soldier with rifle american civil warSpecial Order 191


Did the Reverend Dr. John B. Ross Write General McClellans's Copy?

By: Joe Ryan


There are two complimentary means by which we, living today, can know with reasonable certainty whether or not General Lee intentionally caused the Battle of Antietam to happen: first, by measuring what Lee is recorded to have said happened against what the objective facts show happened; second, by establishing the identity of the person whose handwriting appears on McClellan's copy of Lee's movement order. Both these methods have been the subject of articles and video presentations available at this web site and at Joe Ryan's YouTube channel.

In the five part article, Who Wrote The Lost Order, the handwriting of all the officers present at Lee's headquarters, in September 1862, including Lee, Jackson, and Stuart, have been examined and compared to the handwriting shown on McClellan's copy of the order. The examination and comparison established, indisputably, that, with the possible exception of Lee's, the handwriting on Mac's copy does not match the handwriting of any of the officers attached to the headquarters staff.

This fact—the absence of a connection in handwriting between Lee's staff officers and Mac's copy—coupled with the fact that the paper stock on which McClellan's copy is written, is different than the paper stock used by Lee's staff officers during the period in question, supports the theory that someone other than Lee's staff wrote McClellan's copy.

Therefore, the investigation may reasonably be broadened to include the Rev. Dr. John B. Ross, pastor of the Frederick First Presbyterian Church, because the evidence shows that he met privately with Stonewall Jackson at the church Manse on September 10, 1862.

Rev. Dr. John B. Ross

During the course of investigating the issue of Dr. Ross's involvement with the lost order, I have written twice to the Rev. Dr. Eric Myers, current pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Frederick, but have received no reply. In an effort to gain some response from Dr. Myers, I have written to the center where presumably the archives of the Church are maintained; the letter is set forth below, to which as yet no response has been received.

Note: the date 1882 is an error; the correct date is 1862.

On December 11, 2012, the Presbyterian Historical Society responded to my letter of November 3rd, informing me that the correct person to address my request for the production of Dr. Ross's resignation letter is the "Clerk of Sessions" of the Frederick Presbyterian Church. According I have directed the letter that follows to the clerk.

Letter To Frederick Church
The resignation letter is dated October, not February.

The comparison of handwriting samples can be a challenge. The image shown below depicts John Ross's handwriting in 1844, eighteen years before someone wrote out McClellan's copy of Lee's order. It is a fact that a person's handwriting can be appreciably different in appearance when examples of it, made at significantly different periods of his life, are compared. Therefore, it is obvious that the best method of comparison is to compare samples of handwriting that the evidence shows were made at or near the same time. It is for this reason that Dr. Ross's resignation letter is the best sample of his handwriting to compare with McClellan's copy.

Since 2007, the "brief history" shown on the church's website, as it pertains to Rev. Ross, has been removed.

There are two questions that production of Rev. Ross's resignation letter can definitively answer: first, is the letter written on the paper stock of the Platner & Porter Manufacturing Co? Second, is the handwriting on the letter a match for the handwriting on McClellan's copy?

Platner & Porter Stationers embossed stamp

Shown on McClellan's copy

The evidence indisputably shows that none of the many orders and letters issued from Lee's headquarters, in September 1862, are written on Platner & Porter paper stock. The conclusion reasonably follows from this that whoever wrote out McClellan's copy obtained his paper stock from some place other than Lee's headquarters. (This presumes that the copy of the order held by the Library of Congress is, in fact, the copy handed to McClellan on September 13, 1862; the evidence suggests strongly that it is.)

The evidence also shows that Rev. Ross was an ardent supporter of the Confederate cause and, thus, predisposed to act as Lee's instrument in bringing on the battle of Antietam. Upon resigning from his position at the Frederick church, Dr. Ross removed himself to the place of his birth, Bladensburg, Maryland, where he remained until his death in 1871. Dr. Ross, not liking the Union bent the church organization took toward the war, became one of the founders of the Patapsco Presbytery which aligned itself with the church structure of the Confederacy. In 1869, Dr. Ross was asked to pastor a newly formed church in Laurel, Maryland, but because of illness he was unable to accept.

The only example of Dr. Ross's actual handwriting that investigation has so far disclosed, is a two page letter Dr. Ross wrote while he was pastoring a church in Savannah, Georgia, in 1844. A comparison of Dr. Ross's 1844 handwriting with the 1862 handwriting shown on McClellan's copy leaves the issue of the identity of the writer of McClellan's copy in doubt.

A Slice Of Mac's Copy

Dr. Ross's 1844 Letter


In addition to the great gap in years between the two samples, Dr. Ross's letter is written in ink while Mac's copy is written in pencil. The use of different writing instruments can make an appreciable difference in appearance of the handwriting. In this case, too, there are the surrounding circumstances to consider. If, in fact, Ross wrote Mac's copy, he did it in the company of Stonewall Jackson at the church manse on September 10, 1862. In order to create the appearance of authenticity, in the sense that the document was written in the ordinary course of headquarters business, it is possible that Stonewall directed Ross to make the text appear as if it were a draft, as evidenced, for example, by the writing and then crossing out of the phrase "of the army" that is found in paragraph VII of Mac's copy.

Given the fact production of Dr. Ross's resignation letter may exclude him as the writer of the lost order, the public may reasonably expect that the Frederick Presbyterian Church will produce it for examination, or, if it has been destroyed, explain who destroyed it, when and why.

Frederick Presbyterian Church in 1862

Frederick Presbyterian Church today

Someone needs to knock on the door.

Standard jury instructions offer the public guidance in determining what inferences to draw from the Church's silence.

"If you should find that the church wilfully suppressed evidence in order to prevent its being presented in this trial, you may consider such suppression in determining what inferences to draw from the evidence of facts in the case." (BAJI 2.03)


"In determining what inferences to draw from the evidence or facts in the case, you may consider the church's failure to explain or deny such evidence or facts." (BAJI 2.04)



By Joe Ryan

Los Angeles Civil Warriors Round Table: Antietam, September 17, 2012