I have long considered the battle of Antietam to be the most important of the American Civil War's "turning points." And it's not just because I work there. . .Although the war went on for another two and a half years following the bloodletting at Antietam, this Federal victory did much more than simply turn back the first Confederate invasion of the North. It also displayed the vulnerability of the Army of Northern Virginia, went far in restoring morale among the rank and file of the Army of the Potomac, and turned the strategic initiative (for the moment) back to Union hands. Most importantly, however, the Federal victory at Antietam provided Abraham Lincoln with the win he was waiting for to announce the Emancipation Proclamation. No longer was this conflict a mere political struggle, meant solely to re-unite a divided nation, now, in addition to that, it was a moral crusade waged to bring the brutal and barbaric institution of human slavery to an end. The Proclamation had international implications as well, for this act, more than anything else, diverted European intervention on behalf of the Southern Confederacy.
Today, while perusing The American Pageant (13th edition), the textbook I am to use for my American History course at American Military University, I was a little bit surprised when scanning the chapter that deals with the Civil War, to discover that Antietam is recognized in the text as the "Pivotal Point" of the four-year conflict. Now, I did not select this textbook; it was, instead, chosen for me. Still, Antietam and the resultant Emancipation Proclamation is given three and a half pages of coverage; Gettysburg, on the other hand, is covered in a few short paragraphs. In summarizing Antietam and its profound consequences, the authors of the book (David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas Bailey) write: "The landmark Battle of Antietam was one of the decisive engagements of world history--probably the most decisive of the Civil War."
I could not agree more.