soldier with rifle american civil warSpecial Order 191

Stephen Sears Rebuts Joe Ryan

Ruse Of War
Lee's Lost Order


Sears Rebuts Ryan

Joe Ryan Rebuts Stephen Sears reference source:
Joseph Harsh "Taken At The Flood Robert E. Lee & Confederate Strategy In The Maryland Campaign of 1862"

Let's break down Mr. Sears's argument into its logical parts and compare how he states his case with the primary evidence he plainly ignores.


What is, exactly, Lee's Objective?

Let's state the relevant facts, as Mr. Sears gives them, in his understanding of the theory of the case expressed in Special Order 191: Ruse of War:

"Lee crosses the Potomac, reaches Frederick, and on September 9 suddenly decides to retreat."

Ryan's comment

In analyzing Sears's statements, I ask of the viewer only that she put herself in the shoes of the average reasonable person, who is called to our trial courts everyday to serve in the important duty of acting as a judge of the facts.

Nowhere in the article at issue, is there any suggestion that General Lee "suddenly" decided to "retreat." All that the primary evidence shows is that, in fact, a movement order was written out in the hand of an as yet unidentified person (perhaps General Lee himself), was dated by that person September 9, 1862, and that this document was found by Private Barton Mitchell, of the 27th Indiana Regiment, about noon on September 13, 1862. There is nothing in the document that informs the reader (someone like McClellan) that General Lee was retreating. On the contrary, it expressed the idea distinctly that General Lee was priming to fight McClellan, offensively, when in fact he was not.

When you read the original document (McClellan's copy in the Library of Congress) the document informs you that General Lee has divided his army, sending one wing back into Virginia and moving with the remainder (the documents labels "the main body") west of the South Mountain, with the view of concentrating his army at Boonesboro or Hagerstown as circumstances permit. Once Harper's Ferry is taken, the maneuvering wing will return to Maryland and rejoin the main body.

As for the concept of "retreat", General Lee's movement of his army from Frederick, to west of the South Mountain, can properly be characterized, in terms of military operations, as a strategic, not a tactical, retreat.

This raises the reasonable question in the mind of the jurors: why move away from Frederick; why not stand there and fight the Union army as it comes up from Washington?

Perhaps, Mr. Sears, in his future revisiting of his position, here, will provide an intelligent explanation for General Lee's unwillingness to be at Frederick when McClellan's horde arrived. For my part, I offer you this: according to Walter Taylor and Charles Marshall, the two key staff officers of Lee, writing each other after the war, Lee's army at Frederick numbered no more than 33,000 to 38,000 men. Taylor and Marshall, unlike Mr. Sears, are what we trial lawyers call percipient witnesses—these are persons who witnessed first hand the event being analyzed in the trial court. They either saw it happen, or they heard it happen, or they were directly told by Lee that it happened, at or near the time it happened.

Look at a Google Earth map of the vicinity of Frederick and notice the line of the Monocacy River in front of the place. With only 33,000 men, no general, Eisenhower and Napoleon included, could have held the line of the Monocacy against the attack brought against it by the Union army's 100,000 men.

From this fact necessarily follows the necessity to retreat to some location where the strength of the enemy's numbers can be neutralized—like behind the Antietam at Sharpsburg.

Mr. Sears goes on with his restatement of the theory of the article:

General Lee "puts together a complex plan to snap up the inoffensive garrison at Harper's Ferry, when he could easily duck into the Shenandoah Valley via Williamsport."


Ryan's comment

Examining this sentence, doesn't it distill to this: To snap up the Harper's Ferry garrison all Lee had to do was go into the Shenandoah Valley via Williamsport. A simple plan: Like this?

What if Lee had moved his entire army to the Ferry?

The Union army has closed up on Frederick by the afternoon of September 13. So when General Lee attacks the "inoffensive" garrison at the Ferry on the morning of the 14th, in Sears's scenario, what can Lee expect to be happening by the afternoon of the 14th, when most probably, given the heights he has to scale, he is still endeavoring to capture that place? Indeed, if you wish, assume that by the evening of the 13th as McClellan closes up on Frederick Lee has captured that place, and gotten to the pontoon bridges first.

What can General Lee expect McClellan to do in these given circumstances?  McClellan will simply cross his army over the Potomac at Point of Rocks and cross the Shenandoah River through a place like Ashby's Gap and move against Lee's position at the Ferry, trapping him with overwhelming numbers against the confluence of the Shenandoah River and the Potomac. Or McClellan might simply move by Rohrersville and Keedysville through Sharpsburg, cross his army at Sheperdstown and approach Lee's position that way. Now what is Lee supposed to do? Are these contemporary writers thinking the thing through?

Of course, you jurors, thinking the thing through, recognize, don't you, what Lee must do as soon as McClellan begins to cross the Potomac?

The only way to keep this from happening is to have a force on McClellan's flank.

He must retreat toward Winchester, right? What else can he do? And, in retreating, will not the enemy army be in pursuit, pushing him further and further up the valley, perhaps as far as the Manassas Gap, or even as far as Staunton? Look at the map. Think about it.

What Mr. Sears is in denial about, here, is the idea that General Lee has no interest in "snapping up the garrison" as if it were, in itself, the prize. And he certainly has no interest in "ducking into" the valley. That is exactly what at the moment he does not want to do. Why? Because he does not want the enemy to follow him. He does not want to be pursued. This is his very real and serious military problem which Sears and his band of copy-cat writers ignores.

These writers, who feed you jurors the myth of history, want you to believe that Lee's army was strong, victorious, entering Maryland a conquering army intending to win the peace. This is pure poppycock: manufactured to hide the reality of Lincoln's blundering? Manufactured to give their readers a sense of suspense whether the war might be won by the Confederates? When in reality there was no such chance. To give a hook to hang the timing of the publication of the Emancipation Proclamation? Simply because it is easier to regurgitate what other generations of historians have constructed as the story line than to break it down and start fresh? Who knows?

Look to the primary evidence for the truth. Take, for example, Lee's letter to Davis, dated September 7, 1862. When you do, keep in mind that we trial lawyers cannot show you correspondence that lacks the necessary foundation for admissibility into evidence. The several letters that exist between Lee and Davis are probably copies of the originals, carried away after the war by Charles Marshall; as such, despite the problem of laying a foundation, they do have inherent in them the sense of credibility and for that reason I cite them to you. The letter in question can be found in text form in the Official Records of the Rebellion, Vol. 19, Part 11, p. 597. It is held by the Virginia State Library. It reads in pertinent part:

"Dear President Davis:

I find that the discipline of the army, which, from the manner of its organization, the necessity of bringing it into immediate service, its constant occupation and hard duty, was naturally defective. [It] has not been improved by the forced marches and hard service it has lately undergone. . .

. . . One of the greatest evils is the habit of straggling from the ranks. The higher officers feel it as I do, and I believe have done all in their power to stop it. It has become a habit difficult to correct. With some, the sick and the feeble, it results from necessity, but with the greater number from design. These latter do not wish to be with their regiments, nor to share in their hardships and glories. They are the cowards of the army. . . "

Does this letter to Davis suggest that General Lee thinks his army, as it presently exists, has the military power to "conquer a peace," as, for example, Professor James McPherson intones? Not convinced of the silliness of this? Here is a letter General Lee wrote to Davis, from Hagerstown on the 13th as McClellan was concentrating at Frederick.

"I have received as yet no official list of the casualties in the late battles, and, from the number of absentees from the army and the vice of straggling, a correct list cannot now be obtained. The army has been so constantly in motion, its attention has been devoted to what was necessary

. . . So much [of our operations] depends upon circumstances beyond [our army's] control and the aid that it may receive, that it is difficult for me to conjecture the result. To look to the safety of our own frontier and to operate untrammeled in an enemy's territory, you need not be told is difficult."

Does this sound to you jurors like General Lee is excited about the prospect of "conquering a peace" today? Still not convinced the civil war writers are writing silliness? Here's more then.

"Every effort, however, will be made to acquire every advantage which our position and means may warrant. One great embarrassment is the reduction of our ranks by straggling (third time he mentions this), which it seems impossible to prevent with our present regimental officers. Our ranks are very much diminished―I fear from a third to a half of the original numbers—though I have reason to hope that our casualties in battles will not exceed 5,000 men." (Does he mean the coming battles? If so, he missed the count by almost two thirds.)


