With the majority of Stonewall Jackson's command arriving from Harper's Ferry, Lee posted his 38,000 troops on a four mile line along Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg. McClellan massed his army of 75,000 to attack on September 17, a day destined to be the bloodiest of the war.
McClellan unleashed his attack at dawn, striking Jackson's position on the Confederate left. Fighting raged back and forth around the West Woods, the Dunker Church, and David Miller's cornfield. Wave after wave of Federals hammered the Confederates, only to be driven back by desperate counterattacks. As the fighting diminished on the Confederate left, it renewed in intensity along the center.
Repeated Federal assaults eventually captured the Confederate main line of defense, which ran along a sunken road. The carnage was so terrible that the sunken road became known as Bloody Lane. McClellan had broken the Confederate line, but he refused to commit his reserves to exploit it. Instead, the action shifted south to the area of Burnside's Bridge across Antietam Creek. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside's Federal IX Corps struggled for several hours against Confederate fire to capture the bridge and cross the creek before it could advance on Sharpsburg.
Pushing Longstreet's Confederates back to the edge of town, the Federals were suddenly assailed on their left by A.P. Hill. Marching 17 miles from Harper's Ferry, Hill's division arrived just in time to paralyze Burnside's drive and end the fighting for the day.
Throughout September 18, the two armies glared at each other in restless stalemate, but after dark the Confederate army recrossed the Potomac into Virginia. Belatedly, McClellan followed, but on September 19 his vanguard was roughy checked at Shepherds-town.
The whirlwind of battle along the Antietam claimed 12,401 dead and wounded Federals, and 10,318 Confederates. The Confederacy had lost its best chance to rally Maryland to its banner and gain European recognition. Upon Lee's retreat, Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, changing the original aims of the war - to preserve the Union - into a crusade to free the slaves.
Although initially successful in their attack on the Confederate line at the West Woods, Sedgwick's division was all but annihilated in a suprise counterattack launched by two Confederate divisions (right).
Union troops of Maj. Gen. Edwin Sumner's command dre&i ihetr line ta preparation for a further charge in support of Hooker.
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