The Confederate Army was unstoppable – within weeks of winning the Civil War. General Robert E. Lee had won the Second Battle of Bull Run and was marching 55,000 Confederate troops into Maryland on Sept. 3, 1862. The Confederate Army was welcomed into Maryland as anti-Union protests had been filling Baltimore’s streets.
On Sept. 13, 1862, President Lincoln met with Rev. William Patterson, Rev. John Dempster and other Methodist, Baptist and Congregational leaders. The ministers presented Lincoln with a petition urging him to emancipate the slaves. Lincoln told them:
“I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice. … I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal His will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed He will reveal it directly to me; for, unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. … These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect a direct revelation.”
The same day, Union Private Barton W. Mitchell was drinking coffee and inadvertently noticed three cigars on the ground wrapped with a piece of paper. It was a copy of Lee’s Special Orders No. 191 addressed to Confederate General D.H. Hill revealing his plan to divide the Confederate Army.
With this information in Union hands, the South’s anticipated victory was cut short. Union General George McClellan was now able to intercept and ambush several Confederate brigades just 70 miles from Washington D.C.
This erupted into the Battle of Antietam, Sept. 17, 1862. 75,000 Union troops attacked 38,000 Confederate troops. It was the single bloodiest day of the Civil War.
Though outnumbered nearly two to one, the South rallied and inflicted more than 12,400 casualties on the North, while sustaining 10,316 of their own. Since McClellan failed to make better use of his intelligence advantage, President Lincoln soon removed him from being in command.
The Battle of Antietam was tactically inconclusive, but it proved costlier to the South, as they did not have the immigrants, as the North did, from which to draft new recruits.
With the urging of religious leaders, Lincoln announced that he would issue the Emancipation
Proclamation. In political parlance, this action allowed the North to seize the moral high ground.
On Sept. 22, 1862, as reported by Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Portland Chase, President Lincoln told his Cabinet after the Battle at Antietam:
“The time for the annunciation of the emancipation policy can no longer be delayed. Public sentiment will sustain it, many of my warmest friends and supporters demand it, and I have promised God that I will do it.”
To foreign powers, the Emancipation Proclamation changed the international perception of the War from the issue of states’ rights to the ending of slavery.
Henry Adams, the great-grandson of John Adams, wrote “Why Did Not England Recognize the Confederacy,” in which he stated:
“On October 13, 1862, Lord John Russell, British Foreign Secretary, sent out a call for the Cabinet to assemble. … Mediation in the American Civil War was the subject to be brought up, … It was expected that … it would be voted to … recognize the South as an independent nation. … The day passed and no action was taken. Everyone, including the American minister, Charles Francis Adams, believed that … a decision to recognize the South was reversed. … Charles Francis Adams … accounted for this shift … because … the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was made known, and that approval of the Proclamation by the working classes of England made it impossible thereafter to recognize a slave-holding people as a nation.”
As Britain did not want to be perceived as supporting slavery, they declined to recognize the Confederacy, thus dealing a severe trade and economic blow to the South.
France landed troops in Mexico in 1861, and favored the Confederacy, as its clothing industry was heavily dependent on southern cotton. The Union blockaded Confederate ships from sailing to France.
When Britain refused to support the Confederacy, and with France facing threats of war from both the United States and Prussia, Napoleon III refused to recognize the Confederacy.
After the Civil War, the United States pressured France to withdraw its troops from Mexico. Three weeks after the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln met on Oct. 6, 1862, with Eliza Gurney and three other Quaker leaders, saying:
“We are indeed going through a great trial – a fiery trial. In the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out His great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to His will, and that it might be so, I have sought His aid. …”
“But if, after endeavoring to do my best in the light which He affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. If I had my way, this war would never have been commenced. If I had been allowed my way, this war would have ended before this. But we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of His own, mysterious and unknown to us. …”
“… and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that He who made the world still governs it.”