So why is it that Mr. Sears and company have missed the point of Lee's movement order, altogether? Because he did not, at any time in his twenty year writing career, wipe the slate clean and begin at the beginning, investigate the details, gather up the primary evidence, hike over the ground to experience the realities, rely heavily on direct statements of the key percipient witnesses―Walter Taylor, Charles Marshall, Lee, Davis, Longstreet; these are the witnesses whose writings, examined critically and vetted against the objective facts, provide the substance of the case for Lee's intentional "losing" of the movement order.

General Lee's military problem, as the battle of Second Manassas ended, was what to do next? As his letters to Davis make completely clear his army, by its "victories" was in a shambles. It was ruined. It was grossly depleted in numerical strength, and, most important, it was about to starve to death. It had to be taken into the Shenandoah Valley, that's for sure. But, if, as Sears suggests, it simply "ducked" into it, what was certain to happen? The enemy army, reconstituted under McClellan's command again, would most certainly follow it, pursue it, make it either keep moving deeper and deeper into Virginia, or attempt to make a stand somewhere in the valley. This is exactly what General Lee had to avoid, and the problem was how to do it. How to enter the valley without being pursued by the enemy, that was the challenge for General Lee to solve as he moved away from the Manassas Plain.

President Davis―who is a most credible and trustworthy witness in the context than anyone—stated the case this simply.

"To prolong a state of affairs, in every way desirable, and not permit the season for active operations to pass without endeavoring to impose further check on our assailant, the best course appeared to be to transfer our army into Maryland. Although not properly equipped for invasion, lacking much of the material of war, and deficient in transportation, the troops poorly provided with clothing, and thousands of them without shoes, it was yet believed to be strong enough to detain the enemy upon the northern frontier until the approach of winter should render its advance into Virginia difficult." (The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government Vol. 2, p. 329.)

How can Sears and company be so ignorant of the realities, here? As far as his president is concerned, General Lee's only objective, in entering Maryland, is to "check," that is, to impose restraint upon action, to detain the enemy on the Potomac, hopefully long enough that winter will save the situation until the spring. So much for Professor McPherson's "conquer a peace," or Gary Gallagher's "Make the enemy sue for peace." These gentlemen would, I think, have a larger, more objective understanding of the desperate plight of Lee's army, had they served a little time at the front in Viet Nam, or in Iraq, or in WW II.

 Let's turn to Sears's remark that Lee's plan was "complex." Not really. Lee's intent, formed at Frederick, is obvious: He intended to fight McClellan at Sharpsburg. To do so, he had to possess a clear line of retreat across the Potomac. To achieve this, he had to neutralize the 12,000 man Union garrison concentrated at Harper's Ferry. To do that, he had to send a force twice as large to effectuate, if possible, its capture. And to do that, he had to induce McClellan not to march directly to Harper's Ferry on September 14.

What is complicated about this, other than the problem of how to induce McClellan not to march directly upon the Ferry?


How The Order Was Found

Mr. Sears next dismisses as incredulous the idea that Lee intentionally caused the order to be lost, writing this:

". . . to delay any pursuit by McClellan, [Lee creates] the [order] and has a civilian drop it next to a Yankee campsite in expectation that it will get to McClellan and give him pause. I find that scenario just as miraculous as [my account] of the finding of the Lost Order."

Ryan's comment

Let's first make sure we understand exactly what Mr. Sears's scenario is, which he thinks, he says, is just "as miraculous" as the account I give of the finding of the order. Keep in mind, here, that McClellan's finding of the order was indisputedly a great benefit to Lee, because without having found it, McClellan most certainly, the evidence shows, would have marched to the Ferry on the 14th.

In his 1983 book Antietam, Landscape Turned Red, Mr. Sears wrote this:

"The morning of September 13. . . the 27th Indiana was one of the regiments that drew a meadow on the outskirts of [Frederick], where a division of Confederates had encamped during their occupation a few days before. Making camp where other troops had stayed. . . was usually unpleasant. . . , but the Indiana boys found a comparatively unspoiled section of meadow. . . and settled down to boil their coffee and relax.


 Sergeant John Bloss and Corporal Barton Mitchell of Company F were chatting idly when Mitchell noticed a bulky envelope in the tall grass nearby and picked it up. Inside was a sheet of paper wrapped around three cigars." (p. 112)


In the trial court, what part of Sears's statement will the jury find to be true versus which part will the jury find to be probably false? The undisputed truth? The statement that the 27th Indiana arrived on the outskirts of Frederick the morning of the 13th and went into camp. The pure fabrication of a writer, writing a story for profit? The rest of the statement.

There is no objective evidence that supports Sears's statements of fact that "the Indiana boys found a comparatively unspoiled section of meadow" to settle down in. Sears just made this fact up. Why? Because he is constructing a narrative out of whole cloth for the purpose of drama and suspense, and to support what he plans on telling the reader next.

In fact, the jury in the court room, hearing the evidence, would be hard-pressed not to find that the general area where the 27th Indiana probably camped was muddy, rutted with the wagon tracks of wagons, artillery carriages and caissons, and the jumbled hoof-prints of cavalry horses, littered with scraps of discarded clothing, trash and garbage.

The undisputed evidence is that the Confederate divisions left Frederick during the morning of September 10th, with D.H. Hill's division bringing up the rear. Exactly where D.H. Hill's division camped the night of September 9th is not known. It is pure speculation to say that Hill's division actually had camped on the exact ground that the 27th Indiana regiment occupied three and a half days later, on the afternoon of September 13th.

The undisputed evidence is that the first Union divisions arrived at the outskirts of Frederick the afternoon of September 12th. As percipient witness, George Noyes, stated the situation, in 1863: by 2:00 p.m., McClellan's right wing―Reno's and Hooker's corps—were going into camp in the fields stretching along the Monocacy, from the Jug Bridge on the road between Frederick and New Market, southward toward the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad bridge. Noyes and his comrades found "a lovely spot now crowded with troops."  (George F. Noyes, The Bivouac and the Battlefield [New York 1863], p. 156.)

Indeed, the evidence shows that Union cavalry and artillery fought with Jeb Stuart's men for several hours, early in the afternoon of the 12th, the action going on into the streets of Frederick and out again along the Frederick-New Market road, and the adjacent fields. So much commotion, so much movement of troops, wagons, horses. One who argues there were sections of these fields "unspoiled" cannot be taken seriously; unless, of course, he has evidence to back the statement up and Sears does not offer any.

In his 1999 book Controversies and Commanders, Mr. Sears wrote this.

"The 27th Indiana regiment. . . splashed across the Monocacy River at Crum's Ford and went on two miles along a back road to the outskirts of town. There. . . the 27th appropriated a clover field alongside the road for its bivouac. Later it would be said that this was the field where D.H. Hill's division had camped during the occupation of Frederick, but that was pure speculation."


Compare Sears's narrative with the statement made by the percipient witness, John Bloss, a sergeant in Company "F" of the 27th Indiana:

"We moved forward rapidly [in a skirmish line], discovered no enemy and soon reached the suburbs of the city, where the converging lines of other divisions and corps caused us to halt. We were now in a meadow near the city limits [and] we threw ourselves upon the grass to rest." (John Bloss, Antietam and the Lost Dispatch [Kansas Commandery, M.O.L.L.U.S War paper, published in 1892], at p. 8.)


You see that the detail of the "clover field" did not exist in the real world. The "tall" grass of Sears' 1983 version is gone. Why did Sears manufacture the detail? Because he wants to create the illusion that the presence of the order in the field, supposedly lying there for three and a half days, would not be lost in the clutter of reality.

In 2002, Mr. Sears repeated the story a third time, in North & South Magazine, writing:

"On the bright morning of September 13, the 27th Indiana made camp along a country road about a mile south of Frederick. . . . The men turned into a clover field, stacked rifles, and made themselves comfortable."


The guy is throwing darts at the board: which is it, a mile down the road? Two miles? In 1983, Sears stated that the 27th Indiana camped on Hill's campground as if it were a fact. By 2002, he was finally admitting no one has any factual basis to believe it. So you jurors are left with the necessity of finding that the supposed courier, carrying the order to D.H. Hill's headquarters, "lost" it somewhere between General Lee's headquarters and Hill's, wherever that might have been. Which means you must presume that the drop point was, in fact, between Lee's HQ and Hill's. And, of course, if, in fact, Hill's headquarters was not located in the sector the 12th Corps traversed, the courier theory collapses into dust, doesn't it? Because, in that event, there is no intelligent reason for the supposed courier to lose it where it was found.

The Union Army's Approach to Frederick, Sept 11-13.

At this point, let's address the issue of the credibility of witnesses, specifically that of John Bloss's. Sears has been using a composite picture he has drawn from a number of sources to offer you the tale of exactly how the movement order was found. In his 1983 book, Sears offers nothing as the basis of his narrative on this point. In his 1999 book, Sears writes that, "Mitchell was relaxing and chatting with Private Campbell when he noticed a bulky envelope in the clover nearby."

Sears offers a string of citations as the supposed basis for this factual statement. But they really have nothing substantial to do with proving, with probative evidence, the facts stated; e.g., "bulky," clover," Mitchell chatting with Campbell.  At page 114, with his footnote #8, Sears lists the following as the basis of his statement.

* E.R. Brown, The Twenty-Seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion (Monticello, Ind. 1899)

* Robert Chilton to Jefferson Davis, Dunbar Rowland, ed. Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist. Mississippi Department of Archives and History 1912, Vol 7.

* Barton Mitchell pension record.

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

None of these sources contain any statement of a percipient witness to the event in question. They are beside the point. A classic California civil trial jury instruction is relevant here; it reads—"If weaker and less satisfactory evidence is offered by a party, when it was within his power to produce stronger and more satisfactory evidence, the evidence offered should be viewed with distrust." Makes sense, doesn't it?

In 1892, as we have seen, John Bloss wrote an article and in it, he stated that he was, in fact, present with Barton Mitchell when the order was found. He stated what he claims he saw with his eyes and heard with his ears. He stated, thirty years after the event, this:

"We were now in a meadow near the city limits; . . . we threw ourselves upon the grass to rest. While lying there, I noticed just beyond Corporal Barton Mitchell with whom I was conversing a large envelope and through curiosity asked him to give it to me. It was not sealed and on taking it up two cigars and a paper fell out."


So what's Mr. Sears's problem? Since he surely knew, in 1983, in 1999, and 2002, that Bloss's 1892 statement existed in the record, why didn't he simply quote Bloss's statement and be done with the factual issue of how the order was found?

Why, in 1983, did Sears add details: The grass, he wrote then, was "tall." The envelope was "bulky." He told us that Mitchell "picked it up," but fails to mention Bloss asked him to. The cigars, he tells us, were "a considerable cut above the usual debris." Both Bloss and Mitchell, he says, "scanned" the document. In 1999, Sears invents a different factual narrative: the "tall" grass is gone, replaced by a "clover field." In 2002, Sears's story is, "Mitchell noticed an envelope lying in the clover by the roadside and picked it up." In a trial court, faced with a blow up of Bloss's statement before the jury, Mr. Sears' narrative of events would be readily recognized by the jury, I think, as fiction.

So let's return to John Bloss and consider carefully the issue of his credibility, standing it alone from the clap trap of Sears's sequential narratives. Here, a jury instruction provides jurors with guidance that is worth consideration. It reads, in pertinent part―"In determining the credibility of witnesses you may consider any matter that has a tendency in reason to prove or disprove the truthfulness of his testimony, including the following: (1) The extent of his capacity to recollect; (2) his character for veracity; (3) the existence or nonexistence of a bias, interest, or other motive; a statement previously made by him that is inconsistent with his testimony; the existence or nonexistence of any fact testified to by him; his attitude toward the action in which he testifies."

First to consider, is the undisputed fact that John Bloss gave a statement of the event at the time the event occurred which, in the relevant details, contradicts what he claims to have remembered about the event thirty years later.

Mr. Sears ignored the existence of this statement in his 1983 book. Sears relies upon the statement in his 1999 book, not to impeach Bloss but to tell us that the regiment's colonel, Silas Colgrove, "read the order and, as he later said, `was at once satisfied that it was genuine.'"

