The finding of Lee's lost order.
by Silas Colgrove, Brevet Brigadier-General, U. S. V.
In reply to your request for the particulars of the finding of General Lee
's lost dispatch, “Special orders no. 191,” and the manner in which it reached General McClellan
, I beg leave to submit the following account:
The Twelfth Army Corps arrived at Frederick, Maryland
, about noon on the 13th of September, 1862.
The 27th Indiana Volunteers, of which I was colonel at that date, belonged to the Third Brigade, First Division, of that corps.
We stacked arms on the same ground that had been occupied by General D. H. Hill
's division the evening before.
Within a very few minutes after halting, the order was brought to me by First Sergeant John M. Bloss
and Private B. W. Mitchell
, of Company F, 27th Indiana Volunteers, who stated that it was found by Private 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. [See p. 664.]
General A. S. Williams
was in command of our division.
I immediately took the order to his headquarters, and delivered it to Colonel S. E. Pittman
, General Williams
The order was signed by Colonel Chilton
, General Lee
's adjutant-general, and the signature was at once recognized by Colonel Pittman
, who had served with Colonel Chilton
at Detroit, Michigan
, before the war, and was acquainted with his handwriting.
It was at once taken to General McClellan
's headquarters by Colonel Pittman
It was a general order
giving directions for the movement of General Lee
's entire army, designating the route and objective point of each corps.
Within an hour after finding the dispatch, General McClellan
's whole army was on the move, and the enemy were overtaken next day, the 14th, at South Mountain
, and the battle of that name was fought.
During the night of the 14th General Lee
's army fell back toward the Potomac River
, General McClellan
following the next day. On the 16th they were overtaken again, and the battle of Antietam
was fought mainly on the 17th. General D. H. Hill
says in his article in the May “Century,” that the battle of South Mountain
was fought in order to give General Lee
time to move his trains, which were then parked in the neighborhood of Boonsboro
‘. It is evident from General Lee
's movements from the time he left Frederick City, that he intended to recross the Potomac
without hazarding a battle in Maryland
, and had it not been for the finding of this lost order, the battle of South Mountain
, and probably that of Antietam
, would not have been fought.
For confirmation of the above statements in regard to the finding of the dispatch, you are respectfully referred to Colonel Samuel E. Pittman
, of Detroit, Michigan
, and Captain John M. Bloss
, of Muncie, Indiana
Washington, D. C.
, June 2d, 1886.
note.--Mr. W. A. Mitchell, the son of Private Mitchell, who, as General Silas Colgrove describes above, was the finder of Lee's order, writes to say that his father was severely wounded at Antietam.
After eight months in hospital he completed his term of enlistment, three years, and three years after his discharge died at his home in Bartholomew, Indiana.
As his family were then destitute, some efforts are said to have been made to procure a pension for the widow, but General Colgrove (in a letter to the editor of the “Century,” dated Washington, November 15th, 1886) states that “neither the soldier nor the widow has ever filed a claim for pension, and any seeming failure of recognition is not due to neglect on the part of — the Pension Office.”
The following letter from General McClellan
to the son is of interest: