soldier with rifle american civil warSpecial Order 191


Ryan Slammed By New York Times Opinionator

Lee's Lost Order 191





Fact Check


Leigh's story is a fairy tale, sprung from his imagination rather from the solidity of the primary evidence he has enthusiastically gone out of his way to ignore. Let's check the facts to be sure.


Leigh's Story



Ryan's Comment


The actual number of rebel infantry that probably reached Frederick is not "40,000 to 50,000;" but rather about 38,000. Walter Taylor, General Lee's adjutant at the time ought to recognized as the most authoritative witness to opine the probable number. In 1869, Taylor wrote Charles Marshall, Lee's military secretary, in 1862, this:





Mr. Leigh's statement of Lee's number, you can see, is a classic example of civil war writers, however enthusiastic they may be, failing to roll up their sleeves and drill down to the primary evidence and use it as the basis of their case.

Note: Another primary source of evidence, as to Lee's numbers, can be found in a memorandum William Allan claims he made shortly after the event, which records a conversation Allan says he had with General Lee in February 1868, at Lexington. In the memorandum, Allan records the number of 35,000 as the number of troops Lee had available at Antietam. The memorandum is in the William Allan Papers, Wilson Library, UNC.


More audacious is Leigh's pontification, his assertion of General Lee's state of mind.



Let's sift fact from fantasy here:


1.         Given the documented exhaustion of Lee's army, after Second Manassas, there is no question but that the Washington fortifications were too strong for Lee to attack directly. Charles Marshall, Lee's military secretary at the time, confirmed this, when he wrote in 1877: "What was General Lee to do? His army could not be maintained where it was, and even if it could have remained there, it was not possible to make a direct attack upon Washington. . . " (Charles Marshall, Aide de Camp to General Lee, Little, Brown & Co. 1927.)


2.         Lee hoped to lure [entice?] McClellan into the open where he could have a fair fight to the finish on Northern soil? Isn't it easy for a writer to mix a little reality with silliness?  By retiring from Frederick on September 10th, and moving west across the South Mountain, Lee naturally expected that the enemy army would follow him. Here is what McClellan said to Lincoln on September 13th: "I have the whole rebel force in front of me. . . The army is in motion as rapidly as possible. . . Will send you trophies." (Rebellion Record, Vol 19, Part II, p. 281.)


But that Lee might reasonably have expected to have a "fair fight in the open to the finish," hardly matches the reality. The last thing a general in Lee's shoes would want is a "fair fight in the open." When Lee left Frederick he knew where he was going, he was going to Sharpsburg where the closeness of the folds of the Potomac would allow him to present a front which, with a little luck, the small number of his infantry might be able to defend against the enemy's attacks. How any reasonable person could seriously think Lee expected the battle to be the finish of the Union army escapes understanding altogether.


3.         Lee reasoned that his army could march into Pennsylvania, but to do that he had to capture Harper's Ferry in order to protect his supply line. Silliness. Let's see.


Lee has about 38,000 soldiers to face off against say 85,000 Union soldiers. The Union soldiers have just marched out from Washington, after having thoroughly rested themselves and supplied themselves with all the military equipment and supplies the Lincoln Government was capable of providing. According to Lee, his army is in this condition: "The army is not properly equipped for an invasion of an enemy's territory. It lacks much of the material of war, is feeble in transportation, the animals being much reduced, and the men are poorly provided with cloths, and in thousands of instances are destitute of shoes." (Lee to Davis, Sept. 3, 1862.) Does this sound as if Lee would seriously reason that his army could march into Pennsylvania?

Moving into Pennslyvania not an option
McClellan Lee Movement Map

So, then, why the clap trap from Mr. Leigh here? Because civil war writers generally manufacture for General Lee an explanation for why he moved forces to capture Harper's Ferry as he moved with Longstreet's divisions toward Boonesboro and Hagerstown. To protect his "supply line?" No, to protect his line of retreat from Sharpsburg. No one wants to face the fact that, from the get go, General Lee was maneuvering to fight a defensive battle behind Antietam Creek.


Leigh's Story Continues



Ryan's Comment


Like most historians and civil war writers, Mr. Leigh cannot read words on the page accurately; he rewrites the written record to suit his story line. Here is McClellan's copy of Special Order 191.




1.         The order does not state that "Jackson would get two thirds of the troops to capture Harper's Ferry." The order plainly states that Jackson is to have nothing to do with the operation against Harper's Ferry, that task is left by the order to McLaws to accomplish, in cooperation with Walker and Anderson. The order instructs Jackson to march to Martinsburg and then return to Maryland. McClellan, reading this, recognized instantly two things: first, it would be impossible for McLaws to capture Harper's Ferry and, second, that Jackson would probably be behind the South Mountain when the Union army marched forth from Frederick. As McClellan put it to Lincoln on September 13th: "We have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency." (O.R. Vol. 19, Part II, p. 281.)


2.         The fact that Lee spilt his army into several parts did not create any serious risk that one piece might be overwhelmed by the enemy before it could concentrate with the other pieces. Get in your car and drive the roads to see. If Lee's piece was in danger of being overwhelmed by the enemy, it could easily get over the Potomac at a number of places (Boteler's Ford, Shepherdstown, Williamsport) and unite with Jackson's piece. If Jackson was at risk to be overwhelmed by the enemy, his piece could easily retreat toward Winchester as Lee's piece came across the river to join him. In Lee's mind, as in any reasonable general's, the matter was simply about time, distance, and numbers.


3.         No reasonable general in Lee's circumstances could possibly have expected that, in fact, Harper's Ferry would be captured by September 13. Special Order 191 reads in relevant part: "IV. General McLaws. . . will by Friday morning possess himself of Maryland Heights and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harper's Ferry." From a cold, objective point of view, there was no reasonable chance that McLaws could overwhelm the 12,000 men garrison holding Bolivar Heights, however many days he was given to do it. McClellan knew this as soon as he read the order and assumed immediately that the rebel movement was designed as a means to "trap" him.


General Lee was gambling that, if McClellan could be enticed (lured) into thinking the "main body" of the rebel army was behind the South Mountain, cooperating with Jackson on its flank, he would decide to march his main body in the direction of Boonesboro instead of in the direction of Harper's Ferry, and as a consequence Jackson, who Lee had verbally instructed to attack Harper's Ferry, might just possibly be able to neutralize the garrison in time to meet the brunt of McClellan's force at Sharpsburg. Here's how Lee put it to Davis, on Sept. 13, as McClellan was reading the lost order: "I wish your views of [the army's] operations could be realized, but so much depends upon circumstances beyond its control. . . that it is difficult for me to conjecture the result. To look to the safety of our own frontier and to operate untrammeled in the enemy's territory. . .is very difficult. Every effort, however, will be made to acquire every advantage which our position and means may warrant." (O.R. Vol. 19, Part II, p. 605-606.)


4.         The only thing preventing McClellan from taking advantage of Lee's temporary weakness was that he was unaware of it? Leigh plainly is not talking about the fact that McClellan's forces grossly outnumbered Lee's, is he? Because that weakness was certainly not "temporary." Leigh is obviously talking about the fact that Lee's forces are split. But, as already made clear, that to McClellan was not a weakness but a threat.


Leigh's Story Continues



Ryan's Comment


1.         Mitchell found a bulky envelope on the ground outside a recently vacated Confederate camp." Setting aside the fact there is no evidence that the order was found on the site of a Confederate camp, Leigh has adopted the story line of Stephen Sears which is covered already at length. It is for the jury to decide which witness offers credibility of more convincing force than the other—John Bloss or Silas Colgrove. If the objective circumstances are taken into consideration, Silas Colgrove's statement, which excludes the existence of a "bulky envelope," ought to give the jury a great deal of pause before accepting the statement of Bloss which introduces the envelope into Civil War history.


2.         Mr. Leigh obviously has not paid much attention to the plain undisputed fact that McClellan's copy of the order is not signed by Robert Chilton. Compare the handwriting of the "R.H. Chilton" that is written at the bottom of the order with Chilton's documented signature contained on another copy of the same order.


The Lost Order "R.H. Chilton"



Chilton's Actual Signature



Leigh's Story Continues



Ryan's Comment


The poor guy can't get even the simplest fact straight. There are not three copies of the order that have survived there are five.


* The two paragraph version of the order, signed by Chilton and sent to the Adjutant General's Office in Richmond. This document, part of the wagon train Sherman captured at Goldsboro, is in the possession of the National Archives.


* The eight paragraph version of the order, in the handwriting of Charles Marshall, and signed by Chilton, and sent with Lee's letter to Davis dated September 12, 1862 from Hagerstown. This document was given by Bernard Baruch, along with others, to the Virginia State Library, in 1949.


* The ten paragraph version of the order, in the handwriting of A.P. Mason, Chilton's subordinate, in Chilton's letterbook. The letterbook was eventually placed in the records of the Adjutant General's Office, was placed in a wagon train in 1865 and the train was captured by Sherman.


* The copy of the order written in the hand of Stonewall Jackson and given to D.H. Hill. This document is in the possession of the North Carolina State Archives.


* McClellan's copy of the order is in the possession of the Library of Congress.


Leigh's Story Continues



Ryan's Comment


This paragraph is nonsense, manufactured conclusions out of whole cloth. The civil war writers all say something like this to explain away the obvious incredulity in Hill supposedly being sent two copies of the order. As I explain elsewhere on the site, in the trial court a reasonable explanation can be found by concentrating on the facts.


Lee and Jackson together devised the ruse of handing McClellan the order as a means of inducing him to do exactly the opposite of what any reasonable general in his shoes would do; upon learning that the enemy columns had crossed the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley―pursue them by marching through Harper's Ferry. Lincoln wired McClellan on the 12th: "information. . . corroborates the idea that the enemy is recrossing the Potomac. Please do not let him get off without being hurt."


Because D.H. Hill was his brother-in-law, and, perhaps, because Lee did not like him, Jackson chose Hill as the general to identify as the recipient of the order. The identification intended to give the order the appearance of authenticity. Both men knew that, if the consequence of doing this turned out to be a disaster, and the lost order found its way into the public print, Hill would be roughly handled. So, to give Hill a means of defending himself, Jackson wrote out a copy, using McClellan's copy as the template, and gave it to Hill. Given the manner in which Hill handled the order—he claims to have taken special pains to keep the document in his personal possession, rather than leave it where it belonged, in his HQ's official records―it is obvious, in 1862, he had some inkling of what was happening to him.


There is no evidence in the record that supports Leigh's claim that "Lee earlier directed Chilton to send a copy to Hill." The text of two letters Chilton sent to Davis can be read in Volume VII of the Papers of Jefferson Davis. the first is dated December 7, 1874 and reads in relevant part: "Respecting my recollections of the affair at South Mountain, you are aware that a confidential general order was issued from headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia, while at Leesburg and distributed to all division commanders. . . " Mr. Leigh ignores the fact that Chilton, in 1874, had not accurately remembered where the order was issued. The second letter, surprisingly, is dated the next day, December 8, 1874. It reads in relevant part:

"That lost order has been a sore subject with D.H. Hill. Not having kept a journal, I could but give my recollections, i.e., that the orders were sent to all division commanders, his at the Monocacy, that couriers were required to bring back envelopes or evidences of delivery, failure in doing this leading to a duplicate order to ensure its receipt...."

Leigh ignores the fact that Chilton's "recollection," here, was clearly wrong. But the error shines a light on the probable truth of the matter. As Charles Marshall stated in his letter to Hill on the same subject, movement orders were sent by courier to division commanders who were operating at the time as a detached  force. D.H. Hill's division was not, in fact, such a force; only Walker's division was detached at the time the order was issued at Frederick. Walker was at the mouth of the Monocacy and, thus, to the extent Chilton actually remembered that a courier was sent with the order, he had forgotten, if he ever actually knew, that the courier was sent to Walker, not to Hill.


Leigh's Story Continues



Ryan's Comment


Leigh manufactures the fact that "Hill learned (from McClellan) the lost order was found inside an envelope." Here is the only letter in existence from McClellan to Hill. The letter is in photostat form and does not make a readable image, so I quote it.


                                                                        Trenton, NJ, Feb. 1, 1869

My dear General:


"I have no recollection as to the particulars of the manner in which the order came into my possession; it was brought to me by my staff as having been found by one of the troops. . . As to whether it came in an envelope or not, I have no recollection whatever.
                                                                                      George B. McClellan"


Leigh's Story Continues



Ryan's Comment


Leigh announces that it was customary that envelopes be used to carry orders from Lee's headquarters to the headquarters of division commanders. He offers no evidence to support his assertion, but a letter does exist, written by Charles Marshall to D.H. Hill, which deserves consideration. It is also in photostat format. So instead of showing it to you, I quote it in relevant part:


                                                            Baltimore, Nov. 12, 1867

Dear General:


"I can only say that the army not then being organized into corps, it was a matter of frequent occurrence to communicate general orders for movements of the whole army to division commanders. (For reasons peculiar to the situation Lee caused a general order to be labeled a special one) Such orders were customarily copied by the staff and later copied into the Confidential Book, to be copied into the general order book post factum.


Note: Making sense out of Marshall's syntax, the two versions of Special Order 191 that Chilton signed, were copied into his letterbook by A.P. Mason; Marshall is saying that the order as written in Chilton's letterbook would later be copied by Lee's staff (Marshall or Taylor) into Lee's HQ "general order book."


They were sent by orderlies who were required [in some cases] to bring back envelopes or some other receipt from the officers to whom they were sent."