In 1886, six years before Bloss made his statement in his article, The Century Magazine published a series of articles about the Antietam campaign; in the process of this the editors wrote to Silas Colgrove and asked him to tell them all that he remembered about his involvement with the lost order. Colgrove wrote the following in response:

"The 27th Indiana arrived at about noon. . . . We stacked arms on the same ground that had been occupied by D.H. Hill the evening before. (Colgrove is indisputedly wrong about this fact; Hill left Frederick on the 9th and Reno and Hooker's corps were in camp along the Monocacy the night of the 12th.)


Within a few minutes after halting, the order was brought to me by First Sergeant John M. Bloss and Private B.W. Mitchell, who stated that it was found by Mitchell near where they had stacked arms. When I received the order it was wrapped around three cigars, and Private Mitchell stated that it was in that condition when found by him." (Battles & Leaders, Vol II, Part II, p. 603) (The large, bulky envelope Sears conjures has vanished!)


As jurors in the courtroom whose story would you choose as that carrying with it more convincing force? Bloss's? Or Colgrove's? As Mr. Wilbur Jones, in his book Giants in the Cornfield, makes clear, by 1886, the Century Magazine was popularizing the war by making characters out of the officers and men who fought the battles; as a consequence, everyone remotely connected to Barton Mitchell began making public claims about their involvement in finding the order―Mitchell by this time was long since dead, having said nothing about the find of the order. Private Campbell, for example, Jones claims, "was with Mitchell when he picked up the order. He looked over his shoulder and read it with him." Private Laughlin saw Mitchell pick it up. Private Vance, not Mitchell, picked it up and handed it to Bloss, because "Bloss saw a large yellow envelope and asked Vance to pass it to him."  Private Hostetter said Bloss took the order alone to Colgrove." According to Jones, these several statements were made by the men to whom he attributes them between 1889 and 1908. Like Bloss, all these men had an interest in gaining for themselves the reputation of being the instrument by which the famous order was found. Some of the gravestones of these men contain the inscription that it was one or the other that found the order.

But Silas Colgrove had no axe to grind, no interest in publicity, no financial interest, when he responded to the inquiry of the Century editors.

As it is in the courtroom, it is for you, the reader, to decide which one of these witnesses, Bloss or Colgrove, is more likely than not, telling the probable truth. If you choose to believe Bloss's story, then the inquiry concerning the issue of whether Lee caused the order to be lost must end: for, there is no point of hearing further testimony, or reviewing further evidence.

Note: An important jury instruction provides you with guidance, here, in deciding what weight to give Bloss's 1892 written statement: "If you find that Bloss remained silent when Mitchell made the statement Colgrove reports, that it was Mitchell, not Bloss, who found the order, you may consider whether a reasonable person, in Bloss's shoes, would ordinarily be expected to speak up, and, if you find it so, you may then consider whether Bloss's silence constitutes an admission that he believed Mitchell's reported statement to be true.

Either Bloss found the order inside an envelope, or the envelope is a figment of his imagination. If Bloss found the order inside an envelope, then there can be no reasonable expectation―on the part of General Lee—that a Union soldier would be "curious" enough about the existence of a "large envelope" lying on the grass, amidst the substantial clutter left by, not only Confederate forces but the Union ones as well, to stoop and pick it up. And without such an expectation, General Lee would have no good reason to think the finding of the order would occur in a manner that might benefit him. Indeed, the finding of the order under such circumstances would be a miraculous benefit to him. As it caused McClellan to do exactly the opposite of what he would have done but for finding it.

Of course, for those of you who choose Bloss as the truthful witness, and Colgrove the mistaken one, you must deal with the undisputed fact that Bloss's "large envelope"—it's obvious to you by now that Sears injected "bulky" to give Bloss an excuse to be curious―was exposed to the weather for three and a half days, during which time thousands and thousands of soldiers marched through the fields, camped in the fields, and regiments of cavalry and artillery not only moved through them but fought in them on the 12th. Even Mr. Sears does not dispute the fact that all day and into the night of September 11th it rained over Frederick.

As Stuart's sidekick, Heros Von Brock explained it, in his book published in 1866:

"A steadily falling rain, which gave us some discomfort in the saddle, added much to the dejection of spirits with which we got in readiness to move away from Urbana. . . .

