Could someone please explain to me why Gen. Lee chose Antietam as a battlefield. The Potomac river was to his back. Was he protecting the cross roads at sheperdstown for reinforcements coming in from harpers ferry? I understand the advantages of the terrain for lee at antietam, being able to shift his troops from flank to flank as needed without being seen by the enemy but was that good enough reason to fight a battle with a large river to his back?
When Lee received Jackson’s report on the morning of the 15th, he had already modified his plan to withdraw Longstreet and D. H. Hill to Virginia immediately, and ordered both commands to halt behind Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg. Here he would wait to see how McClellan responded to his success at South Mountain. If he pressed hard, Longstreet and Hill could still withdraw to Virginia. But if he moved cautiously, Lee might be able to concentrate his army and offer battle in Maryland. The reasons and the wisdom of Lee’s decision to try and make a stand in Maryland have been debated ever since. He never fully explained his reasons but by remaining in Maryland and hazarding a battle he kept alive the possibilities the Maryland invasion had promised. If he could check McClellan and the Federals withdrew, then operations could be maintained on the Confederate frontier north of the Potomac and pressure continued on the North. If he withdrew to Virginia those opportunities were lost.
Ok, but he had to be alittle crazy to do battle in the situation he was in. he probably know McClellan had close to a 100,000 men if not more. A blessing indeed for the north. If Lee had withdrew and reformed his army before doing battle his probability of coming out vicorious would have been much higher.
But remember he was dealing with McClellan. Lee would probably have banked on McClellan being his usual self. He probably also was banking on Washington getting terrified and demanding McClellan splitting his force to defend the capital.
No doubt about it, Lee was a risk taker. Placing a large river to the back of your army was a huge gamble and apparently Lee was not afraid to do just that. I suspect that at this stage of the war, Lee knew that he had to win a great battle in order for the South to have a chance to win the war. A retreat across the Potomac was not in the best interests of the South. Also, it was not often you could get lethargic McClellen to engage in battle. That fact alone probably enticed Lee to remain in Sharpsburg.