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184

ANTIETAM.

CHAPTER XX.

THE BATTLE OF ANTIET AM,

FOUGHT WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 17TH.

The battle of Antietam was the first substantial victory which crowned the labors of the Army of the Potomac. Williamsburg, Fair Oaks and Malvern were all victories, but productive of no immediate results. Fought on ground of the enemy's choosing, and under the disadvantages which always attend the assailing party, it was a decisive struggle, stemming the tide of invasion and rolling back to their rebellious territory Lee’s boasted legions, the

“Ragged multitude Of hinds and peasants, rude and merciless," who had come to "free” “My Maryland.” A single regret is associated with Antietam: that the enemy, defeated and driven back, were not followed up and annihilated.

After being driven from the mountain passes, Gen. Lee withdrew his forces from the vicinity of the Blue Ridge, Boonsboro and Hagerstown, and concentrated them near Sharpsburg, in horse-shoe shaped lines, the heels resting near the Potomac.

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BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF THE VALLEY.

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Gen. McClellan followed with his entire army, save Couch's Division and Franklin's Command, which having been detached for the relief of Harper's Ferry, were several miles in the rear.

The valley in which the conflict occurred lies directly west of the spur of the Blue Ridge known as South Mountain, and comprises one of the most delightful portions of Maryland. Looking down from the Highlands, the eye fell upon little villages, crowning eminences or nestling in dells; farm houses standing out boldly on the hill-tops, or half-hidden down the woody slopes; yellow fields of grain, green pastures and sombre fallows; luxuriant orchards and groves of maple, interspersed with oak; the tortuous Antietam, forming in its serpentine windings numerous miniature islands ; lesser streams sparkling in the sunlight, leaping and babbling down the mountain side, or flowing noiselessly through the verdant meadows—the whole comprising a landscape of surpassing beauty and loveliness.

Down on this fair · valley settled the “horrid cloud"called battle. Over this gorgeous patch-work of nature rolled the “hot elements of destruction.”

Monday afternoon and Tuesday were spent by Gen. McClellan in reconnoitring the enemy's position, and establishing his own. He likewise devoted considerable time to examining the topography of the region. “Two hostile armies,” a recent writer observes, “on a battle-field, are two wrestlers—one tries to throw the other; they cling to everything; a thicket is a basis; for want of a village to support

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TROOPS POURING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN.

it, a Regiment gives way; a fall in the plain, a transverse hedge in a good position, a wood, a ravine, may arrest the heel of that column which is called an army, and prevent its slipping. The one who leaves the field is beaten, and hence the necessity for the responsible Chief to examine the smallest clump of trees, and the slightest rise in the ground.” No General ever realized the truth of the above more than Gen. McClellan, and it was accordingly his wont to inspect minutely the ground chosen for battle. Before Tuesday noon he had familiarized himself with the plan of “Antietam,” examined the woods, fields, hills, dales and streams which it embraced, selected the commanding positions for his artillery, and marked out the level spots where infantry could be manœuvred to advantage.

As fast as the troops came streaming down from the mountain, they moved to the various points assigned them. It was an inspiring sight, those long shining lines, pouring down through the woods and fields, like “ living threads that went to weave themselves into the glorious tapestry of our nation's history.”

There was the chivalric Burnside, leading the conquerors of Roanoke and Newbern—the Ninth Army Corps—which he loved so well. Further to the right came Porter, with his Regulars and well filled ranks of Volunteers. Still further on appeared the brave old Sumner, whose highest wish was to die with the harness on—followed by troops who adored the hero of Fair Oaks, if possible, more than their Chief.

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