Robert E. Lee’s Special Orders, Number 191

On September 9, 1862, after occupying the city of Frederick at the start of the Maryland Campaign, Confederate General Robert E. Lee drew up orders for his Army of Northern Virginia in its invasion of the North. It was a daring and risky plan which split his army into several parts in order to clear Union garrisons from Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

Lee knew that the slow and cautious Major General George McClellan had been re-appointed to the command of the Union Army of the Potomac, which had been stunned and demoralized by Lee’s victory at Second Bull Run, or Second Manassas. The combination should have been enough for Lee to safely operate behind the screen of South Mountain, which runs north-south across Maryland with few good passes.

Lee’s Adjutant Robert H. Chilton sent out three copies of the orders, endorsed in Lee’s name. Staff officers distributed the copies to the Confederate division commanders. One of Jackson’s subordinates, Major General D. H. Hill, had been detached as the army’s rear guard and Jackson copied him on the orders. But Hill said the only copy he received was the one from Jackson and not the order sent directly to him by Lee.

On September 13 the 27th Indiana Infantry, part of the Union Twelfth Army Corps, was bivouacked just outside of Frederick on a site occupied shortly before by D.H. Hill’s Confederates. At around 10 a.m., Corporal Barton W. Mitchell discovered an envelope with three cigars wrapped in a piece of paper lying in the grass. Mitchell showed the paper it to Sergeant John M. Bloss, and the two non-coms took it to Captain Peter Kopp, who in turn brought it to regimental commander Colonel Silas Colgrove, who carried it to the corps headquarters.

There, an aide to Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams recognized the signature of R. H. Chilton, Lee’s assistant adjutant general. Williams forwarded the dispatch to McClellan. McClellan was reportedly shouted, “Now I know what to do! Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home.”

Maryland state historical marker and a wayside marker outside the Monocacy National Battlefield Visitor Center tells about the Lost Order.

Here is the text of the order:

Special Orders, No. 191
Hdqrs. Army of Northern Virginia
September 9, 1862

1. The citizens of Fredericktown being unwilling while overrun by members of this army, to open their stores, 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 cases 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.

2. 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 Culpepper Court-House east of the mountains being unsafe, will no longer be traveled. 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 this army, its movements will be known and instructions given by commanding officer regulating further movements.

3. The army will resume its march tomorrow, 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 toward 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 Harpers Ferry.

4. 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.

5. 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 Harpers Ferry, and by Friday morning possess himself of the Maryland Heights and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harpers Ferry and vicinity.

6. 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 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, cooperate with General McLaws and Jackson, and intercept retreat of the enemy.

7. 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, &c., will precede General Hill.

8. 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 stragglers that may have been left behind.

9. 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.

10. 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 &c.

By command of General R. E. Lee
R.H. Chilton, Assistant Adjutant General