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An Invitation to Battle: Special Orders 191

By NPS Ranger Tracy Evans

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.

Joe Ryan comments:

The statement that the document “gave [McClellan] crucial information about the location and future movement of [Lee’s] army” is not exactly accurate; not accurate for what Ranger Evans leaves out. The movement order informed McClellan that Lee’s army was divided into four columns: one, composed of Anderson’s and McLaws’ divisions, was operating in Pleasant Valley; another led by Jackson was at Martinsburg from which place it was to return to the Cumberland Valley; another led by Walker was in Loudoun County, VA; and the last was Longstreet’s command which was marching in the direction of Hagerstown, MD─with all commands to reunite behind the South Mountain by September 14th.

The ostensible objective necessitating the division of the Confederate army, was the capture of the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry. Any reasonable person, however, standing in McClellan’s shoes, would look at the map and immediately recognize that, if Lee’s objective was the capture of the ferry, his plan─as reflected in the order─was an objectively poor one: for the two Confederate divisions operating inside Pleasant valley could not possibly effect the capture of the ferry. The Potomac River was between them and the ferry, and their artillery, placed on top of Maryland Heights, could not possibly reach Bolivar Heights where the Union defenders’ fortifications were located. Nor did Walker’s division in Loudoun County add any weight to the scales; its ostensible function, according to the order, was to “capture” such of the Union defenders who might try and escape across the Shenandoah River to the east. The obvious Confederate force that might be sufficient to capture the ferry─Jackson’s─was, according to the order, supposed to return directly from Martinsburg to the Cumberland Valley and join with Longstreet’s command at Hagerstown or Boonesboro as circumstances required.

McClellan naturally would have assumed, therefore, that Lee’s true objective was his army; that Lee positioned his forces as he did in order to spring a trap upon McClellan as McClellan naturally would spur his whole force directly upon Crampton’s Gap in the South Mountain, in order to cross the Potomac at the foot of Pleasant Valley and relieve the Union garrison at the ferry. That, in fact, McClellan did assume this, is evident from the messages he sent to Halleck and Lincoln on September 13th. To Lincoln he wrote: “I have all the plans of the Rebels and will catch them in their own trap.”

The “trap” McClellan was thinking of, is the perception of danger to him, coming from the combination of Jackson and Longstreet attacking the right flank of his column─the attack coming from the direction of Turner’s Gap─as it marched across the Middletown Valley toward Crampton’s where its head would find the gap blocked by McLaws and Anderson supported by Walker.

As McClellan pondered the situation presented by Lee’s movement order, he sent Pleasanton’s cavalry out on the roads leading west from Frederick to verify the fact that the Confederate army had moved in the directions indicated by the order. When Pleasanton confirmed that Jackson had in fact crossed the Potomac at Williamsport, that a Confederate column had marched through Turner’s Gap in the direction of Hagerstown and that another column had marched through Crampton’s Gap into Pleasant Valley, McClellan decided to do exactly what most reasonably prudent generals would do under the circumstancs─march the main body of his army directly upon where, by virtue of the order, he expected the enemy to be strongest; Turner’s Gap. McClellan issued his movement orders at 6:30 p.m. on the 13th, and by early morning of the 14th his forces were in front of the South Mountain Gaps.


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.

            Joe Ryan comments:

Ranger Evans gives us here the standard story the civil war historians─led by James M. McPherson─tell students. That the story does not conform to objective reality is easy to see, if the objective facts are interposed for the historians’ myth-making. First, the undisputed fact that, in entering Maryland, Lee’s army numbered no more than 33,000 ragged, starving, shoeless soldiers hardly supports the statement Ranger Evans makes that “[Lee] believed he could win [a battle].” It is plain that Lee did intend, as Evans states, to draw the enemy into a battle somewhere, but “winning” it never for a moment could have been a thought entertained in Lee’s mind. A “check,” yes. A “win,” No.

From this supposed predicate of “winning,” Evans repeats McPherson’s lame mantra that Lee “hoped to damage Union morale and encourage antiwar sentiment in the North.” And that “he also hoped to encourage the European powers, particularly Great Britain, to recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation and intervene in the conflict.” What Lee “hoped” to do─the evidence is plain─was to induce the superior enemy force to stop pursuing him as he entered the Shenandoah Valley for the respite he desperately needed─a respite which would allow him to feed, clothe and reequip his exhausted army, and gather back into its folds the twenty-five thousand soldiers who had abandoned their comrades in the advance into Maryland

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.

            Joe Ryan comments:

“Cut area railroads to cut Washington off from the rest of the country?” Lee could and did cut the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad between Frederick and Martinsburg and he destroyed the railroad bridges spanning the Monocacy and Potomac. This hardly “cut” Washington off from the rest of the country.

From its original position on the Manassas Plain, Lee’s army could not remain where it was, because the land between the Rappahannock and Alexandria had been thoroughly stripped of all live stock, grain, and food, leaving the area a wasteland in which the army could not survive. The army had to move and Lee’s problem to solve was move where? The army could not advance to Arlington Heights, because it was now too weak to operate on the offensive. The army could not retreat behind the Rappahannock without telegraphing to the enemy that it was no longer an offensive threat. If the army moved directly west across the Blue Ridge into the Shenandoah Valley, where there was ample livestock and grain to support it, the enemy would naturally pursue it, which would make respite impossible. The only choice left was to create the impression that, contrary to reality, the army was still operating on the offensive, with Washington its objective, by marching to the valley indirectly─marching to it through Maryland. In doing this, at some point Lee’s army would have to check the enemy’s pursuit. Lee would have to find a battlefield in Maryland that fit his army’s reduced circumstances and draw the enemy somehow to it.

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

            Joe Ryan comments:

No, the “Confederate army” was not camped on the Best Farm. Its divisions were camped throughout the countryside surrounding Frederick, on the south, north, east and west sides of it. There is no objective evidence that established what elements of Lee’s army, if any, actually had camped “on the Best Farm.” Though the tradition is, that Lee’s HQ camp was set there.

 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]

            Joe Ryan comments:

Again, Ranger Evans adopts as her own James McPherson’s story that Lee’s “plan” was to “march north into Pennsylvania, where he could bring McClellan to battle on a field of his choosing.” This is silly. Having just told us how ragged and hungry Lee’s army was, Evans envisions it marching fifty miles into Pennsylvania to find the field upon which to fight McClellan, when an idiot would be hard-pressed not to see the field was right in front of Lee behind the Antietam.


When Lee and Jackson reached Frederick on September 5th, it is evident from the objective circumstances that they looked at the map and chose Sharpsburg as the place to check the enemy’s pursuit that would follow, when they abandoned Frederick at the enemy’s approach. Given the size of Lee’s army, it was objectively impossible for Lee to defend the line of the Monocacy against the enemy’s advance, because the enemy would advance in three columns on a twenty mile wide front. But, to stand on the defensive at Sharpsburg and receive the enemy’s attack required that the army have a secure line of retreat into the valley. The 1,200 man Union garrison, with fifty-six pieces of artillery, at Harper’s Ferry constituted a serious objective threat to the security of the line of retreat¸ because the garrison might block the road that passes through a gap in the hills on the right bank of the Potomac behind Sharpsburg, at least long enough to allow the enemy army to wreck havoc on Lee’s army before it could get across.


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 Order 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]

            Joe Ryan comments:

Ranger Evans, if she knows, should tell you that the reason Taylor was not present to “supervise the promulgation” of the orders, was that Lee ordered him to leave Frederick and go to Leesburg, effectively removing him from the scene. The “special order” that specified Taylor’s departure is, in fact, the copy of “Special Order 191” that was personally signed by Robert Chilton and sent to the Adjutant General Samuel Cooper’s office in Richmond, as required by Confederate staff regulations.

Special Order 191

“II Maj. Taylor will proceed to Leesburg. . . “ This order was copied by Asst. A.G., A.P. Mason, into Robert Chilton’s letterbook and it plainly contains Chilton’s actual signature.

There is no objective evidence that Lee ordered Chilton to “write and distribute his orders.” Chilton’s function was not to write and distribute Lee’s orders; that function belonged exclusively to Lee’s own HQ staff, a staff distinct from that of Chilton’s. Chilton was present at Lee’s headquarters as the agent of Samuel Cooper, the Adjutant General of the Confederate Army. However, it appears that Lee removed Taylor from the scene in order to control the manner in which the special order was to be created, and used Chilton’s signature, instead of Taylor’s, on the copies he sent to Cooper and sent to Davis.