Having crossed the Monocacy, we took up a new position on the opposite bank of that river. As the enemy did not advance that day (the 11th) beyond Urbana, the greater part of our cavalry (5,000 horsemen, 10,000?) encamped between that point and Frederick. About a half mile from Frederick we fixed our headquarters at the farmhouse of an old Irishman."

So much for the presence of D.H. Hill's division between Frederick and the river on the Urbana road. Go into a farm field that has been rained upon for 12 hours, the ground churned up by the movement of thousands of cavalry horses, soldiers, wagons and artillery, and think seriously about whether you will be "curious" enough to pick up the mess of an envelope. Of course, if, as Sears recreated the situation, you saw it was "bulky" you might wonder whether something valuable was inside it. If, though, it was simply a wet envelope lying in your sight upon the ground, along with the clutter of abandoned infantry and cavalry camps, would you really? (And do you really think Lee's HQ staff had a supply of "large envelopes" to use to transmit little sheets of paper?)

For those of you who choose Silas Colgrove as the most credible witness of the event of the lost order, then, of course, there needs be examined additional testimony and additional evidence, because now it is easy for you to find that a soldier stacking arms and finding at his feet in plain sight three fresh cigars, would most certainly stoop to pick them up. And, of course, too, to be fresh, the cigars could not possibly have lain on the ground of the farm field, wherever it was, for three and a half days, one day devoted to a rain storm, and be in a condition any reasonable person would be interested in picking up.


To Induce McClellan Not To Move To The Ferry

Lee and Jackson Devise A Classic Ruse Of War

Mr. Sears dismisses the idea with a flourish of his pen this way:

"As of September 12, McClellan had no idea what Lee was up to and was cautious as he ever was. Lee counted on that caution while he snapped up Harper's Ferry to clear his supply line, and without the lost order he would have made it."

Really? Is that what the evidence shows? Let's look at the Rebellion Record to verify what Sears says about McClellan's presumed caution and his state of mind on September 12.

Burnside to McClellan, Sept. 12 at 5:30 a.m.

". . . I can hardly understand how they can be moving on these two latter roads at the same time. If they are going into Pennsylvania they would hardly be moving upon the Harper's Ferry road, and if they are going to recross, how could they be moving upon Gettysburg? (Dud! Where is Sear's objectivity here?)

Governor Curtin to Lincoln, Sept. 12 at unstated time

"I have advices that Jackson is crossing the Potomac at Williamsport, and probably the whole rebel army will be drawn from Maryland."


From McClellan to Halleck, Sept. 12 at 10:00 a.m.

"My columns are pushing on rapidly to Frederick. I feel perfectly confident that the enemy has abandoned Frederick, moving in two directions; on the Hagerstown and Harper's Ferry roads."


McClellan to Halleck, Sept. 12 at 5:30 p.m.

". . . our troops are entering Frederick. Sumner is near Urbana, with our advance guard thrown out to the Monocacy. Should the enemy go toward Pennsylvania I shall follow him. Should he attempt to recross the Potomac I shall endeavor to cut off his retreat. My movements tomorrow will be dependant upon information to be received during the night."


From Lincoln to McClellan, Sept. 12 at 5:45 p.m.

"Governor Curtin telegraphs me: `I have advices that Jackson is crossing the Potomac at Williamsport, and probably the whole rebel army will be drawn from Maryland.' Receiving nothing from the Ferry today, and information from Wheeling that the [Baltimore & Ohio] line has been cut, corroborates the idea that the enemy is recrossing the Potomac. Please do not let him get off without being hurt."


McClellan to Halleck, Sept. 12, at 6:00 p.m.

". . . I ordered cavalry to endeavor to open communications with Harper's Ferry, and in my orders of movement for tomorrow have arranged so that I can go or send to Miles' relief, if necessary. . . . I think I can not only relieve him, but place the rebels who attack him in great danger of being cut off. Everything moves at daylight."


McClellan to Lincoln, Sept. 12 at 9:00 p.m.

". . . we hold Frederick and the line of the Monocacy. I have taken all possible means to communicate with the Ferry, so that I may send to its relief if necessary. The main body of my cavalry and horse artillery are ordered after the enemy's main column, with orders to check its march that I may overtake it. . . My apprehension is that they may make for Williamsport (which is where Mr. Sears wants them to go), and get across the river before I can catch them."


