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The lost order.

Imbued with an earnest devotion to the cause, which rose on occasion to the height of enthusiasm, Hill did not hesitate to denounce, in unmeasured terms, those who evaded duty in our armies, when the conditions were such as to plainly demand the active service of every able-bodied son of the South. One of his random shots at the bomb-proofs of the Confederacy wounded a gentleman who, having done nothing in the war worthy to be written, determined to write something in the vain hope that it would be read by future generations. Prompted by petty revenge, he recklessly asserted that General D. H. Hill had thrown a copy of a general order upon the ground in his camp at Frederick City, which, being afterwards picked up and handed to McClellan, gave him an idea of the movements and location of the different portions of Lee's army.

If this order had been literally carried out, it will appear, from an inspection of its contents, that on the day when McClellan attacked Hill, at South Mountain, he had reason to believe, and must have thought that Longstreet was occupying the mountains, supported by Hill. But we are not left to conjecture on that subject. McClellan wrote General Franklin from Frederick City on the 14th, just after he had read the ‘Lost Order’ (Series 1, Volume XIX, part 1, page 45, of Official Records), that Longstreet was to move to Boonsborough and there halt with D. H. Hill, and directed Franklin to make his dispositions with an eye both to the relief of the garrison at Harper's Ferry and the capture of Longstreet and Hill. The plan outlined in the letter is predicated upon the supposition that Longstreet and Hill were together, and constituted the main body of an army, which he estimated in another report to General Halleck at 120,000. If it were not manifest from this letter that McClellan was misled by the order, and his opinion corroborated by the skilful disposition of Hill's troops (see 2 Battles and Leaders of Civil War, pages 559 to 581), his report proves, beyond all question, that he thought the force in his front was 30,000 strong, composed of Hill's division, 15,000, with Longstreet's and a portion of Jackson's command. (Report of McClellan, Series 1, Volume XIX, part 1, page 55, of Official Records.) The skill of Hill, then, and the order combined [132] to mislead McClellan by causing him to overestimate our strength, and the cautious and dilatory movement, which gave Longstreet time to come up in the afternoon, enabled Hill to escape with his little band, leaving the whole army of the Potomac deployed before him.

The order issued by Lee and sent out from army headquarters was as follows (Series 1, Volume XIX, part 2, page 603):

Special orders, no. 191.

headquarters army of Northern Virginia, September 9, 1862.
I. The citizens of Fredericktown being unwilling, while overrun by members of this army, to open their stores, in order to give them confidence, and to secure to officers and men purchasing supplies for benefit of this command, all officers and men of this army are strictly prohibited from visiting Fredericktown, except on business, in which case they will bear evidence of this in writing from division commanders. The Provost Marshal in Fredericktown will see that his guard rigidly enforces this order.

II. Major Taylor will proceed to Leesburg, Virginia, and arrange for transportation of the sick and those unable to walk to Winchester, securing the transportation of the country for this purpose. The route between this and Culpeper Courthouse east of the mountains being unsafe will no longer be traversed. Those on the way to this army already across the river will move up promptly, all others will proceed to Winchester collectively and under command of officers, at which point, being the general depot of the army, its movements will be known and instructions given by commanding officers regulating further movements.

III. The army will resume its march to-morrow, taking the Hagerstown road. General Jackson's command will form the advance, and, after passing Middletown, with such portion as he may select, take the route to Sharpsburg, cross the Potomac at the most convenient point, and by Friday morning take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, capture such of them as may be at Martinsburg, and intercept such as may attempt to escape from Harper's Ferry.

IV. General Longstreet's command will pursue the main road as far as Boonsborough, where it will halt, with reserve, supply and baggage trains of the army. [133]

V. General McLaws, with his own division and that of General R. H. Anderson, will follow General Longstreet. On reaching Middletown will take the route to Harper's Ferry, and by Friday morning possess himself of the Maryland Heights and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harper's Ferry and vicinity.

VI. General Walker, with his division, after accomplishing the object in which he is now engaged, will cross the Potomac at Cheek's Ford, ascend its right bank to Lovettsville, take possession of the Loudoun Heights, if practicable, by Friday morning, Key's Ford on his left, and the road between the end of the mountain and the Potomac on his right. He will, as far as practicable, co-operate with General McLaws and Jackson, and intercept retreat of the enemy.

