Antietam and our future

Today is the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.

We may have to have a civil war in the Church, but may God preserve our nation from another bloody civil war, for any reason, internal or sparked by external enemies or natural disasters.


By the time the sun went down, both armies still held their ground, despite staggering combined casualties–nearly 23,000 of the 100,000 soldiers engaged, including almost 4,000 dead. McClellan’s center never moved forward, leaving a large number of Union troops that did not participate in the battle. On the morning of September 18, both sides gathered their wounded and buried their dead. That night, Lee turned his forces back to Virginia. His retreat gave President Lincoln the moment he had been waiting for to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, a historic document that turned the Union effort in the Civil War into a fight for the abolition of slavery.

Last year was the 150th anniversary.  HERE

The Sunken Road - "Bloody Lane"

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Lighter fare, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Unwilling says:

    “slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free”

    Besides the lack of a parallel military strategy from the potential rising of emancipated slaves against their “owners” [an odious word here], I have always wondered why the slaves in states NOT then in rebellion, where Lincoln had actual practical authority, were not included in the freedom granted by this Proclamation.

  2. Robbie says:

    A potentially ominous second sentence. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but, if it does, I’m not sure I would be happy with the winner.

  3. Unwilling, the reason Lincoln did not free northern slaves is really quite simple, if you think about it. Their masters were not using them in the war effort to break up the union. And, Lincoln wisely knew that unionist slave-holders were not all of them ready for emancipation. Most would be by the end of the war and the border states feed their slaves themselves. Lincoln chose wisely. As Fr. Z regularly says, the best should not be the enemy of the good.

    My great grandfather, Dennis McNamara, crossed the Burnside Bridge with the 51st New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The Union Forever! God willing.

  4. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    (1) What possible authority could President Lincoln have had to emancipate slaves in states that were not in rebellion? The slaves in the “slave states” that remained in the Union (and, I believe, in the District of Columbia) were freed by the Thirteenth Amendment (about which see the recent movie about Lincoln). I do not think it is correct, Father Thompson, to say that “the border states feed [? – freed?] their slaves themselves.”

    (2) I beg the comments of fellow commenters to correct, if it be wrong, my feeling, due probably in large part to my Kentucky-native mother, who would say, “When I was growing up [born 1903, so, say, 1909-1921] people just didn’t talk about the Civil War,” and, in ominous and distressed tones, “Brother fought against brother and father against son.”
    Thus, when so much was made of the centennial of the Civil War in 1961, I was horrified. Now to my point: I, a third-year law student, would say to my friends, as an “exemple horrible” or reductio ad absurdum, “This is as horrible as if people in 2039-2045 should celebrate the centennial of Auschwitz.” AND PEOPLE, INCLUDING JEWISH PEOPLE, AGREED WITH THIS IDEA. Subsequently, so much has been made of Holocaust memorial, and, so to speak, in so religious a way, that, as I implied, I feel that I may be wrong. I would like discussion that respects my in-1961 attitude but explains why it is “wrong” or unwise.

  5. Current scholarship on the emancipation of the slaves in the boarder states would answer your doubts about the emancipation in the boarder states. The border states either freed them by state legislation [Maryland (1864), Missouri (1865), Tennessee (1865), and West Virginia (1865) all of which prohibited slavery before the war ended] or by the 13th amendment (Delaware, Kentucky). As I fear this is about to turn into the rabbit hole that usually follows from exchanges of misinformation on the Civil War, I will not open this tread again.

  6. Eric says:

    I’ve always heard how McClellan was a poor general but I can’t find much evidence. If Antietam was a draw then how did McClellan’s army take the field? Even Father Z says Lee’s retreat provided Lincoln “the moment.” Defeated armies retreat. Why wouldn’t it be McClellan’s victory provided “the moment?”