There is no objective evidence that anyone on Lee’s staff wrote out seven copies of the order. There is evidence that Lee probably wrote the draft of the eight paragraph version of the order and gave it to Charles Marshall to copy, the copy made by Marshall eventually sent by Lee to President Davis. Lee probably had Marshall give the copy Marshall had made, to Chilton’s subordinate staff officer, A.P. Mason, to copy into Chilton’s letterbook.

Lee probably gave the draft to Jackson who copied it in his own hand-writing and gave the copy to his brother-in-law, D.H. Hill. Jackson possibly gave the draft to the Rev. Dr. John Ross, pastor of the Frederick First Presbyterian Church, and Ross dropped it in front of Union private Barton Mitchell on September 13th.

Chilton’s signature appears on the two paragraph version of the order

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 cross 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.

            Joe Ryan comments:

Ranger Evans misstates the text of the order. It does not say that Jackson is to “move toward Harper’s Ferry.” It says he is to move back to the Cumberland Valley after he does whatever he is to do at Martinsburg.

The civil war historians, not interested much in objective truth, fill the gap between what the text of the order states and the fact that, contrary to it, Jackson did not return directly to the Cumberland Valley but instead marched to the ferry, by reciting a statement found in a partial report ostensibly written by Jackson but produced by a relative, John Morrison, and filed after his death. In this report, Jackson states that, “by Lee’s verbal orders” he was directed to march upon the ferry. In a letter Lee wrote to D.H. Hill, in February 1868, Lee invokes this statement in Jackson’s report to explain how it happened that the written order McClellan received had been verbally changed at some point by Lee. A change of which McClellan was in the dark.

 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.

            Joe Ryan comments:

The language of the order reads, “endeavor to capture that place.” It is not a military reality that McLaws, with two divisions on the left bank of the Potomac, could capture the Union garrison situated at Bolivar Heights on the right bank.

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.

            Joe Ryan comments:

Walker was to block the garrison from crossing the Shenandoah River and escaping east along the right bank of the Potomac.

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 or Hagerstown, 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.

            Joe Ryan comments:

Ranger Evans is parroting the cobbled together story the civil war historians feed students, for which there is little objective evidence. The facts are that a copy of the order was sent by courier to Walker who, on the 9th, was camped at the mouth of the Monocacy River; the practice was that a courier be used to transmit orders to detached forces, but for forces camped together the practice was that each division adjutant was responsible to go to Lee’s HQ and pick up their copies.

Colonel Robert Chilton was present on Lee’s staff in Maryland as an agent of the Army Adjutant General. His job was as an oversight, to maintain for the AG a record of movement orders issued by Lee’s HQ staff. There is no evidence he wrote anything. There is evidence his subordinate officer, A.P. Mason, did the writing and this writing was confined to Mason writing the two paragraph order sending Taylor to Leesburg, and copying the eight paragraph order written in Marshall’s hand into Chilton’s letterbook, a letterbook that eventually was deposited with the AG office in Richmond.

For whatever reason, Marshall labeled the copy he wrote (presumably copied from the draft) as “Special Order 190.” So, from Chilton’s point of view, he signed a two paragraph order labeled 191 first, and then an eight paragraph order labeled 190. His subordinate, A.P. Mason, when he copied the latter document into Chilton’s letterbook added the eight paragraphs to the two paragraphs of the Special Order 191 that he had previously copied into the book, making S.O. 191 now appear to be ten paragraphs. (The letterbook, on the page before S.O. 191, has a two paragraph special order labeled 190.) So, it is obvious, here, that Lee controlled the manner and timing in which the two orders were created, and Chilton, in signing them, did not have anything to do with how they were transmitted.

The “file copy” Evans refers to as being delivered to Jefferson Davis was, in fact, written by Lee’s staff officer, Charles Marshall, and was included with a letter Lee sent Davis from Hagerstown on September 13, 1862. It was not a “file copy.” “File copies” go to the Adjutant General, not to the President. The only “file copy” of Special Order 191 that was sent to the Adjutant General’s office is that document shown above. Why include it with a letter to Davis? First, by not sending it to Cooper, Lee kept the AG’s office in the dark; second, by sending it to Davis, Lee knew Davis─a soldier in his own right─would realize what Lee meant to do.

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]

            Joe Ryan comments:

“Chilton took it upon himself to pencil Hill a copy as well.” There is no objective evidence that Chilton took it upon himself to pencil Hill a copy. The only “penciled” copy of the order in existence is McClellan’s copy maintained by the Library of Congress. It is not written in Chilton’s hand.

Ranger Evans again misstates the reality, because she is merely parroting the historians’ party line. Independent objective thinking is not in evidence here. Whether D.H. Hill was, in fact, under Jackson’s command at the time the order was delivered is a fact not in evidence. Both officers commanded independent divisions at this time; both crossed the Potomac at different places and at different times. Hill camped northwest of Frederick, Jackson camped southeast of Frederick. If, in fact, Hill was recognized by Lee’s HQ as “under Jackson’s command,” there would be no reason why that staff would sent Hill a copy of the order by courier. Hill’s staff would get their copy of the order by going to Jackson’s HQ and picking it up. In the event, Hill did not operate under Jackson’s command at any time; Jackson marched from Frederick, with his command, on the 10th; Hill marched from Frederick as the army’s rear guard on the 10th.

The story that Hill was “under” Jackson is used by the historians to explain why Jackson would sit down at a desk and spend at least an hour of his time writing out in long hand the text of the order McClellan received,  for the purpose of personally handing it to his brother-in-law, D.H. Hill. Jackson had staff officers whose function it was to spend their time writing out copies of orders. The idea that Jackson would do it is ridiculous, unless there was something special about the situation that induced Jackson to do the unusual.

This, of course, is a crucial factual matter to establish in the evidence. D.H. Hill was not liked by Lee¸ and it is reasonably clear that Lee did not intend to keep Hill in the reorganized Army of Northern Virginia, and, as a consequence, it is obvious that Lee chose to make Hill the goat. Some general officer’s name had to be included in the order so that the document would have credibility as an authentic movement order. Since Lee and Jackson could anticipate that at some future point the “loss” of the order would become publicly known, Jackson decided to give Hill the means of defending himself against the charge, he had carelessly allowed a copy of the order to be lost. And so Jackson sat down and wrote out in his own hand, copying from Lee’s draft of the order, a copy for Hill; and he delivered this copy personally to Hill; and Hill¸ instead of filing it away with the rest of his official HQ papers, had it sent to his wife in North Carolina for safe keeping. These are the undisputed facts and they point to the reasonable inference that, when he received the order from Jackson, Jackson said enough to put Hill on notice he had better save it.

Jackson’s handwritten copy given to Hill

Thus, if an order was in fact lost, in the ordinary course of staff business, it must have been a paper carried by someone from Lee’s HQ to Hill’s. As McPherson says, “a sloppy courier” lost it. But this hardly makes sense. The distance from Lee’s HQ to Hill’s could not have been much more than four or five miles. The courier “loses” the paper along the way in the dark. He certainly realizes this. What does he do? Pretend he delivered it? No. He returns to Lee’s HQ and gets another copy and completes his duty. It is ridiculous for the historians to argue otherwise.

There are many stories of how the order got lost. Hill threw it angrily on the ground in petulance. Hill left it lying on a table when he marched away from Frederick. Then we have a nephew of Jackson coming up with a wholly different story, in 1922, which was published in the Confederate Veteran.


In Arnold’s version of the story, we have Arnold saying Rosser said twenty-five years earlier that Rosser knows who lost it but can’t say; and we have Arnold changing the scenario from Lee’s careless courier lost it, to Jackson’s did. (It seems Sears has adopted Arnold’s story as his own.)


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]

            Joe Ryan comments:

McClellan moved “cautiously” as he pushed his vast army─in three columns─westward toward Frederick, because he expected Lee to be moving eastward to attack him. McClellan’s experience with Lee was that Lee, reckless to a fault, threw frontal assaults at him, from Beaver Dam Creek to Malvern Hill. McClellan had no way to know that, by the time Lee had driven off Pope and had moved toward the Potomac to cross into Maryland, his army had dwindled down to almost nothing.

On September 12, the day before Special Order 191 was found, McClellan was still unsure of the Confederate movements after their occupation of Frederick. Union General Ambrose Burnside, on the right wing of the Union army, entered Frederick on the 12th, from the direction of the National Road and skirmished with the Stuart’s cavalry on Patrick Street in Frederick and between that place and the Jug Bridge.

            Joe Ryan comments:

Ranger Evans ignores reality again. At 10:00 a.m., on the 12th, McClellan wrote Halleck: “. . . the enemy has abandoned Frederick moving in two directions. Viz. on the Hagerstown and Harper Ferry roads.” To his wife, Mary Ellen, McClellan wrote at 3:00 p.m. on the 12th: “From all I can gather secesh is skedadelling and I don’t think I can catch him unless he is really moving into Penna. . . I begin to think that he is making off to get out of the scrape by recrossing the Potomac River at Williamsport─in which case my only chance of bagging him will be to cross lower down and cut into his communications near Winchester. He evidently don’t want to fight me, for some reason or other.”

This is exactly What Lee Does Not Want McClellan to Do.

On the 13th, as the remainder of the Union army came up to Frederick, McClellan's luck changed when soldiers of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry found the lost orders. [viii]

            Joe Ryan comments:

“When soldiers. . . found the lost order.” No, when Private Barton Mitchell found the order. He was stacking arms with his comrades at an unknown location, somewhere on the east side of Frederick, about a mile from the city streets, when he noticed laying on the ground cigars wrapped in a piece of paper. He bent down, picked the package up and, in separating the paper from the cigars, realized the paper was a Confederate order. He brought the document to Sergeant John M. Bloss and the two of them brought it, after showing it to Captain Kop, to Colonel Colgrove. Colgrove caused it to be delivered to 12th corps HQ where it was seen by General A. Williams who caused it to be sent in an envelope to McClellan’s HQ.


McClellan’s Copy 


            Joe Ryan comments:

General Lee did in fact injure his hands in some unclear manner, when, just after the Battle of Second Manassas, his horse Traveller lunged catching Lee’s hands in the reins and either spraining them or facturing a bone in a finger. Exactly what the extent of the injury was is not known. Lee does appear to have had one or both of his hands wrapped, and perhaps wore a splint. He traveled for a time in a wagon, but appears also, if Longstreet is to be believed, to have ridden his horse in Maryland. The handwriting shown on McClellan’s copy might be Lee’s. McClellan’s copy is plainly a draft written in pencil.

President Davis’s copy written in Charles Marshall’s hand

 Note that, like the copy send to Cooper, this copy is, in fact, signed by Chilton.

Soldiers on a skirmish line from Company F, 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, found Special Order 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 InThe War of the Rebellion 1861-1865, and soldiers’ 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 day before 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]

            Joe Ryan comments:

All of the above is silliness; personalities with varying interests looking at the situation from their self-serving point of view. In fact, John Bloss wrote a letter to Mitchell on September 25, 1862, acknowledging that it was Mitchell who found the order. Bloss wrote to Mitchell’s relative some ten years later, saying he remembered Mitchell found it, but couldn’t remember much else. Colonel Colgrove, in 1867, provided Mitchell with a “certificate” in which he states it was Mitchell who found the order and brought it to him. What Bloss manufactured in his dotage, in the 1890s, hardly justifies the title of “evidence.”

What remains to establish is who dropped the order on the ground in front of Mitchell as he was stacking arms, and who carried the news McClellan had it to Fitz Lee waiting north of Frederick on the Emmitsburg Road.

Rev. Dr. John Ross

Once discovered, Order 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]

            Joe Ryan comments:

Ranger Evans blindly follows the party line. Chilton’s signature is not found on McClellan’s copy of the order. The fact that Pittman may have represented to his fellow officers that he thought the writing of Chilton’s name was, in fact, Chilton’s signature does not change the objective undisputed reality that Chilton’s signature is not on the order. In fact, a comparison of the hand-writing of the order with exemplars of the writing of all involved officers fails to disclose a definitive match with any of them, except perhaps for Lee’s.


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  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]

            Joe Ryan comments:

McClellan could not possibly have thought he could “cut the enemy army in two.”

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.

            Joe Ryan comments:

There is no evidence that Lee “was surprised that the Union army was moving quicker than anticipated.”

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. "

            Joe Ryan comments:

There is no objective evidence that Lee actually said the words Evans puts in his mouth.

The importance of finding Order 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]

            Joe Ryan comments:

Though the order speaks of the ferry being captured by the morning of the 13th, this was not factually possible for Lee to believe would in fact happen. The date was inserted in the text of the order for McClellan to mull when he arrived at Frederick on the 13th and found the order.

Jackson’s line of march, sweeping west to cross the river at Williamsport, then turn east toward Martinsburg and then marching toward the ferry, meant that he could not possibly arrive at the ferry until the night of the 13th or the morning of the 14th, at which point he would have to get an attack organized against the bastion of Boliver Heights, a practically impossible undertaking.

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.

            Joe Ryan comments:

A good place for Ranger Evans to start, is to sit down in the National Archives and examine the original copies of the order found there. Something no historian in 150 years has taken the time to do. Matching syntax from one document to another, the order in which the various copies were made can be reasonably discerned.


There are several commonly asked questions pertaining to Special Order 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 Order 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 Order191 did not need to be sent to D.H. Hill and discarded it? Or, did the order reach Hill's camp, and were then lost? [xvi]

            Joe Ryan comments:

Orders were not routinely “delivered in envelopes.” Routinely, adjutants of the respective divisions walked or rode to army HQ and picked up their copies of movement orders personally. If a division was detached from the army a courier would be sent and an envelope might be used. An “envelope” as it was understood in 1862, was ordinarily a piece of paper folded. In this case, there is no evidence that, in fact, an order was prepared by Lee’s staff, and given to a courier charged with the duty to deliver it to Hill. The handling of the order was exclusively in the control of General Lee; beginning with the penciled draft which ended up in McClellan’s hands, Lee used Marshall to create a copy, which he labeled “190,” and had this copy copied into Chilton’s letterbook by adding its text of eight paragraphs to the two paragraphs of Special Order 191 already copied into the book, a “file copy” of which had already been sent by courier to Richmond.

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 prejudiced 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 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 in Taylor'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]


 Among the many questions associated with the lost orders is the matter of who found it. Corporal Barton Warren Mitchell is most often attributed as the finder, and appears to be the one who physically picked up the orders. However, there were several soldiers who were present when it was found, and when the story was retold through the years the finder changed numerous times. [xx]

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:

Corporal Mitchell was very fortunate at Frederick. He found General Lee's plan of attack on Md and what each division of his army was to do. I was with him when he found it and read it first. I seen its importance and took it to the Col. He immediately took it to General Gordon, he said it was worth a Mint of Money & sent it to General McClellan. [xxiii]

In different accounts, various individuals were given credit for finding the orders; however, the simple answer is that Mitchell and several other soldiers on the skirmish line were probably all involved.


 When exactly Lee knew McClellan had a copy of his orders is also a difficult issue. A popular story circulated that when McClellan received the orders he was meeting with a delegation of men from Frederick. Among these men was a sympathizer who told Confederate Major General Jeb Stuart that McClellan had the orders. Perhaps a civilian was present who saw that there was excitement and movement in the Union camp; however, there is no conclusive evidence that Confederates were alerted to the fact that the Union had the orders. [xxiv]

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.

            Joe Ryan comments:

Lee wrote down on paper the fact that he knew by the night of the 13th that McClellan had the order, the word coming to him from Fitz Lee through Stuart. Yet Ranger Evans simply makes the statement disappear with the assertion that “Lee contributed to some of the misinformation on this matter.” Let’s be ostrich-like and pretend Lee did not admit it.

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. (So What?)

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." (So what? A felon feigns ignorance.)

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.

 [ii] Carman, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, p.93; Harsh, Joseph L, Taken At The Flood, Robert E. Lee & Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862, (Kent State University, 1999), p. 125.

 [iii] Walker, "Jackson's Capture of Harpers Ferry," p. 606.

 [iv] Taylor, Walter H., "That Lost Dispatch," Confederate Veteran, Vol. XXX (Harrisburg, 1922), p. 345.

 [v] Special Orders 191 (September 9, 1862), George McClellan Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 Volumes (Washington D.C.:1880-1901), vol. 19, Pt. 2, p. 144-145,(hereinafter abbreviated as "OR").

[vi] Jones, Wilber Jr., "Who Lost the Lost Orders? Stonewall Jackson, His Courier, and Special Orders No. 191," Civil War Regiments: A Journal of the American Civil War, Vol. 5, No. 3, (1997), p.3.

