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A damp fog hung heavy on the rolling fields the morning of September 17, 1862. Through the retreating mist, flames of cannon and rifle fire burst forth. From this day on, Antietam Battlefield would bear the grief of having hosted the bloodiest single day in American history. And it would also bear the honor of prompting President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves forever. Setting the stage for this definitive moment in the Civil War was the last battle of the Second Manassas Campaign. The Battle of Ox Hill/Chantilly in Fairfax County provided General Robert E. Lee with the military leverage he needed to move northwest towards his first invasion of the Union.
On this historic September day, Clara Barton tended patients so close to the battle lines that a bullet tore through her sleeve and killed a man she was treating. Future Chief Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., would receive one of his three Civil War battle wounds. 23,000 men would end up dead, missing, or wounded. And the day's ravages would be captured in the first photographs Americans saw depicting death in the Civil War.
If you're fascinated by Civil War history, Fairfax County puts you right in its midst. From here, it's just a rather short and scenic drive to Antietam, where you can hike the battlefield, visit the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, or learn more about the day's events at the Visitor Center.