VII. General D. H. Hill's division will form the rear guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body. The reserve artillery, ordnance and supply trains, etc., will precede General Hill.

VIII. General Stuart will detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany the commands of Generals Longstreet, Jackson and McLaws, and with the main body of the cavalry, will cover the route of the army, bringing up all the stragglers that may have been left behind.

IX. The commands of Generals Jackson, McLaws and Walker, after accomplishing the objects for which they have been detached, will join the main body of the army at Boonsborough or Hagerstown.

X. Each regiment on the march will habitually carry its axes in the regimental ordnance wagons, for use of the men at their encampments, to procure wood, etc.

By command of General R. E. Lee.

R. H. Chilton, Assistant Adjutant General.

On page 42, Part 1, Volume XIX, Series 1 of Official Records, McClellan says: ‘The following is a copy of the order referred to’:

Special orders no. 191.

headquarters army of Northern Virginia, September 9, 1862.
The army will resume its march to-morrow, taking the Hagerstown road. General Jackson's command will form the advance, and after passing Middletown, with such portion as he may select, take the route to Sharpsburg, cross the Potomac at the most convenient [134] point, and by Friday night, take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, capture such of the enemy as may be at Martinsburg, and intercept such as may attempt to escape from Harper's Ferry.

General Longstreet's command will pursue the same road as far as Boonsborough, where it will halt with reserve, supply and baggage trains of the army.

General McLaws, with his own division and that of General R. H. Anderson, will follow General Longstreet. On reaching Middletown he will take the route to Harper's Ferry, and by Friday morning possess himself of the Maryland Heights and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harper's Ferry and vicinity.

General Walker, with his divison, after accomplishing the object in which he is now engaged, will cross the Potomac at Cheek's Ford, ascend its right bank to Lovettsville, take possession of Loudoun Heights, if practicable, by Friday morning, Key's Ford on his left, and the road between the end of the mountain and the Potomac on his right. He will, as far as practicable, co-operate with General McLaws and General Jackson, in intercepting the retreat of the enemy.

General D. H. Hill's division will form the rear guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body. The reserve artillery, ordnance, supply trains, etc., will precede General Hill.

General Stuart will detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany the commands of Generals Longstreet, Jackson and McLaws, and with the main body of the cavalry will cover the route of the army and bring up all stragglers that may have been left behind.

The commands of Generals Jackson, McLaws and Walker, after accomplishing the objects for which they have been detached, will join the main body of the army at Boonsborough or Hagerstown.

Each regiment on the march will habitually carry its axes in the regimental ordnance wagons, for use of the men at their encampments, to procure wood, etc.

By command of General R. E. Lee.

R. H. Chilton, Assistant Adjutant-General.

If Pollard's malignant charge, made to detract from the honor and glory of an achievement so brilliantly executed and so fruitful of benefit to the cause, were not shown by the most direct proof from the most honorable men to be false and unfounded, the marked discrepancy [135] between the order published in the Official Records as No. 191, copied from General Lee's book of general orders, and that which McClellan declared in his report to be a copy of the order sent by him to Washington, suggests to a legal mind a solution of the dispute which corroborates in the strongest possible manner the sworn testimony of Major James W. Ratchford, Adjutant-General of Hills's division, that the custody of such papers was a part of his exclusive duty at that time, and that no such order was delivered to him with the solemn statement of General Hill that he never saw or read a copy of the order in question, except one purporting to have been sent through General Jackson, to whose corps he was attached when it was issued, and which he still preserved among his private papers in 1886. It will be observed that the first of the two paragraphs, omitted in what purports to be the copy of the order that fell into the possession of the enemy, forbade the troops stationed around Frederick City from entering that town without permission, and the second directed that the sick and disabled of the army should be removed to Winchester. Halleck's correspondence with McClellan on the same day, September 13, 1862 (Official Records, Series 1, Volume XIX, Part 1, page 41), evinces the greatest apprehension that the movement of the army was aimed at Washington city, and the demonstrations higher up the Potomac were intended to distract attention from the real design. Was it not more important that the chief officer of all the armies should know that Lee's sick and disabled soldiers were to be moved to Winchester as the ‘general depot of the army,’ and that all recruits returning, or coming for the first time to the army were to rendezvous at Winchester, than to learn from the last paragraph of the copy sent him that Lee's troops were to habitually carry in their regimental wagons axes to cut wood, &c.? The second paragraph seemed plainly to indicate that Lee's purpose was what he afterwards declared in his report to have been his plan—to establish his base of operations by way of the valley of Virginia and invade or threaten Pennsylvania, not Washington, after taking Harper's Ferry. (Official Records, Series 1, Volume XIX, Part 1, page 145.) This was McClellan's own idea of Lee's design, and if he could have convinced Halleck of the correctness of his views, there would have been no reason for further hesitation about weakening the garrison of the Capital City to swell the effective force in the field. McClellan did not get the whole order and omit a portion of [136] it in his correspondence at the time because it tended to sustain his view against Halleck. He did not send his chief the full copy of his order, and omit his report, written after his removal from command, a section which proved that he (not Halleck) had divined Lee's purpose from the beginning. The two paragraphs would not have been omitted in a copy intended for Hill, because it was Hill's troops that at the time were stationed nearest to Frederick City, and were prohibited from entering it. It is evident that General Lee must have sent the whole order to Hill, therefore, and it is equally manifest that McClellan had every reason for inserting a full copy in his report if he received it.