  7. Anchorite says:

    And how, Father, you expect this possibly necessary civil war within the Church to play out? Every time there was a civil war, the forces of “progress” won the field: Sans-culottes in France, Yankees in US, Bolsheviks in Russia etc. I can think of only a couple of rather recent and major exceptions to the rule: Francoists in Spain and White Guard in Finland.
    Is the Church now suffering from schizophrenia while its head is saying: “that the Church has never been so well as it is today” AND “We cannot simply wait for what we are experiencing to pass, under the illusion that things will return to being how they were before” in the same homily?

  8. J Kusske says:

    It should have been a real victory for the Union as the Confederate battle plans were captured before the battle wrapped around three cigars, and McClellan failed to take advantage of the information as fully as he could have. From Wiki: “McClellan waited about 18 hours before deciding to take advantage of this intelligence and reposition his forces, thus squandering an opportunity to defeat Lee decisively.”

  9. J Kusske says:

    Another civil war that was being fought at nearly the same time was that of the Taiping Rebellion in China, but it was a far bloodier conflict. Before it was put down and the followers of the self-proclaimed Younger Brother of Jesus Hong Xiuquan were exterminated, something like 20 million people died in the conflict, 100,000 in the final sack of Nanjing alone.

  10. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    Thank you, Father Thompson, for your instruction and elucidation. Since I am in a way focused on Kentucky, I suppose my mistake is understandable. What was the first operative act abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia? I see no rabbit-hole danger.

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    While the Civil War, ultimately, was a referendum in bullets and blood about slavery, there was another underlying sociological conflict about the nature of the identity of the Country in terms of its future work ethic. The Civil War was as much a war pitting agrarianism against manufacturing as it was slavery. In the end, the North won as much because of its manufacturing base and distribution pipelines as it did because of its moral rightness.

    Just as we have not completely overcome the effects and mis-effects of the fight for equality (taken to extremes and projected onto other, non-related whole groups that do not merit it, such as woman’s and gay rights), likewise, the division between those close to the land and those close to the sky has not been settled and it is this irritation that is causing a large part of the collapse of this Country.

    It is a sobering fact that most of the Country is conservative and, yet, we keep voting in liberal groups. Why? This map explains the sociology:

    The first map shows the red vs. blue states by electoral votes and the country looks pretty evenly divided, by, oh, plot the votes by county and you find the second graph on the left. Vast sections of the country are conservative. It turns out that almost as if a maniac colored it, the only counties that are blue are those with LARGE CITIES. There is something about the stress of living in large cities that either attracts liberals or makes people liberal. I am coming to the conclusion that excitability, either by the thrill of the new or the fear of the old is what drives liberals. Fear tends to make people congregate towards like-minded people and this is what seems, along with money, the growth of large cities and their attendant liberalism.

    It was the conflict between small city and large city politics that was the background noise of the Civil War an, sadly, even though the North won the War, it might actually have lost the conflict, since it is, primarily, the states that were victorious in the war that have done the most to place liberals in power. Had the South won the Civil War and if there could have been a reunion further down the line, this country probably would not be in the mess it is, today, at least, morally. There, almost certainly, would not have been a Depression, but almost equally as likely, the United States would not have had the manufacturing base to enter WWII.

    The local small town principle is virtually identical to the Catholic principle of Subsidarity. One might just say that the Civil War was a referendum on subsidiarity and we all lost.

    The Chicken

  12. Unwilling says:

    Chicken, thanks for the graphics. Your historical understanding of the Civil War is deeper than we usually see, relative to causes of its beginning and conduct. But I think you can let go of a regret about its outcome — most of the (developed) world is in the same pickle pot without having any kind of civil war. The social and moral mess we are in is the changing outcome of several trends in the alteration of assumptions, values, thought, and political behaviour — trends that go back stage by stage, with no clear lines to cross, all the way to the Garden.

  13. ASD says:

    Unwilling: The answer to your question is in Article II of the Constitution. The executive branch of the federal government has no authority to change state property laws. On the other hand, it does have the authority to prosecute a war. So, Lincoln could take property away from rebels; he couldn’t take property away from law-abiding state citizens.

    Minnesotan from Florida: I think you’re quite right. In fact, I think it’s always true. Because we admire bravery, etc, we end up romanticizing wars.