The latter statement of Marshall's is hardly sufficient for a jury to reasonably conclude that, in this specific instance, (1) Lee's staff wrote a copy of the order for Hill; (2) caused it to transmitted to Hill in an envelope. In fact, there is no probative evidence that anyone who was a member of Lee's staff wrote a copy that was sent by courier to Hill. None of the handwriting of Lee's staff officers—Taylor, Marshall, Long, Venable, and Talcott―come close to being a match for the handwriting found on McClellan's copy. Furthermore, neither R.H. Chilton's, or A.P. Mason's handwriting comes close to being a match. McClellan's copy is written in the hand of a mystery man and this clearly, according to Marshall's statement to Hill, cannot possibly be so. For, as Marshall wrote Hill: "Such orders were customarily copied by the staff." Plainly not so in this case.


And as for relying upon Chilton's letter to Davis, written long after the war, the syntax of his sentences make plain he had no accurate recollection of a courier being sent with a copy of the order to Hill.


The Final Analysis


If you choose to believe John Bloss's 1892 statement that he found a large envelope, opened it and a sheet of paper and two cigars spilled to the ground, then as a juror you may legitimately conclude that the order was lost by accident. It is as simple for you as that. Because everyone in the jury room will probably agree that, under such circumstance, General Lee could not have entertained the reasonable expectation that his order would find its way to McClellan and, therefore, he could not count on the chance McClellan might not march directly to Harper's Ferry on September 14th.

If, however, you choose to believe Silas Colgrove's 1886 statement to the editors of the Century Magazine, that in the presence of Bloss Mitchell said he found the order in the condition it was presented to Colgrove―the paper wrapped around three cigars without mention of any envelope, a statement Bloss did not contest—then the jury might reasonably find that General Lee could have entertained such an expectation; and, in that circumstance, given the benefit the loss of the order brought to Lee, most jurors will tend to embrace the explanation that the order was dropped by the Rev. Dr. John Ross as  Mitchell and company were stacking their arms.

Note: Kyd Douglas, an aide to Stonewall during the Sharpsburg campaign, offers a piece of evidence that points to the Rev. Dr. John B. Ross as the person who dropped Lee's order in front of Barton Mitchell. In 1886, a piece written by Douglas was published in the Century Magazine; in relevant part it reads—"Early on the 10th Jackson was off. In Frederick he asked for a map of Chambersburg and its vicinity. . . Having finished this public inquiry. . . the general and his staff rode rapidly out of town. . ."

Fifty-four years later, in 1940, The University of North Carolina Press published a book titled, I rode with Stonewall. According to Dave Perry, the Press's Editor-in-Chief, the book was based on an "original manuscript" apparently written by Douglas but now lost. At pp 150-151, the text of the book tracks the text of Douglas's piece in the Century Magazine, except this sentence appears in the book, but not the magazine: "The General was anxious, before leaving Frederick, to see the Rev. Dr. John Ross, the Presbyterian clergyman and a personal friend, and I took him to his house. The Doctor was not up yet and the General would not allow me to disturb him, but he wrote a brief note and left it with a manservant on the pavement to deliver to him."

Given the similarity between the text of the book and the magazine piece, it is reasonably obvious that both were based on the same manuscript. In such circumstance, any good trial lawyer would immediately want to ask Douglas why he left out of the magazine piece, published in 1886, the fact that Jackson went to see Dr. Ross before he left Frederick. The most logical explanation is that insertion of reference to Ross might incite exactly the kind of scruntity Dr. Ross's involvement in the matter of the lost order is now receiving.

That Douglas's manuscript, as published in book form, in 1940, does not accurately state the nature of the contact between the two men is plain from the historical record of the event as recorded by the Frederick Presbyterian Church: "During [Sept. 1862], Rev. Ross was visited by his personal friend, Gen. Stonewall Jackson, and the tree to which Jackson tethered his horse was known as the `Stonewall Jackson Tree' for years to come. In [Oct. 1862] the work of pastoring [suddenly] became so difficult that the Rev. Dr. Ross gave it up."(Wayne Sparkman, of the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO., captured the quotation referenced from the Frederick Presbyterian Church's website as it existed on March 16, 2007. On March 7, 2007 I wrote the Rev. Dr. Eric Myers, current pastor of the church, asking for handwriting examples of Dr. Ross. The reference Mr. Sparkman captured from the church website has been deleted and Dr. Myers has not responded to my letter.

The Stonewall Jackson Tree

Apparently the connection between Dr. Ross and Stonewall is to be forgotten. Quite a shame since the church Manse, standing today exactly as it was in 1862, contains Dr. Ross's original writings

Frederick's First Presbyterian Church Manse Today
Frederick First Presbyterian Church


Joe Ryan

  joe and stonewall

Last Words On Antietam