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The lost Dispatch—Letter from General D. H. Hill.

Macon, Georgia, January 22d, 1885.
Rev. J. William Jones, Secretary Southern Historical Society:
Dear sir,—Permit me a brief reply to a portion of the able and eloquent address of General Bradley T. Johnson, which appears in the last number of the Historical Society papers. In reference to a dispatch from General Lee to myself, which fell into General McClellan's hands, General Johnson says: ‘The Count of Paris states that it was picked up from the corner of a table in the house, which had served as the headquarters of the Confederate General D. H. Hill. A story current in Frederick is that General Hill sat for some time at the corner of Market and Patrick streets, inspecting the march of his column as it moved by, and was observed to drop a paper from his pocket, which was picked up as soon as he left, and delivered to McClellan on his arrival on the 13th.’

The two stories do not harmonize very well, and to them might be added that of E. A. Pollard, who stated that I threw down the order petulantly, because I was not pleased with its contents! In my reply to Pollard, seventeen years ago, in my magazine, The Land We Love, I exposed the unfairness of attributing to me the [421] loss of a paper, solely upon the ground that it was directed to me. I also published the statement of my Adjutant-General, Major J. W. Ratchford, that Lee's order had never been received at our headquarters. There are many still living, who know that I occupied a tent, and not a house, outside of Frederick. Whittier said in reference to the story of Barbara Fritchie that it was ‘as well authenticated as any fact in history,’ on a rumor current in Frederick. It is a very painful thought to me that a Confederate officer, while exposing one myth started upon a Frederick rumor, should bring up as true another rumor to the prejudice of a brother officer, who always tried to do his duty. General Johnson thinks that great things might have been accomplished by the Maryland campaign —a possibility of the capture of Washington and Baltimore, recognition by the powers in Europe, peace and independence. But that the campaign failed ‘principally by the negligence which lost Lee's special order No. 191.’

Let us look for a moment at these gigantic claims. General Johnson says that Lee crossed the Potomac with 35,000 men, and that McClellan had 160,000 in hand and 11,000 at Harper's Ferry. It must be remembered that our remnant of an army was what was left after two months constant marching and fighting and after beating two armies, each superior in numbers to itself. Could the jaded, worn-out, ragged, barefooted and half-starved fragment beat five times their numbers and capture two great cities? We must recollect that the age of miracles is past. No one more feelingly remembers than I do, the courage, patience and endurance of that grand army; but its illustrious commander did not expect miracles from his veterans. He said in his official report: ‘Although not properly equipped for invasion, lacking much of the material of war and feeble in transportation, the troops poorly provided with clothing and thousands of them barefooted, it was yet believed to be strong enough to detain the enemy on the Northern frontier until the approach of winter should render his advance into Virginia difficult, if not impracticable.’

Not one word is said of ‘the possibility of the capture of Washington and Baltimore, the recognition of the Confederacy by the powers, of independence and of peace.’ Lee was too sagacious a man to think of the possibility of the impossible.

I have thought that McClellan lost rather than gained by the capture of order No. 191. He did not need that to know that Harpers Ferry was beleagured, his own ears could hear the firing. The only [422] other thing that he gained from the captured order was the misleading direction for Longstreet to remain at Boonsboro, whereas he had gone to Hagerstown. This misinformation can alone explain the extraordinary caution of the advance of two Federal corps against one brigade of a thousand men. My other four brigades were at different points, three, four and six miles off, at sunrise on the 14th September. After the killing of Garland (who had marched his troops three miles that morning) and the dispersion of his brigade by Reno's corps, the road to our rear was entirely open, and was held by my staff and couriers with one piece of artillery for one hour, until Anderson's brigade came up. The other brigades reached me later and all five numbered but 5,000 men But the 40,000 Federals moved cautiously, believing that Longstreet's corps was there, according to Lee's order, whereas it was fourteen miles off and did not reach the gap until too late to keep the enemy from getting so advantageous a position for the next day's operations that we were compelled to retreat that night. Lee's wagon trains and reserve artillery were at the foot of the mountain and had the gap been lost, all would have been lost. My little force could have been brushed off in an hour, even after all had gotten up, but the turnpike was held for nine hours without any assistance. To assert that the Federals were not under some delusion as to our numbers is to charge them with an imbecility unexampled in modern warfare. This delusion could only have been caused by the captured order.

At Sharpsburg, I made a careful estimate of our forces and placed our numbers at 27,000. This was the army, that but for lost order No. 191, would have beaten McClellan's forces, now swelled to 180, 0000, captured Washington and Baltimore, received recognition from foreign governments and established the Southern Confederacy! This might have happened in the time of Hezekiah and Sennacherib, but hardly in the days of Lee and McClellan.

General Lee made a second invasion of the North with an army three times as strong, well rested, well equipped and full of enthusiasm. There was no lost order, no marplots, no frustration of plans, but he met disaster and not success. The North was recruiting from all parts of the globe and we were fighting the whole world in arms. That heroic army of Northern Virginia accomplished more than any one army known to history ever did. All honor to its great leader and to his devoted followers. They did all that mortals could do, but they could not whip the whole human race.

The fruits of the Maryland campaign were our gains of 12,000 [423] prisoners, seventy-five pieces of artillery and vast military stores of every kind. The fruits of the Pennsylvania campaign were our losses of men, arms and munitions of war.

If General Johnson must needs find one scape-goat for the first campaign, how many must he find for the second?

But this was not the spirit of our illustrious commander. When trouble, failure and disaster came, he did not look round to find a scape-goat. He was chary of censure of conduct, and still more so of motive. Let all who admire his greatness imitate his noble example.

Respectfully and truly,


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