    Eric: (1) McClellan had a copy of Gen. Lee’s orders; (2) McClellan had his entire army on the field on Sept 17, while Gen. Lee still had A.P. Hill detached at Harpers Ferry; (3) McClellan outnumbered Gen. Lee significantly. And yet, the best McClellan could do was piecemeal attach that did not drive the Army of Northern Virginia from the field. Furthermore, McClellan did not pursue when Gen. Lee retreated on the 19th.

    FYI, just out of sight in Fr. Z.’s picture of the sunken road, over by the tower, there is a monument to the Irish Brigade that mentions a priest giving general absolution (or something similar) before the men went into action.

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    “But I think you can let go of a regret about its outcome — most of the (developed) world is in the same pickle pot without having any kind of civil war.”

    No, you are missing the point. Part of the reason the American version of the Mass is in such a bad way, with the liturgical dancers, clown Masses, even the Haugen music is because these are big city innovations. America, before the invention of the assembly line and mass production (no pun intended), was, likely the most theologically-governed country on the planet, not excluding even Rome. The religiousness of the pre-Second Industrial Revolution America impressed de Toqueville as one of THE defining characteristics of the States United. We were tied together by the worship of a common Creator as no other country on the planet. Oh, there might have been squabbling about important points, but there was one God for this country.

    Theology was conservative, inherently, as was most of the country. Those who live a contingent life, where sudden catastrophe might be just over the corner, tend to appreciate sin, accidents, and the out-of-control nature of the reality of life much more than people who have creature comforts and power. Most classical musicians are very religious, as they know that one broken string, one chipped reed can ruin months of preparation and they largely have no control over these things, beyond prudent precautions. Likewise, those who depend on the vagaries of the land for their livelihood, mainly those in small towns, those whose existences are contingent, more easily recognize a higher Power than the rich, fat and contented who tend to accumulate in big cities.

    Vatican II was badly implemented in the big cities, where rich spoiled theologians and some upper management clergy lived. Had Vatican II snuck in via the small towns we would all still be having Mass ad Orientem with chant. It is the excess of luxury among the big city rich that contaminates the rest of the people who live in the big city and their chokehold radiates out to the small towns.

    Did you know that the people who are profiling off of the banking bailouts do so because they hide (and probably hid) their profit-making behind dummy companies and other dodges to form a, “Shadow Banking System.” The activities of this shadow banking cabal is hard to pin down, but someone finally has calculated their hidden worth and it is (take a deep breath) about $100 Trillion dollars – that’s more than the known accumulated wealth of the entire planet! Most of those people live in big cities and, essentially, govern the planet by stealth.

    None of these sordid pustules of evil would have been possible without the sociological responses that can occur in big cities. We need big cities to drive technology, but we need small cities to drive the heart. What we see, today, especially in the U. S. is the results of a humanity focused on material wealth and not the true wealth of spirit that is precious in the sight of God.

    In large measure, this is just the Renaissance raised to the nth-degree. The same forces that drove the humanism of the Renaissance are largely responsible for the disintegration of the modern moral climate. The Civil War was a clash of these two civilization – shocking newness or safe oldness played out in the dress of slavery. Why do you think the affirmative action steamroller has not died down? It’s because slavery was only the outward manifestation of a more subtle problem of a rich progressive class that will not be satisfied until they are in control and everyone else are drones. You have to have equality of blacks and whites so they can be equal cogs in the machine. Yes, slavery was fought on theological principles, but those principles were contaminated by the Protestant ethic that equated worldly success with theological goodness. Had the Protestants really understood Scripture (the irony!) as much as they like to quote it, they would have released the slaves or at least treated them as Christian brothers long before the civil war. They kept them because they were cheap labor, full stop. The North also wanted cheap labor and they threw in their lot with the machine. Actually, if you look at it, Southern slaves and Northern machines served almost identical functions within their respective societies. So, the Civil War, in addition to being a referendum by rifle about slave vs. free, small city vs. big city, was also a referendum on the dignity of work. The Machine won. Don’t be fooled. The same forces that dehumanized work also dehumanized the Mass. Mass, in the United States, at least, is not human. It is bionic – being part mechanized, anti-ritualized (humans love ritual) in a way that makes the American Novus Ordo Mass a form of technology and not really human, not really contingent, and no longer mysterious.

