the Potomac River into Shepherdstown near Boteler’s Ford. Confederate General William Pendleton, using his 44 guns that were positioned on the Maryland side of the river were responsible for protecting the crossing of the Confederate soldiers back into Virginia. As the Confederate soldiers were completing their crossing on September 20th, the Union Army that was in their pursuit attacked them from the rear. The detachment of the Army’s 5th Corp of General Fitz John Porter captured 4 of the 44 guns and the Battle of Shepherdstown ensued. In response, a division of the Confederate Army under Major General A.P. Hill turned and counterattacked the Union soldiers nearly annihilating what was the 118th Pennsylvania Corps, also known as the “Corn Exchange” Regiment. Union Gen. Porter ordered his men to retreat to the Maryland side of the Potomac ending the Battle of Shepherdstown.
The Union Army under the overall leadership of Major General George McClellan had a strategic opportunity to chase Lee’s Confederate troops into Virginia. His failure to do this resulted in his being relieved of his leadership by President Lincoln. He was replaced by Major General Ambrose Burnside. More than 600 soldiers from both the Union and Confederacy died in the skirmish. Over 200 of the Confederate victims are buried in Shepherdstown.
Although the Battle of Shepherdstown was pale in comparison to the major battle days earlier in Antietam it proved to be the ultimate end of what was referred to as the Maryland Campaign. The Confederacy never returned to attempt to invade the North following that battle.
Redding, N. (n.d.). The Pivotal Moment of the Maryland Campaign: The Case for Shepherdstown. Retrieved from Civil War Trust: https://www.civilwar.org/learn/articles/pivotal-moment-maryland-campaign-case-shepherdstown
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