Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Lincoln at Antietam

with 5 comments


Three cigars changed the course of American history at Antietam, the site of the bloodiest one-day battle in American history.  On September 17, 1862 some 24,000 soldiers perished at Antietam Creek, where the decisive victory on the Union side was achieved by Union General McClellan’s ability to predict the Confederate Army’s movements. McClellan was able to do so with the help of three lost cigars being discovered in a field. A Union solider discovered Confederate Special Order 191–which noted Lee’s army’s movements–wrapped around three cigars and passed on to their commander.

Antietam became the first battle in which Lee’s army had been denied its main objective. Yet, McClellan waited long enough to lose the opportunity to crush Lee decisively; in the days immediately after the battle, Lincoln became distressed at McClellan’s failure to pursue Lee’s retreating army. In early October, Lincoln visited McClellan at his headquarters at Antietam to urge him personally to attack, when the above picture by Alexander Gardner was taken. From left to right, Lincoln’s intelligence service chief Allan Pinkerton, Lincoln, and General McClellan.

Lincoln was deeply disappointed in McClellan, on whom he rested his high hopes at the beginning of the Civil war. McClellan was removed from command immediately after; he ran against Lincoln in 1864 election. Lincoln won the election handily, with 212-12 Electoral College votes, and he won 70% of troops’ votes.

On September 22, 1862, Lincoln decided to release the Emancipation Proclamation because of the Union victory at Antietam. A string of disastrous Union defeats before had prevented Lincoln from issuing the proclamation for fear of appearing desperate. In the proclamation’s wake, the war not only gained a higher moral purpose, but also record numbers of now-emancipated slaves joined the Union Army, thereby increasing its military strength. Indeed, the outcome of the American Civil War was decided on the fields on Antietam, not by the marching armies but by a carelessly lost parcel of three cigars.

civil-war-021.jpgLincoln with military officers at Antietam.

Lincoln-McClellan.jpgLincoln and McClellan in the latter’s tents at Antietam.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 9, 2009 at 11:53 pm

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Comparing the first and third photos makes it clear that the officer in the first photo is NOT McClellan who did not have a beard! So his the long bearded man?

    w delaney

    September 28, 2009 at 11:54 pm

  2. The first photo presents Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand.

    w delaney

    September 29, 2009 at 12:11 am

  3. […] out the Iconic Photos blog for more. It is one of my favorites. Here’s Abe Lincoln hanging out at Antietam, looking unreal. Here’s KGB Agent Puting pretending to be a tourist […]

  4. […] The above photograph of Lincoln and Union officers camped at Antietam, Maryland, can be found at this site. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)This Date in HistoryWhere am I going in the […]

  5. […] score and seven years later, here’s Alexander Gardner’s wet-plate Collodion of Lincoln and McClellan at Antietam.  The message of the early photo of a president towering over his field commander was as indelible […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: