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
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
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.
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
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
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 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.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SPECIAL ORDERS 191
There are several commonly asked questions pertaining to Special Orders 191 that were not addressed in the main text of this article but are repeatedly asked, such as who lost the orders, who found it, and when did Lee know the orders had been lost?
One of the most intriguing mysteries of the Orders 191 story is who lost it. Orders were delivered in envelopes to be signed and returned to headquarters as a receipt that they had been received. When the envelope intended for D.H. Hill wasn't returned however, no alarm was raised at Lee's headquarters. Did a courier lose the orders? Did Chilton decide the copy of Orders191 did not need to be sent to D.H. Hill and discarded it? Or, did the orders reach Hill's camp, and were then lost?[xvi]
D.H. Hill became the obvious scapegoat since his name was on the orders. In fact, several stories circulated about how Hill came to lose the orders. One suggested the orders were found on a table at a house which served as Hill's headquarters in Frederick. Another tells of Hill throwing the orders down on the street. These stories are complete hearsay and are prime examples of the misinformation perpetuated about the loss of the orders. In 1868, Hill wrote of the wartime editor of the Richmond Examiner who had blamed him for the loss, "The harsh epithets he applies to me are unworthy of the dignity of the historian, and prove aprejudiced state of mind. Second, if I petulantly threw down the orders (as was claimed), I deserve not merely to be cashiered, but to be shot to death with musketry. General Lee, who ought to have known the facts . . . never brought me to trial for it. " In fact, when asked about Hill's guilt Lee said he "… did not know that General Hill had himself lost the dispatch and in consequence he had no ground upon which to act, but that General Stuart and other officers in the army were very indigent about the matter. "In Hill's defense, Major James W. Richford, his adjutant general, gave sworn testimony that it was part of his exclusive duty at the time to take custody of such papers, and no orders were delivered to him except the one from Jackson.[xvii]
Hill spent many years after the war defending himself against accusations that he lost the orders, explaining that he went into Maryland under Jackson's command and was under his command when Special Orders 191 was issued. Therefore, he knew he would receive his copy of the orders through Jackson and not Lee. He also understood the sensitive nature of the orders and pinned it securely in his inside pocket. He was able to produce his copy of the orders from Jackson after the war to prove he had it. Walker also secured his orders in his pocket. Longstreet said he thought about pinning it in his jacket, but instead memorized, it then "chewed it up!"[xviii]
Chilton's memory appears to have faltered in the matter; whether his was a case of selective memory or there were large cracks in administrative process due to the absence of Taylor and Marshall we may never know. In 1874, responding to former Confederate President Jefferson Davis' questions about the loss of the orders, Chilton said, "That omission to deliver in his (the courier's) case so important an orders w'd have been recollected as entailing the duty to advise its loss, to guard against its consequences, and to act as required . . . But I could not of course say positively that I had sent any particular courier to him (Hill) after such a lapse of time. "In 1887 Chilton admitted to Hill he didn't have paperwork to prove the receipt had not been returned to headquarters, except to say that if orders were missing it should have been noticed. Twenty-five years after the event, questions continued to circulate, but memories were fading. If Chilton discarded the orders realizing that Hill would receive his from Jackson, he never said so, nor did he remember which courier was sent to deliver the orders. Clearly, Chilton did not maintain proper administrative procedures inTaylor's absence. Hill and his adjutant remained adamant that the orders never entered their camp. Short of an admission of guilt squirreled away in an archive that has yet to be discovered, the guilty party may never be revealed.[xix]
WHO FOUND THE ORDERS?
After the war, Mitchell wrote letters to other participants in the campaign, including Bloss and Colgrove, and various government officials to gather necessary confirmation that he had been the one who found Special Orders 191, in order to petition Congress for recognition. When Mitchell died in January of 1868, his son, William Mitchell, continued the task with letters to McClellan and Colgrove. Colgrove acknowledged that Mitchell was the finder of the orders, but Mitchell never received Federal recognition.[xxi]
At the 27th Indiana Regimental Reunion in 1904, the issue of the lost orders was discussed among the surviving members Sergeant John McKnight Bloss and Private David B. Vance. Vance suggested that he picked up the package and gave it to Bloss while Mitchell merely picked up the cigars that fell out of the package. In 1905, Private Dariel Burrel, who was on the skirmish line with Company F, said he saw the envelope laying in the grass and weeds and picked it up at the same time that Bloss asked him to hand it to him. It passed over Mitchell and the cigars fellout, but Mitchell did not see the papers. Private William H. Hosteiter, of Company A, said he was on the extreme left of his company, just to the right of Company F, and he saw, "Sergeant Bloss with the envelope in his hand drawing a paper or papers out of it, he then and there read the contents . . . " He claimed no one but Bloss handled the letter. Later, Bloss and Vance seemed to have come to an agreement that Bloss was the finder and Mitchell had a smaller role, and then in another script change, Vance claimed in 1904 that he was the finder of the orders.[xxii]
Mitchell died in 1868 and could not defend his claim, but in the letter Bloss wrote thirteen days after the finding of the letter, he gave Mitchell credit for finding it:
WHEN DID LEE KNOW THE ORDERS WERE LOST
Lee contributed to some of the misinformation on this matter. In an 1868 letter to D.H. Hill, Lee said he knew on September 14 that McClellan had the orders directing the movement of his army, but it is clear from Lee's wartime correspondence that he did not know a copy of Orders 191 was in Union hands. In a September 16, 1862 letter to Davis, Lee gave no indication that he knew about the lost orders. There was also no mention in any wartime reports of Longstreet, D.H. Hill, or Stuart. In a 1867 letter to Hill, Lee's aid-de-camp, Colonel Charles Marshall noted, "I remember perfectly that until we saw that report (by McClellan) General Lee frequently expressed his inability to understand the sudden change in McClellan's tactics which took place after we left Frederick." The New York Herald did report on September 14 that Union officers had Lee's orders, and the same was reported in a Washington newspaper on the 15th, but it seems that Lee did not know about it until either January 1863 from an article in Journal of Commerce, (a weekly magazine out of New York) or in March 1863 when McClellan testified about the finding of the orders before the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of War.[xxv]
[i] Carman, Ezra, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Vol. 1:South Mountain, ed.Thomas G. Clemens, (New York, 2010), p. 111; Walker, John G. "Jackson's Capture of Harpers Ferry," Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, 4 vols. (Thomas Yoseloff, reprint, 1956), vol. 2, p. 605.
Last updated: April 10, 2015