Perryville and Antietam
Lee was a keen student of Napoleon Bonaparte’s strategy and tactics, the key to which was the principle of always acting from boldness. Thus Lee boldly conceived a double offensive: in the West, an invasion of Kentucky; in the East, an invasion of Maryland. Neither of these so-called “border states” had seceded, yet both were slave states, and capturing them would significantly expand the Confederacy. Moreover, if Louisville, Kentucky, fell to the Confederates, Indiana and Ohio would be open to invasion, and control of the Great Lakes might pass to the rebels. For the Union, the war could be lost.
But things didn’t happen this way. Confederate general Braxton Bragg delayed, lost the initiative, and was defeated at Perryville, Kentucky, on October 8, 1862. In Maryland, Lee’s invasion went well—until a copy of his orders detailing troop placement fell into the hands of George McClellan (restored to command of the Army of the Potomac after Halleck’s disastrous performance at Second Bull Run). The Union general was able to mass 70,000 troops in front of Lee at Sharpsburg, Maryland, along Antietam Creek. On September 17, in the bloodiest day of fighting up to that time, McClellan drove Lee back to Virginia. Indeed, only the belated, last-minute arrival of a division under A.P. Hill saved Lee’s forces from total annihilation.