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Significance of the battle of Antietam

KC‑5.3.I.D (KC)
Unit 5: Learning Objective I
WOR (Theme)
Why was Antietam such an important battle in the Civil War? Kim discusses the international effects of the battle of Antietam.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] In the last video, Sal and I were talking about the Civil War Battle of Antietam. Antietam took place in Maryland on September 17, 1862. Just to briefly recap, Antietam was the single, bloodiest day in American history. Over 4,000 people died, and Antietam was a signature victory in the Civil War for the North, for Abraham Lincoln, and the forces of the United States. One thing that was really important about Antietam was that Lincoln had been waiting for a Union victory, so that he could proclaim the Emancipation Proclamation, which was intended to be a real morale blow to the South, and also a signal to both enslaved people in the South, Northern Republicans who were strongly in favor of Abolition, the end of slavery, and also the world, especially Europe, that the Civil War had become a fight to end slavery, not just a fight to keep the Union together. I mentioned in the last video that there were two reasons why Antietam was so important, the first being that it led to the Emancipation Proclamation. The second reason was slightly related to that. The eyes of the world were really on the United States and on the Civil War at this time. Many people in Europe were trying to decide whether they should intervene in the American Civil War. Now, why would they do this? I think the most important reason that they would do this is because the South of the United States supplied 75% of the world's cotton at the beginning of the Civil War, and so to major industrialized nations, especially the United Kingdom, cotton was the source of their prosperity. They based their economy, in part, around textile mills. This is what England was known for. During the Civil War, the North blockaded the South, which meant that they used the ships of the Navy to prevent supplies from getting in or crops from getting out of the American South. If England can't get their cotton crops, they might be in a whole lot of trouble when it comes to textile manufacturing. In fact, the Confederacy was counting on having the support of Europe in their rebellion against the United States, partly for this reason. Now, there were other reasons why Europe might have intervened on behalf of the South. One of these was that Europe was traditionally a highly classed society, and they had a lot of sympathy for the way that the South did things with a wealthy planter class similar to the monarchy or the gentry in Europe, which was in control of poor whites and enslaved people of African descent. Another reason was that it was to the advantage of Europe not to have such a strong nation as the United States operating in the Americas. Remember that this is the era of Imperialism, the very beginning of Imperialism, as countries like the United Kingdom and France, Germany, and others in Europe begin to look for colonies abroad, and the United States had in 1820 proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine which said, "Europe, keep out of the Americas. We consider this our area of the world." Dividing what had been the United States into two smaller nations would probably have worked out in their favor, so Europe had these social or cultural reasons to join with the South and also political, or perhaps foreign policy reasons to join with the South. The South was really counting on the intervention of a European nation. They thought, certainly, the United Kingdom would intercede on their behalf. It looked, especially early in the Civil War, like that might be the case, but when it came down to it, the United Kingdom did not intercede for the South, and there were a few reasons why that happened. One of those reasons was that the South had kind of oversold cotton to England in the years leading up to the Civil War, so there was actually a considerable supply on hand which English merchants had built up before the Civil War, kind of seeing this coming. The loss of new Southern cotton really didn't turn out to be as big of a problem, as many had imagined. Related to that, as the Civil War began to ramp up, both Egypt and India, which were also cotton producers, began to increase their production, understanding there would be more of a demand coming from England that couldn't be supplied from the American South. It's interesting to note that it's partly in response to the American Civil War and the Northern blockade of Southern ships that Egypt and India become the world suppliers of cotton that they will be for the rest of the 19th Century. The other reason that England doesn't aid the South is more of a cultural reason, which I think is very interesting, which is that the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, which we'll talk about more in other videos, was read really widely in England, it was a very popular novel there. The stage shows of Uncle Tom's Cabin were quite common. This novel, which in the United States, helped to propel the Civil War by showing Northerners how barbaric the institution of slavery was, also came over to England. Because the battle of Antietam allowed Lincoln to make the Emancipation Proclamation, to the citizens of England, this meant now that the North was an army of liberation, that they had the choice of siding with either Southern slaveholders, who had been demonized in Uncle Tom's Cabin, or with Northerners, who were fighting against those slaveholders. Because of the Emancipation Proclamation, and because of these other side issues about the supply of cotton, Antietam really marks the moment where it becomes clear that there is not going to be any European help for the South. That's really important, because think of the American movement for independence. The reason that the United States won, or at least one reason that the United States won, was because of the intervention of France. The South knew that they needed the help of Europe if they were going to succeed. Had England interceded, it's highly likely that the South may have won the American Civil War, and it would have been a separate nation. After the Battle of Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, it became clear that if the South was going to win its independence from the North, it would be doing it on its own.