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At dawn on September 17, Maj. Joseph Hooker 's corps mounted a powerful assault on Lee's left flank. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller's Cornfield, and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church. Union assaults against the Sunken Road eventually pierced the Confederate center, but the Federal advantage was not followed up.
In the afternoon, Union Maj. Ambrose Burnside 's corps entered the action, capturing a stone bridge over Antietam Creek and advancing against the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, Confederate Maj. Hill 's division arrived from Harpers Ferry and launched a surprise counterattack, driving back Burnside and ending the battle. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill.
During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout September 18, while removing his battered army south of the Potomac River. Despite having superiority of numbers, McClellan's attacks failed to achieve force concentration , which allowed Lee to counter by shifting forces and moving along interior lines to meet each challenge.
Therefore, despite ample reserve forces that could have been deployed to exploit localized successes, McClellan failed to destroy Lee's army. McClellan's persistent but erroneous belief that he was outnumbered contributed to his cautiousness throughout the campaign.
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McClellan had halted Lee's invasion of Maryland, but Lee was able to withdraw his army back to Virginia without interference from the cautious McClellan. Although the battle was tactically inconclusive, the Confederate troops had withdrawn first from the battlefield, and abandoned their invasion, making it a Union strategic victory. It was a sufficiently significant victory to give Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation , which discouraged the British and French governments from pursuing any potential plans to recognize the Confederacy.
Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia —about 55, men    —entered the state of Maryland on September 3, , following their victory at Second Bull Run on August Emboldened by success, the Confederate leadership intended to take the war into enemy territory. Lee's invasion of Maryland was intended to run simultaneously with an invasion of Kentucky by the armies of Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith. It was also necessary for logistical reasons, as northern Virginia's farms had been stripped bare of food.
The Battle of Antietam
Based on events such as the Baltimore riots in the spring of and the fact that President Lincoln had to pass through the city in disguise en route to his inauguration, Confederate leaders assumed that Maryland would welcome the Confederate forces warmly. They sang the tune " Maryland, My Maryland! Civilians generally hid inside their houses as Lee's army passed through their towns, or watched in cold silence, while the Army of the Potomac was cheered and encouraged. Some Confederate politicians, including President Jefferson Davis , believed that the prospect of foreign recognition would increase if the Confederacy won a military victory on Union soil; such a victory might gain recognition and financial support from the United Kingdom and France, although there is no evidence that Lee thought the Confederacy should base its military plans on this possibility.
Mitchell and First Sergeant John M. Bloss   of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry discovered a mislaid copy of Lee's detailed battle plans— Special Order —wrapped around three cigars.
The order indicated that Lee had divided his army and dispersed portions geographically to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia , and Hagerstown, Maryland , thus making each subject to isolation and defeat if McClellan could move quickly enough. McClellan waited about 18 hours before deciding to take advantage of this intelligence and reposition his forces, thus squandering an opportunity to defeat Lee decisively. There were two significant engagements in the Maryland campaign prior to the major battle of Antietam: Maj.
Thomas J. The former was significant because a large portion of Lee's army was absent from the start of the battle of Antietam, attending to the surrender of the Union garrison; the latter because stout Confederate defenses at two passes through the mountains delayed McClellan's advance enough for Lee to concentrate the remainder of his army at Sharpsburg. The I Corps , under Maj. Joseph Hooker , consisted of the divisions of:. The II Corps , under Maj. Edwin V.
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Sumner , consisted of the divisions of:. The V Corps , under Maj.
Fitz John Porter , consisted of the divisions of:. The VI Corps , under Maj. William B.
Franklin , consisted of the divisions of:. The IX Corps , under Maj. Ambrose E. Burnside Brig. Jacob D. Cox exercised operational command during the battle , consisted of the divisions of:. Joseph K. Mansfield , consisted of the divisions of:. The Cavalry Division of Brig.
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Alfred Pleasonton consisted of the brigades of Maj. Charles J.
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Whiting and Cols. John F. Farnsworth , Richard H. Rush , Andrew T. McReynolds , and Benjamin F. General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was organized into two large infantry corps. The First Corps, under Maj. James Longstreet , consisted of the divisions of:. The Second Corps, under Maj. The remaining units were the Cavalry Division , under Maj.
Stuart , and the reserve artillery, commanded by Brig. William N. The Second Corps was organized with artillery attached to each division, in contrast to the First Corps, which reserved its artillery at the corps level. Near the town of Sharpsburg, Lee deployed his available forces behind Antietam Creek along a low ridge, starting on September While it was an effective defensive position, it was not an impregnable one.
The terrain provided excellent cover for infantrymen, with rail and stone fences, outcroppings of limestone , and little hollows and swales.
The creek to their front was only a minor barrier, ranging from 60 to feet 18—30 m in width, and was fordable in places and crossed by three stone bridges each a mile 1. It was also a precarious position because the Confederate rear was blocked by the Potomac River and only a single crossing point, Boteler's Ford at Shepherdstown , was nearby should retreat be necessary. The disposition of Union forces during the battle made it impractical to consider retreating in that direction.
And on September 15, the force under Lee's immediate command consisted of no more than 18, men, only a third the size of the Federal army. The first two Union divisions arrived on the afternoon of September 15 and the bulk of the remainder of the army late that evening.