On the morning of September 13, 1862, Union soldiers on a skirmish line near Frederick, Maryland, found what appeared to be an official Confederate document and immediately took it to their commander, who sent it up the Union chain of command. This document, known to history as Special Orders 191, gave the Union commander General George B. McClellan crucial information about the location and future movement of Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee's army. Armed with the information in Orders 191, McClellan set his own army in motion and precipitated the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam.
Two years later in July 1864, the Battle of Monocacy was fought in the same fields where the Confederate army was camped in 1862, and where Special Orders 191 was written and ultimately found by Union soldiers. Although Monocacy National Battlefield's primary purpose is to preserve and protect the site of the Battle of Monocacy, other events including those associated with Special Orders 191 are interpreted. As part of the 150th anniversary of the 1862 Maryland Campaign, Monocacy National Battlefield will host aspecial exhibit about Special Orders 191, which will include the famous orders themselves. The exhibit will be open August 1, 2012 –October 31, 2012.
LEE MOVES INTO MARYLAND
Taking advantage of the Confederate victory at Second Manassas in late August 1862,General Robert E. Lee led his army across the Potomac River into Maryland, intent on drawing the Union army away from Washington and into a battle he believed he could win. By taking the war into the North and winning a battle there, Lee hoped to damage Union morale and encourage antiwar sentiment in the North. With a victory on Union soil, he also hoped to encourage the European powers, particularly Great Britain, to recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation and intervene in the conflict. Thus, in early September Lee's army entered Maryland east of the Blue Ridge Mountains to threaten Washington and Baltimore and force the evacuation of the stranded garrisons at Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. This would allow Lee to shift his communications to routes through the Shenandoah Valley. Lee also planned to cut area railroads to cut Washington off from the rest of the country. The Confederate army began crossing the Potomac on September 4, 1862.[i]
By September 7, the Confederate Army was camped on the Best Farm, approximately three miles south of Frederick City, and now part of Monocacy National Battlefield. It was obvious the Confederate army had been in a hard campaign. General John Robert Jones, a division commander in Jackson's command, said, "Never has the army been so dirty, ragged, and ill-provided-for as on this march. "Regardless, they were victorious at Second Manassas and came into Maryland with high spirits, many believing Marylanders would rally to their flag. In this they would be disappointed for they met with a cool reception; only 130 men from Frederick and 40 from Middletown joined the Confederate army. This can be attributed to the part of Maryland they entered, which was largely Unionist. Had they been in counties further east and south, they would have enjoyed a warmer reception.[ii]
While camped at the Best Farm, Lee learned that Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg had not evacuated as he had hoped, so he formulated a plan which would force them to surrender. His plan was to divide his army to take the garrisons, then reconsolidate and march north into Pennsylvania, where he could bring McClellan to battle on a field of his choosing. Brigadier General John G. Walker wrote post-war about a conversation with Lee concerning his plan to split the army, during which Lee replied, "Are you acquainted with General McClellan? He is an able general but a very cautious one … His army is in a very demoralized and chaotic condition, and will not be prepared for offensive operation –or he will not think it so –for three or four weeks. Before that time I hope to be on the Susquehanna."[iii]
SPECIAL ORDERS 191 AND HARPERS FERRY
On September 9, after meeting with Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Lee ordered Robert Hall Chilton, his assistant adjutant general, to write and distribute his orders regarding the army's movements over the next several days. That document is Special Orders 191. Another member of Lee's staff, Walter Taylor,wrote in his memoirs that he was not present to "supervise the promulgation" of the orders, suggesting that he was normally responsible for the administrative duties attendant upon the issuance of orders, i.e., making copies, overseeing delivery and verifying receipt of orders. This may explain some of the confusion surrounding the delivery and absence of a paper trail that would normally follow the issuance of orders.[iv]
The orders specified the planned movements of Lee's army for the following three days (September 10-12), splitting Lee's army, and explaining each assignment.
· Major General Jackson, with three divisions, was to lead the advance through Middletown, Maryland, on to Sharpsburg, Maryland, and across the Potomac. There he was to take control of the B&O Railroad, capture the Federal garrison at Martinsburg, Virginia, then move toward Harpers Ferry, Virginia. · Major General Lafayette McLaws, with two divisions, was to take Maryland Heights, a promontory which dominates Harpers Ferry from the north, and attempt to capture the garrison.
· Brigadier General John G. Walker, with another division, was to take possession of Loudoun Heights, south of Harpers Ferry, then assist McLaws and Jackson in capturing the garrison.
· Major General James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart, Lee's cavalry commander, was to detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany Longstreet, Jackson, and McLaws. The main body of the cavalry was to cover the rear of the army, bring up stragglers and watch for the advancing enemy.
· Major General Daniel Harvey Hill, with his division, was to be the rear guard of the army.
· Major General James Longstreet, with the remainder of the army and the supply and baggage trains, was to march west to Boonsboro, Maryland, across South Mountain. Lee would move with Longstreet.