The explanation which readily suggests itself, therefore, is that the original draft of the order contained only the portion beginning with the third section, and was signed in that shape by Colonel Chilton, but was afterwards modified so as to prefix the two first paragraphs before it was issued. ‘The lost order’ was found by an Indiana soldier wrapped around three cigars. (2 Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, page 603.) The first paper drawn would have become useless after the material additions made to it, and might well have been wrapped around cigars by some one at General Lee's headquarters with the purpose of using it to light them, and then lost before cigars or paper were disposed of as intended. It will be more readily believed that a clerk or assistant in the office at army headquarters might have been guilty of carelessness than that Ratchford swore, and Hill told, a falsehood. If their positive statements are believed, but the one order addressed as though sent through General Jackson's headquarters was received by General Hill. When Lee and Hill were encamped in sight of each other near Fredericktown, and General Lee was then and afterwards (as at South Mountain) habitually sending orders direct to General Hill, it does not seem probable that Lee, whose forte was the power of readily mobilizing his army, would have tolerated such circumlocution as making one courier ride across the Potomac to Jackson with an order, which was to be sent back by another messenger to a camp in sight of its starting point on the next day. It would have been a fair compromise between extreme official courtesy and that common sense which always characterized the conduct of our great leaders, if he had recognized General Jackson's authority by addressing the order as though transmitted through him, while conforming his conduct to the conditions [137] which demanded that Hill should know at the earliest possible moment of his proposed plan of operation, and of the prohibition applying to his own and Longstreet's divisions only against entering the neighboring town without a permit from division headquarters, by ordering its delivery direct to him.

The direct testimony bearing upon the dispute in reference to the lost order was the sworn statement of Major James W. Ratchford, Adjutant-General, that but the single copy of the order reached him, which was preserved by General Hill till his death, and the solemn statement of Hill that he himself received no other copy. Leaving out of view the difference between the original paper recorded in Lee's book and the supposed copy delivered to McClellan, there is nothing to contradict the testimony of one of the bravest and truest officers in the army of Virginia and the word of D. H. Hill. The attention of these two officers had been called to the loss of the paper within a few months after it passed into McClellan's hands, when all that had occurred in Maryland was still fresh in their memories, and they then made the same statement that the one reiterates to-day and the other published in 1886. Lee himself charged no particular person with the loss of the dispatch. While he possibly magnified (says Longstreet in his article in the Century Magazine) its effect upon the Maryland campaign, he was inclined to attribute its loss to the fault of a courier. (2 Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, page 674.) In his report of the operations in Maryland, he said (Official Records, Series 1, Vol. XIX, part 1, page 145): ‘The small command of General Hill repelled repeated assaults of the Federal army and held it in check for five hours.’ The only contradicting testimony comes from Major Taylor, of General Lee's staff, and being negative in its character, is not entitled to the weight that should be attached to the positive evidence of gentlemen of equal reputation for veracity. The substance of his statement is, that it was his habit during that campaign to send such orders directly to the headquarters of Hill's division as well as through Jackson to Hill. But he neither recalls the fact of sending the particular paper in question, nor names any officer or courier who attests its actual delivery. Admitting the high character of Taylor, as well as Ratchford, the verdict of history, under the most familiar rules of evidence, must unquestionably acquit Hill of negligence, and accord to him the high honor of saving the army of Lee by his strategy, coolness and courage.


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