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Antietam was one of the critical battles of the American Civil War. The fortunes of the South were riding high after the resounding victory at Second Manassas. While Bragg and Kirby Smith invaded Kentucky, Lee's invasion of Maryland was intended to maintain the Southern offensive momentum, to wrest Maryland from the Union and to win the recognition of the European powers. But his bold plan was compromised - and at the Antietam River the Army of Northern Virginia was fighting for its very life. The battle marked the end of Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North, and still stands as the single bloodiest day in American military history. Its political impact was just as profound. The Northern victory encouraged Lincoln to make public the Emancipation Proclamation in a presidential decree of 22 September 1862, to take effect from 1 January 1863. After Antietam the war went beyond mere politics: not only the maintenance of the Union but also the destruction of slavery and the survival of both Northern and Southern societies were explicitly at stake. [via]