McClellan to Halleck, Sept. 13 at 11:00 p.m. 

"An order from General R.E. Lee addressed to D.H. Hill which has accidentally come into my hands this evening—the authenticity of which is unquestionable―discloses some of the plans of the enemy and shows conclusively that the main rebel army is now before us."


McClellan to Lincoln, Sept. 13, at midnight

"I have the whole rebel force in front of me. . . The army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for great success if the plans of the rebels remain unchanged. We have possession of Catoctin. I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap." ( See JoeRyanCivilWar YouTube channel for an analysis of what the "trap" was, Mac was thinking of.)


You be the judge: how to square what Mr. Sears divines about McClellan's state of mind—McClellan had no idea, Sears says, what Lee was doing―with what the objective evidence shows McClellan thought was happening and how he intended to respond. And what is Sears trying to say with his sneaky sentence—"Lee counted on [Mac being cautious] while he snapped up Harper's Ferry to clear his supply line."

How was McClellan being cautious on September 14th when he moved his entire army, sans Couch's division and Franklin's corps, directly to Turner's Gap in the South Mountain where he expected to encounter, as he put it to Halleck, the main rebel army? And how, pray tell, can any reasonable juror, with this evidence in hand, conclude that General Lee, by Mac's "caution" could possibly "snap up" the 12,000 man garrison at Harper's Ferry, with their fifty-six pieces of heavy artillery? Has Sears ever stood on School House Ridge and given serious military thought to what he is saying? And why has Sears said that the reason Lee is about to snap up the Ferry, is to "clear his supply line?" His supply line? Clear his supply line? Does Sears really believe what he writes? Lee has no supply line. But, once positioned, as he makes plain in his letter to Davis on the 13th, he most definitely will need a line of retreat, unthreatened by 12,000 Union Soldiers and cavalry garrisoned, with 56 guns, at Harper's Ferry.

So there you are: bring in your verdict for Sears's theory of the case; or follow the primary and undisputed evidence to find your verdict. It takes, by the way, three fourths of the jury (75%) to achieve a verdict that will be accepted by the court. So go into the jury room and cast your votes.

As you go, take with you the opinion of an expert witness, with percipient knowledge of the events, James Longstreet, a guy who ought to know..

"The `lost order' has been the subject of much severe comment by Virginians who have written of the war. . . . Ordinarily, upon getting possession of such an order, the adversary would take it as a ruse de guerre, but it seems that General McClellan gave it his confidence, and made his dispositions accordingly." (1886) Battles & Leaders, Vol II, Part II, pg. 664-665.)


At the same time Mr. Sears was writing his letter to me, he was writing this piece:

"It was Lee's plan to march west from Frederick and force a battle in the broad Cumberland Valley, but. . . Lee elected to pause his campaign and sweep down on Harper's Ferry. . . he expected to complete the capture before McClellan realized what was going on. He issued his orders on September 9, and the next day the Confederate army left Frederick. . . But on September 13 Lee's best-laid plan was dangerously compromised when a Federal soldier came upon a copy of the Harper's Ferry plan, lost by a careless courier."

Editor's Comment

Mr. Sears would be crushed in the trial court: he starts off with reality in mind, but then careens into fiction with his insistence that the capture of Harper's Ferry was not an integral element in Lee's "plan to. . . force a battle in the Cumberland Valley." And he refuses to recognize the direct connection between McClellan not realizing what really was going on and Barton Mitchell coming upon a copy of Lee's movement order.

Editor's Comment

Mr. Sears has tightened up his story since writing his earlier versions. He has ostensibly eliminated Sgt. Bloss's 1892 statement from the narrative, giving sole credit for finding the movement order to Barton Mitchell; yet, in keeping "the envelope" in his story he is, in fact, relying upon Bloss' statement; and his narrative line, "Colgrove. . . noted that by the time the envelope reached him. . .", is a figment of his imagination. Colgrove stated that the order was brought to him "wrapped around three cigars," making no statement about there being either an envelope involved, or that a cigar was missing.

Sears also continues to perpetuate the myth that Chilton "signed" the order.


Joe Ryan

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Last Words On Antietam