· Jackson, McLaws and Walker, after obtaining the surrenders of the two Federal garrisons, were to rejoin the main body of the army, which would be in either Boonsboro orHagerstown, Maryland.[v]
Chilton initially made seven copies of the orders for Jackson, Longstreet, Walker, Stuart, McLaws, Taylor, and a file copy for Confederate President Jefferson Davis. When the copies of Orders 191 were initially written, D.H. Hill fell under the command of Jackson. As such, he received a copy directly from Jackson. Special Orders 191, however, defined Hill's new role as an independent commander and Chilton took it upon himself to pencil Hill a copy as well. The confusion surrounding the loss of the orders began when Chilton sent the additional copy. Hill was sent orders from Jackson, which he kept, and from Chilton, which he said he never received. That copy is the "Lost Orders."[vi]
UNION ARMY ON THE MOVE
The Union military in the East was in disarray after the Battle of Second Manassas. After an overwhelming defeat, General McClellan had the task of combining two armies, the Army of the Potomac, which he commanded and had just returned from its unsuccessful siege of Richmond, and that of General John Pope, who had been defeated at Second Manassas. Then, he had to move the reorganized army out of Washington and find Lee. In addition, General Henry Halleck, the Union General-in-Chief, feared Lee might draw McClellan and the army away from Washington, then turn and attack the city. Thus, McClellan had to move somewhat carefully, making sure to cover Washington.[vii]
On September 12, the day before Special Orders 191 was found, McClellan was still unsure of the Confederate movements after their occupation of Frederick. Union General Ambrose Burnside, on the rightwing of the Union army, entered Frederick from the National Road and skirmished with the Confederate rear guard on the outskirts of Frederick while Union General Jacob Cox's Kanawha Division fought with the rear guard of the Confederates in downtown Frederick. On the 13th as the remainder of the Union army entered Frederick, McClellan's luck changed when soldiers of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry found the lost orders.[viii]
SPECIAL ORDERS 191 IS FOUND
Soldiers on a skirmish line from Company F, 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, found Special Orders 191 as they were resting from their early morning march. Tracking the movements of the 27th is the most likely way to locate where they found the orders. Ezra Carman's manuscript and his annotated maps of "The Maryland Campaign of 1862," Edmond Brown's, The Twenty-Seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry In The War of theRebellion 1861-1865, and soldier's interviews and letters are the most valuable sources to use in reconstructing the possible location of where the orders were found.
Ezra Carman was a Colonel in the 13th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, attached to the XII Corps during the 1862 Maryland Campaign. In the 1890s, as part of the Antietam Battlefield Board, he was tasked with creating a map to show terrain and troop positions during the battle, and create a report on the Battle of Antietam. Carman had been collecting research on the Antietam Campaign since the Civil War; returning to the battlefield in November of 1862 to interview soldiers and civilians. Edmond Brown was a corporal in Company C, 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and a participant in the Antietam campaign. Brown's work has been the most quoted source of documentation and interpretation related to the finding of the lost orders. However, while it gives a great description of the regiment's movements prior to crossing the Monocacy River, Orders 191 was found after they crossed the river, which is where Brown's 27th Indiana becomes vague and Carman's annotated maps become invaluable. Brown's history says:
"On the 13th September we moved by the direct road to Frederick, this took us immediately past Mr. Clay's house, in whose orchard we had camped the previous December. Looking northward, we could plainly see our deserted cabins of the previous winter . . . The bulk of Lee's army had been at Frederick up to a very recent period. We were likely at the time to encounter rebel scouts or outposts. The 27th led the column, expecting at any moment to sight an enemy. There being no bridge over the Monocacy on this road, we forced that stream. The water was only knee deep and warm, so it was no hardship. When we emerged from the timber east of the Monocacy, we saw smoke rising from several pieces of artillery engaged in the open country west of Frederick."[ix]
The 27th Indiana's movements can be followed using the above description on the Carman maps (see map below), from their camp at Ijamsville Crossroads on the night of September 12 through their march on the 13th on the Ijamsville Road. South of that road not far from Ijamsville was the Clay Farm where they camped the previous December, and north of the road was the Hoffman Farm where they had wintered. There was no bridge at Crum's Ford at the time, and given the detailed description that Brown gave about their movements prior to crossing the river, he would have likely mentioned that the bridge had been destroyed had they crossed at Monocacy Junction Confederate General D. H. Hill destroyed both the B&O Railroad Bridge and covered wooden bridge on September 8-9. Once the 27th crossed the river, however, the description fades. An assumption has been made that the regiment along with the rest of the XII Corps continued on this road and into Frederick; this would indeed have put the finding of the orders on the east side of Frederick. However, according to the movements of the XII Corps on Carman's maps, on September 13 the corps had moved to the Georgetown Pike, just south of the outskirts of the city, which aligns with the soldier's descriptions of converging lines on the outskirts of the city. During the Civil War a secondary road stretched from Crum's Ford across farm fields to the Georgetown Pike; it is conceivable that the soldiers used this secondary road to cut south toward the Georgetown Pike.[x]
