The massive exchange of fire between the Confederates and Federals lasted, according to most eyewitnesses, for about two hours.
It was a gloomy, damp and rainy day and this impacted the Southern troops far more than their Union counterparts. The gunpowder used by the Confederates was of an inferior grade and in particular didn't work well in damp conditions. According to General Cooper's report, many of his men could not fire their weapons at all.
According to many Union eyewitnesses, the Confederates along sections of the line were so well concealed in the woods and underbrush that they could not be seen at all. Federal troops targeted their enemies by firing in the direction of the smoke given off by Southern guns.
In other areas, particularly near the center, the lines fought back and forth with astounding intensity. Confederate eyewitnesses mention driving back several Union attacks and Union eyewitnesses describe throwing back at least two Southern counterattacks.
The Confederates outnumbered the Federals on the battlefield by about 2 to 1, but the Union force had a 3 to 1 advantage in artillery (although the Confederates did possess a unique British-made rifled gun smuggled in through the blockade that fired with astounding accuracy during the battle). The Federal troops were also better armed and less subject to problems with their gunpowder. This evened the battle up considerably.
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