[vii] Carman, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, p. 181, 190.

 [viii] OR 19,pt. 2, p. 42, 270; Sears, Stephen W. , Landscape Turned Red, the Battle of Antietam, (New York, 1983), p. 110-111.

 [ix] Carman, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, p. ix, x; Brown, E.R., The Twenty-Seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1865, First Division 12th and 20th Corps,(Gaithersburg, MD, 1899), p. 228, 580.

 [x] Mattern, H.W. (Assistant Engineer, Gettysburg National Park, commissioned by Ezra Ayers Carman), Theatre of Operations, Maryland Campaign, 8 maps (1898), Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, September 12 and 13, 1862; Spaulding, Brett, "The Lost Order," (interpretive files at Monocacy National Battlefield, 2004); Jacob Engelbrecht, Diary of Jacob Engelbrecht,1858-1878, vol. 3 (Frederick, MD, 2001)[

 [xii] Jones, Wilber Jr. The 27th Indiana infantry, Giants in the Cornfield, (Shippensburg, PA, 1997), p. 231; Colgrove, General Silas, "The Finding of Lee's Lost Order," Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, 4vols. (Thomas Yoseloff, reprint, 1956), vol. 2, p. 603.

 [xiii] OR 19, pt. 2, p. 45, 48; Sears, Landscape Turned Red, p. 118.

 [xiv] OR 19, pt. 2, p. 281.

 [xv] Sears, Stephen W., Controversy and Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac, (New York, 2000), p. 125.

[xvi] Ibid,p. 111.

[xvii] Walker, "Jackson's Capture of Harpers Ferry," p. 607; Jones, "Who Lost the Lost Orders," p. 4; Avery, Hon. A.C., "Memorial Address on the Life and Character of Lieut. General D.H. Hill, Before the Ladies Memorial Association, at Raleigh, NC., May 10, 1893, Southern historical Society Papers, (reprint, New York, 1977), p. 135.

[xviii] Jones, "Who Lost the Lost Orders," p. 4; Walker, "Jackson's Capture of Harpers Ferry, "p. 607.

[xix] Datzman, Richard Carroll, Who Found Lee's Lost Dispatch, (Antietam National Battlefield Library, February 3, 1973); Jones, "Who Lost the Lost Orders," p.4.

 [xx] Bloss, John McKnight, Letter written from the barn hospital at Antietam (Bloss Family Papers, September 25, 1862); Report of Committee appointed by Association of the 27th Regiment of Indiana Volunteer Infantry; Colgrove, "The Finding of Lee's Lost Order," p. 603

 [xxi] Mitchell, Barton, letter to John Bloss, 1867, Correspondence with Ohio Congressman Robert Coming Schenck, chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs, April 1 0 June 30, 1867, Mitchell Family Papers, correspondence with Col. Silas Colgrove, March –December, 1886, (Mitchell Family Collection).

[xxii] "Statement and Affidavits of proof concerning the Lost Order of General Lee," Report of Committee appointed by Association of the 27th Regiment of Indiana Volunteer Infantry,(Indianapolis, Indiana, 1905-1906).

 [xxiii] Datzman, Who Found Lee's Lost Dispatch, p.1-2;Boss, Letter written from barn hospital at Antietam.

 [xxiv] Sears, Landscape Turned Red, p. 113.

 [xxv] Sears, Controversy and Commanders, p. 123, 125;Carman, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, p. 293;Sears, Landscape Turned Red, p. 114

Note: Ranger Evans intentionally ignored D.H. Hill’s article, The Lost Dispatch published in the magazine The Land We Love, in February 1868; the manuscripts of E.C. Gordon and William Allan in which they claim to reproduce conversations held with General Lee at or near the time he received a copy of Hill’s article; and the letter Lee wrote (or someone for him) to D.H. Hill in reply.