    Obviously, the Civil War, itself, was not the sink hole of human history, but it is the shadow battles behind the scenes that are continuing to this day that are causing the exponential slide into moral decay. We are fighting a Superpower of evil and we must learn the ways of assymetric warfare to overcome them. When our enemy strikes on one cheek, we must offer the other cheek, because mere symmetry demands that we strike back. The Civil War was not a theological War. That is Protestant rhetoric. It was the same cause as all wars – the perpetual quest to serve either God or Mammon.

    By the way, the word mammon does not mean money. It really should be translated as, “getting your own way.” If you see things in this light, then the way of the world is very sad and needs much prayer.

    The Chicken

  15. bookworm says:

    My husband has been nagging me for years to “write a book” — any book, on any subject, it doesn’t have to be a best seller. Well, after reading this blog post I’ve come up with an idea, but first I want to know if anyone else has done it, and if anyone (outside of, perhaps, this blog) would want to read it.

    The topic is: How did the Church in the United States deal with slavery, with secession and the Civil War, and all the attendant issues? There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot written about this topic, and I get the impression that the Church in the 19th century was too preoccupied with its own survival (given all the anti-immigrant and Know Nothing sentiment of the time) to spend a whole lot of effort fighting slavery.

    I also know that there were Catholic slaves (including at least two with pending sainthood causes: Ven. Pierre Toussaint and Servant of God Fr. Augustine Tolton) and Catholic slave owners, and that while the Church didn’t directly condemn slavery the way it condemns abortion, gay marriage, etc. today, the Church did apparently teach that slaves should be treated with some dignity and that slave family ties should be respected — husbands and wives were not to be sold away from one another, nor children from their parents.

    Other than that, though, there does not seem to be much material out there regarding how much of a role, if any, Catholics played in the great moral issue of the day. What moral dilemmas did Catholic clergy, religious, and laity face with regard to slavery? What kind of moral choices or potential sacrifices did, say, an Irish Catholic in Boston in 1860 confront as opposed to a German Catholic in St. Louis or a Creole Catholic in New Orleans? Were any Catholics involved in abolitionist efforts or in the Underground Railroad? Were any Catholic slave owners motivated by their faith to free their slaves? Most importantly, can what they did, or didn’t do, give us any guidance or encouragement regarding the situation we face today?

  16. Unwilling says:

    A good place to start is always the “Old” Catholic Encyclopedia, free online:

  17. Eric says:

    Late back but need to make a point.

    With regards to McClellan. His was a mindset of defending “the north” from an invading foreign army, not of crushing a rebellion. He preserved troops unlike some that followed him that used union soldiers as cannon fodder and gained accolades.

    The result at Gettysburg was the same as Antietam yet Gettysburg is considered a Union victory.

    As for the capture of the Confederate “battle plans.” They probably weren’t as useful as is made. McClellan’s intelligence provided by the famous Allen Pinkerton greatly exaggerated Confederate troop strength.

    IMHO McClellan gets such a bad rap because he ran against Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election.

  18. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Bookworm,

    The question of the Catholic response to slavery comes up in apologetics circles quite often. It is a topic that Protestants use to beat Catholics over the head with, not realizing that their theology is not Biblical and contains one error. The main theology driver of the Civil War was, I think, Protestant and, I think, Methodist. It would be a great service to compare the on-the-ground theology differences between Catholics and Protestant during the Civil War. Interestingly, most Catholics were Northerners and many Protestants were Southerners. There was, essentially, none or very little Catholic influence in the slave states until one gets to Louisiana or Mississippi, who had large French populations.

    The Chicken

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    …and contains some error…

Comments are closed.