In the post-war years soldiers of the 27th Indiana were called upon to provide affidavits about the circumstances surrounding the finding of the orders. The differences in their accounts are understandable considering many were conducted around turn of the century. A few letters about the march that day still exist as well. According to their interviews and letters, on the morning of September 13, 1862 the 27th Indiana was up for reveille around 3:00 a.m. and began their march at approximately 6:00 a.m. In a war-time letter home, Major Charles J. Mill wrote, "… came on to where I am now writing,a field about half a mile from Frederick, which the rebs have evacuated. "He said they heard firing all morning; General Burnside was believed to be driving back the enemy. Sergeant John M. Bloss said they were expecting an engagement with the enemy and his Company F was on the skirmish line in front of the brigade. They never encountered the Confederates, and once they were closer to Frederick, converging lines of other divisions and corps along the Georgetown Pike caused them to halt. Private William H. Hostetter, also of Company F, 27th Indiana was on the skirmish line and said the company, "Moved forward out to discover no enemy and halted near the city limits in a meadow; it was a warm morning and when we halted we threw ourselves on the ground to rest. "George W. Welch, Company F, remembered camping in an old meadow that had been occupied the daybefore by D.H. Hill. A few other soldiers noted that they were in Hill's former camp; however, an assumption could have been made that since Hill's name was on the orders, it must have been his camp. Bloss,who was wounded at Antietam, wrote a letter from a field hospital 13 days after Orders 191 was found. Bloss' letter and description is the earliest primary source at present to the time of the event, making it the most reliable information yet. In this unpublished letter, Bloss gives a few details about the finding of the orders. He said that the orders were found in a wheat field, under a locust tree, with two cigars.[xi]
Once discovered, Orders 191 was sent up the 27th Indiana's chain of command to Captain Peter Kop, Colonel Silas Colgrove, then to General Alpheus Starkey Williams, commander of the XII Corps. In an interesting twist of fate, Williams' acting adjutant general Samuel E. Pittman authenticated the orders by identifying Chilton's signature. Prior to the war Pittman had been a teller at Michigan State Bank in Detroit at the same time Chilton was paymaster for the army. As paymaster, Chilton kept an account at the bank and Pittman was familiar with his signature from checks and account records.[xii]
McCLELLAN MOVES BASED ON ORDERS 191
McClellan received the orders by mid-day on September 13. At 3:00 p.m. he sent the orders to his cavalry chief, General Alfred Pleasanton and told him to find out if the Confederate movements in the orders had been followed. In a 6:20 p.m. message to VI Corps commander General William Buel Franklin, McClellan informed him about the orders and what he was able to discern about how closely they had been followed. McClellan also let Franklin know that Pleasanton had skirmished in Middletown and occupied the town. Also, Burnside's command, including Hooker's corps was marching that evening and early in the morning toward Boonsboro, followed by Sumner, Banks, and Sykes' division. He wanted Franklin to move at daybreak by way of Jefferson and Burkettsville toward Rohrersville. His intention was to cut the Confederate Army in two.[xiii]
McClellan undoubtedly was pleased to inform Lincoln, "I have the whole rebel force in front of me, but am confident, and no time shall be lost…I think Lee has made a gross mistake and that he will be severely punished for it … I hope for a great success if the plans of the Rebels remain unchanged… I have all the plans of the Rebels and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency…"[xiv]
Lee was surprised that the Union army was moving quicker than anticipated, and by McClellan's sudden change in tactics after the Union army arrived in Frederick. When Lee learned sometime after the Maryland Campaign about the lost orders he understood the change, saying, "to discover my whereabouts . . . and caused him to act as to force a battle on me before I was ready for it…I would have had all my troops reconcentrated . . . stragglers up, men rested and intended then to attack. "The importance of finding Orders 191 was increased by the delay in the fall of Harpers Ferry. Jackson's operation in Harpers Ferry was three days behind schedule. If Jackson had been on schedule, the finding of the orders would have been "old news" and of limited value to McClellan. The fact that Jackson was behind schedule and the operation still active made the orders invaluable information. McClellan moved his army quicker than the Confederates anticipated, forcing Lee into battles at South Mountain and Antietam instead of allowing him the opportunity to choose his own location and time.[xv]
The lost orders captured the attention of veterans after the Civil War and the circumstances surrounding the finding of the orders continue to be of interest to Civil War enthusiasts today. Historians have been left with the task of deciphering fact from fiction in what has been written about the orders, particularly with primary sources that in many cases are far removed from the actual event; some written 20 –40 years post-war. How well McClellan used this important information continues to be debated among historians; however, it is clear that McClellan sent orders to his commanders and moved his army quicker and with much more confidence about the Confederate army's location than he had up to that point in the campaign, surprising Lee with the swiftness of his movements, and thus halting Lee's plan. One can only imagine the excitement the soldiers of the 27th Indiana felt when they realized what they found in that field. Their find combined with the delay at Harpers Ferry changed the direction of the campaign and the war quite literally.