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This was substantially the close of the battle on our right, though the artillery on both sides maintained a fire for some time longer. It was not deemed safe for Franklin's corps to push on any farther, because the rest of our troops had suffered too severely to be relied upon as an efficient reserve. The battle had been fought with desperate courage on both sides, but the advantage, on the whole, was with us. But we had lost too many men,
and were too much exhausted, to make any new attack, and the enemy were not able to assume the offensive.
Meanwhile, Burnside had been engaged on the extreme left of the Federal position in attempting to cross the lower stone bridge,-a structure strongly defended by infantry and artillery. After two unsuccessful attacks, it was finally carried by assault, and the Confederates driven to a range of hills in the rear, where their batteries played upon our troops with damaging effect. A halt was then made until three o'clock, when urgent orders were sent from head-quarters to General Burnside to push forward his force and carry these heights at any cost. The advance was then gallantly resumed, the enemy driven from his guns, and the heights carried. By this time it was nearly dark, and strong reinforcements having just then reached the enemy from Harper's Ferry, attacked Barnside's troops on the left flank, and forced them to retire to a lower line of hills nearer the bridge. During this movement General Rodman was mortally wounded.
All day long General Porter's reserve corps filled the interval between the right wing and General
Burnside's command, guarding the main approach from the enemy's position to our trains of supply. It had been necessary to maintain this part of our line in strong force, lest the enemy, taking advantage of an exhibition of weakness there, should pierce our centre, gain our rear, and capture or destroy our supply-trains. General Burnside, at the close of the day, hotly pressed by the enemy, had sent an urgent request for reinforcements; but they could not be had, and he was ordered to hold his ground, or at least the bridge, till dark. At one moment, about the middle of the afternoon, the position on our right was so critical that two brigades from Porter's corps wero ordered to reinforce our troops on that wing; but, after conference with General Sumner, the order was countermanded while in the course of execution.
Our entire force engaged at Antietam was about eighty-seven thousand men. That of the Confederates was less at the beginning, but they were reinforced during the day by Jackson's command from Harper's Ferry; and during the afternoon the numbers were probably about equal. Our loss in killed, wounded, and missing was twelve thousand four hundred and nine; that of the Confederates was at least as great.
Thirteen guns, thirty-nine colors, upwards of fifteen thousand stand of small arms, and more than six thousand prisoners were our trophies of success in the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. Not a gun or a color was lost by our army.
Early on the 18th the Confederates sent in a flag of truce, asking permission to bury their dead who had fallen between the lines of the two armies. The request was granted. General McClellan says, in his Report, after a detailed account of the battle,–
“Night closed the long and desperately-contested battle of the 17th. Nearly two hundred thousand men and five hundred pieces of artillery were for fourteen hours engaged in this memorable battle. We had attacked the enemy in a position selected by the experienced engineer then in person directing their operations. We had driven them from their line on one flank, and secured a footing within it on the other. The Army of the Potomac, notwithstanding the moral effect incident to previous reverses, had achieved a victory over an adversary invested with the prestige of recent success. Our soldiers slept that night conquerors on a field won by their valor and covered with the dead and wounded of the enemy
“The night, however, brought with it grave responsibilities. Whether to renew the attack on the 18th or to defer it, even with the risk of the enemy's retirement, was the question before me.
“After a night of anxious deliberation, and a full and careful survey of the situation and condition of our army, and the strength and position of the enemy, I concluded that the success of an attack on the 18th was not certain. I am aware of the fact that, under ordinary circumstances, a general is expected to risk a battle if he has a reasonable prospect of success; but at this critical juncture I should have had a narrow view of the condition of the country had I been willing to hazard another battle with less than an absolute assurance of success.
At that moment-Virginia lost, Washington menaced, Maryland in
vaded the national cause could afford no risks of defeat. One battle lost, and almost all would have been lost. Lee's army might then have marched as it pleased on Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York. It could have levied its supplies from a fertile and undevastated country, extorted tribute from wealthy and populous cities, and nowhere east of the Alleghanies was there another organized force able to arrest its march.”
He then proceeds to set forth some of the considerations which led him to doubt the certainty of success in attacking before the 19th.
The troops were greatly overcome by the exhaustion of the recent battles, and the long day and night marches of the previous three days.
The supply-trains were in the rear, and many of the troops had suffered from hunger. They required rest and refreshment.
One division of Sumner's and all of Hooker's corps, on the right, after fighting valiantly for many hours, had been driven back in disorder, and were somewhat demoralized.
Our losses had been very heavy.
Many of our heaviest batteries had consumed all their ammunition, and they could not be supplied till late on the 18th.
Large reinforcements which were immediately expected had not arrived.
Supplies of forage had to be brought up and issued, and infantry-ammunition distributed.
The 18th was, therefore, spent in collecting the dispersed, giving rest to the fatigued, burying the dead, and the necessary preparations for a renewal
of the battle. Orders were given for an attack at daylight on the 19th. But during the night of the 18th the enemy abandoned their position, and crossed the Potomac into Virginia, just two weeks from the day they bad entered Maryland. As their line was near the river, the evacuation presented little difficulty, and was effected before daylight.
On the 19th, General McClellan sent to the commander-in-chief a telegraphic report as follows:
“I have the honor to report that Maryland is entirely freed from the presence of the enemy, who has been driven across the Potomac. No fears need now be entertained for the safety of Pennsylvania. I shall at once occupy Harper's Ferry."
On the following day this despatch was received:
“WASHINGTON, September 20, 1862, 2 P.M. “ We are still left entirely in the dark in regard to your own movements and those of the enemy. This should not be so. You should keep me advised of both, so far as you know them.
“H. W. HALLECK,
“General-in-Chief. “Major-General G. B. MCCLELLAN."
In reply to this curt and ungracious message, General McClellan, after giving the information sought, as far as it was in his power to do, said,
“I regret that you find it necessary to couch every despatch I have the honor to receive from you in the spirit of fault-finding, and that you have not yet found leisure