Postscript for the Serious Student

For those interested in getting to the bottom of the Lost Order story, the starting point must be to determine who wrote the copy of the order that Barton Mitchell found. Ostensibly the Library of Congress has possession of this document, but the chain of custody is long and there are gaps in it that require leaps of faith that, in fact, what the Library possesses, is what Barton Mitchell found. The chain is Mitchell to McClellan; McClellan to his son, the son to the Library. Points in the chain that raise questions of breaks in the chain are, first, whether McClellan held on to the order, from the point he received it to the point he died; second, did his executor, Mr. Prim, faithfully preserve the order or did he replace it with a copy; and third, if Prim did preserve it, did it remain un-tampered with during the twenty-five years it sat in a trunk in a warehouse until the trunk was retrieved by McClellan’s son and handed to the Library of Congress?

Because the Library’s copy plainly looks like a draft rather than a finished product, it seems reasonable to conclude that had someone exchanged the original for a fraud, the fraud would not look like a draft. In addition, the fact is that the syntax of the sentence ending paragraph six, found in McClellan’s and D.H. Hill’s copies, differs from the syntax found in Davis’s and Chilton’s letterbook copy.

McClellan’s Copy

“. . . Genl Jackson in intercepting the retreat of the enemy.” 

Davis’s Copy

“. . . Genls McLaws & Jackson & intercept retreat of the enemy.” 

From the fact of the difference in syntax between the two groups of copies, it is reasonable to conclude that either Charles Marshall was copying the Davis copy from a document other than McClellan’s copy, or in copying the text of McClellan’s copy─it being the original draft copy of the document─Marshall chose to change the syntax, perhaps as a marker which he could later use to identify other copies that were copied from his, or to establish that other copies which might materialize in the future were not copied from his. Or, it is possible Marshall simply decided his choice of syntax was better than the syntax the drafter had used. But Marshall’s role as scribe was not to play editor. Still, it is a small change, with little consequence to the meaning the sentence gives the reader.

What we can say with definitiveness is that Jackson copied from the draft, because the syntax in both is identical, and that A.P. Mason copied from Marshall’s because the syntax in both is identical. This implies that the drafter stood at the center of a circle and handed his draft to Jackson and then handed the draft to Marshall and then had Marshall’s copy, before it was sent to Davis, handed to A.P. Mason who copied it into Chilton’s letterbook.

The difference between the number Marshall used for his copy and the number the drafter used also cannot be ignored, as the difference accounts for the drafter’s ability to hide the text of paragraphs III through X from Cooper, leaving Cooper thinking his office had received its file copy of Special Order 191 when in fact it hadn’t. It also accounts for the fact that, while Chilton’s signature appears on Cooper’s file copy of Special Order 191 in its two paragraph form, and Chilton’s signature appears on Marshall’s eight paragraph form, labeled 190, the signature does not appear on any eight paragraph copy of Special Order 191 as received by McClellan.

Finally, it is fact that McClellan’s copy has an embossed stationers stamp for the Platner & Porter Manufacturing Co, but no other paper which is part of Lee’s preserved HQ staff records of the time contains this stamp. Though the evidence is that Custis Lee wrote his biography of his grandfather on the same Platner & Porter paper stock.

Applying these principles to the case at hand, it is reasonably clear that McClellan’s copy was not written by Jackson, Stuart, Marshall, Taylor, Venable, or Chilton, though it certainly ought to have been written by one of them, especially one of Lee’s staff officers, if it is authentic. This leaves General Lee as a suspect and close examination and study of his writing style does give rise to the suggestion it was he who wrote McClellan’s copy.

A word about the handwriting. There is no such thing as an “expert” in handwriting.Being able to guess right more times than not, the identity of the writer is purely a function of how many hours you invest in comparing characteristics of the script found in the example you are studying. Find a feature of style in the writing and compare that feature to other known samples to find a match, keeping in mind that handwriting is different, though written by the same person, if he uses a pencil vs a pen, and if the two samples are close in time or distant cousins.

To the extent the match is questionable, the explanation for the ambiguity may lie in the fact that Lee was using pencil and that he had in some not clearly understood way injured all or part of his hands shortly before the draft was written. If, in fact, McClellan’s copy is not written in Lee’s hand, then the conclusion must be that the document was written by an unknown person, a person not connected to Lee or Lee’s HQ staff. But what convinces it probably was Lee, is how the text of the order when read and compared to the map would tend to lead the reader to react in the manner McClellan did; hardly can reasonable people call this coincidence.




General Lee’s Letter to Davis in 1863. 

Did Lee Write the Lost Order?

Joe Ryan