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[411] superiority of the defence behind the rudest intrenchments against the most determined valor. The left of Breckinridge's division could not take the breastwork, but stubbornly maintained the attack. Meanwhile, the centre and right brigades, meeting no works, and only skirmishers over a part of their front,1 had pressed their advance and reached the Lafayette highway.

At this moment, or about fifteen minutes after Breckinridge's attack began, Cleburne, on his left, led his division forward and very soon encountered a furious storm of canister and musketry from the same line of breastworks, extending southward. The wooded ground was such that Cleburne could not use artillery, but for an hour or more his determined infantry pressed their fierce attack at short range. There were no braver troops than Cleburne's, there was no bolder leader than Cleburne, but they could not drive Baird's, Johnson's and Palmer's divisions from that breastwork. But now, perhaps, the Confederate flank attack will dissolve this stout resistance. It might have done so had the Federal troops been of feebler stuff than our own, or their leader, Thomas, not every inch a soldier. For whilst this furious battle raged in front of the breastworks, Breckinridge had, with his two right brigades, reached and crossed the Lafayette road. He found himself then directly on the flank and four hundred yards in rear of the Federal army with about 2,200 bayonets and a single battery. Wheeling to the left till his new front was at right angles to his first front, he pressed his march to sweep down the rear of the Federal lines, the Lafayette road separating his two brigades. And now, if Walker's corps and Cheatham's division, which General Polk had in reserve, or either of them, had been at hand in second line to Breckinridge, the course of history might have been changed. It was a capital moment, but Breckinridge was too weak in numbers to reap its fruits. Stovall's brigade, on his left, soon encountered the northern face of the Federal breastwork, where it bent back to cover their flank, and was checked.

1 On the Confederate right, Breckinridge's division was found to overlap the Federal left by the front of more than two brigades, then came Cleburne's division to its left — Hill's corps being thus in front line. The rest of Polk's command — Walker's corps and Cheatham's division — were held in rear of Hill's corps in reserve. At Hill's left stood Stewart's division, then came Hood's with McLaws's division under Kershaw in reserve, then Bushrod Johnson's with Preston's in reserve, and then Hindman's division on the extreme left. Longstreet thus had four divisions in front line and two in reserve; but very early in the battle Kershaw reached the front line, and only Preston's division remained in reserve. The original direction of the Confederate line was nearly north and south.

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