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[342] could compel the Confederates to a speedy retreat. The numerical superiority of his army enabled McClellan to attempt such a manoeuvre; but in order that the attack of his left might prove successful, and enable him to gather in this direction the fruits of the battle fought on the extreme right, it required a degree of precision in the movements of his troops upon which he could not rely.

On the morning of the 17th a brilliant sun, unobscured by the slightest fog, shed a flood of light upon the woods which separate the Antietam from the Potomac. Hooker deployed his three divisions, Doubleday on the right, Ricketts on the left and Meade in the centre. The latter was the first to encounter the small division of Starke, which had relieved Hood, and which, sheltering itself behind trees, rocks and wall fences, opposed a desperate resistance to the vigorous attack of the Federals. Meade's Pennsylvanians, inured by the severe ordeals of Beaver Dam, Gaines' Mill, Glendale and Manassas, charged the enemy with impetuosity. The possession of the wood was disputed with great spirit. The fierceness of the struggle was equal on both sides, and the losses enormous; nearly all the chiefs were cut down; and according to the statement of soldiers who participated in that contest, it was more sanguinary than any of those they had hitherto witnessed. But the efforts of Hooker's three divisions, all of which soon became engaged, were supported by the fire of the Federal batteries posted on the left bank of the Antietain, which enfiladed the feeble line of Jackson's soldiers. This distant fire could not inflict upon them a damage comparable to that of the incessant discharges of musketry to which they were exposed. In every war, however, the least danger on the flank frequently suffices to throw the combatants, exhausted and excited by the conflict, into confusion; and this was especially the case in the war we are describing, where the armies were wanting in that element of stability elsewhere furnished by veteran soldiers. At the expiration of an hour the Confederates were driven out of the wood; and crossing the large clearing, they rushed into the forest adjoining it on the east, beyond the Hagerstown pike, in search of shelter. Hooker followed them close, and debouched behind them in the open space, which was strewn with the dead, the wounded and

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