Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Lost Dispatch (DH Hill Part II)

On September 2, only a day after the Second Manassas Campaign ended, Lee was contemplating further offensive action. In Bethel to Sharpsburg, Hill explained Lee’s two options consisted of the first, “to retire further into Virginia and await Federal initiative; the other, to relieve Southern territory of harassment and distress by carrying the war into Maryland, and possibly into Pennsylvania.” Hill, always the fighter, approved this aggressive behavior and remarked Lee “wisely dismissed” retiring and instead opted for “the occupation of Maryland...[as to] enable Lee to hold his desired aggressive, and possibly force a decisive battle before the Federal army could assimilate its new organizations.”(1)
In a letter to Jefferson Davis on September 3, Lee indicated the reason for this offensive action was that it seemed “to be most propitious time since the commencement of the war for the Confederate army to enter Maryland. The two grand armies of the United States that have been operating in Virginia, though now united, are much weakened and demoralized... [and if it was] ever desired to give material aid to Maryland and afford her an opportunity of throwing off the oppression to which she is now subject, this would seem the most favorable. Without waiting for a response from Richmond, the rebels began crossing the Potomac on September 4.(2)
By September 7 the bulk of Lee’s army was concentrated in and around Frederick, MD. Lee had accomplished the first objective of crossing “the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge, in order, by threatening Washington and Baltimore, to cause the enemy to withdraw from the south bank, where his presence endangered our communications.” Lee’s next step was “to move the army into Western Maryland, establish our communications with Richmond through the Valley of the Shenandoah, and, by threatening Pennsylvania, induce the enemy to follow, and thus draw him from his base of supplies.” Thus far, the communication line had been running from Richmond-Gordonville-Culpeper to Warrenton. For this campaign, Lee wanted it changed from Richmond-Gordonville-Culpeper-Luray to Winchester with Winchester acting as the main depot. However, there was one hitch that complicated any future movements by the Confederates.(3)
Hill summed up the military situation facing Lee in Frederick, “Lee had naturally expected that, when his army appeared in the direction of Frederick, the Federal troops at Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg would be withdrawn, as his movement would leave them in an indefensible pocket. In this he was disappointed...these forces were left in their exposed positions. This unexpected departure from military rules requiring the relief of a hopeless position, complicated future movements. General Lee had now to decide whether he should ignore the menace of hostile forces squarely seated on his supply roads from the Valley and adhere to his original plan of a speedy concentration behind the South Mountains, or whether to stay his march long enough to capture the large garrison at Harpers Ferry before proceeding. If he left this force unmolested, there was of course the probability that with large reinforcements it would be a constant menace to his communications; if he stayed his march long enough to capture this stronghold, he would again have to divide his army in the immediate presence of a numerically superior army and again run the serious risk of having each division overwhelmed separately.”(4)

Best Farm
On September 9 Lee held a war council at Best Farm (currently a part of Monocacy National Battlefield) with Jackson and Longstreet. It was during this meeting that the outline of Special Orders #191 was developed. In his Official Report, Lee justified his decision for splitting the army because “it had been supposed that the advance upon Fredericktown would lead to the evacuation of Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry, thus opening the line of communication through the Valley, this not having occurred, it became necessary to dislodge the enemy from those positions before concentrating the army west of the mountains.” As a result, in order to continue the invasion of Maryland, along with the goal of getting as far north as Pennsylvania, Lee formulated a plan that would divide his army. Lee saw no danger in this division because “the advance of the Federal army was so slow at the time we left Fredericktown as to justify the belief that the reduction of Harper’s Ferry would be accomplished and our troops concentrated before they would be called upon to meet it.” Once rid of the Union forces at Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry, the Confederate communication line would be secure. After the reduction, Lee’s army could reunite and continue on its merry way to Pennsylvania to force a battle with the Union. Hill penned “therefore, Special Orders No. 191, afterwards famous as the ‘lost dispatch,’ sent his [Lee's] army westward from Frederick on September 10 to undertake by rapid movements the capture of Harpers Ferry, and a subsequent concentration behind the South Mountains.”(5)
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, 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 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 county for this purpose. The route between this and Culpeper 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 RH 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 Loundon 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 DH 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 General 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 &ct.

By command of General RE Lee
    RH Chilton, Assistant Adjutant General(6)

McClellan's Copy of the Lost Orders

After the meeting ended, Lee had RH Chilton formally draw up the orders and, from the original order, make seven copies for Jackson, Longstreet, McLaws, Stuart, Taylor, Walker and Davis. Chilton was not instructed to make a copy for Hill so how is it that not one, but two, copies were made for him?
1.      Up until this time, September 9, Hill fell under Jackson’s command and received his orders directly from Jackson. Once Jackson received his copy of the orders he secretly wrote another copy and sent it to Hill since SO#191 removed Hill from Jackson’s command and placed Hill on a special assignment and under Lee’s direct command. Hill received the copy Jackson made for him and put it in his pocket.
2.      Thinking along the same lines in regards to Hill’s status as defined by the orders, Chilton made a copy of SO#191 for Hill and sent it to him. According to SO#191, Hill was an independent commander, and thus entitled to receive his own copy of orders from headquarters. No one told Chilton to make a copy for Hill, he did it on his own accord. Hill never received Chilton’s copy.
On September 10, the SO#191 went into effect and the Confederates began moving out of Frederick to their assigned destinations.(7)
On September 13, the Army of the Potomac reached Frederick. As the skirmish line of the 27th Indiana pushed through the abandoned Confederate camps, Private (although perhaps Corporal) Barton W Mitchell found a copy of SO#191 wrapped around three cigars in a field. In 1892, (then First Sergeant) Captain John M Bloss told the story of how the dispatch was found. Bloss stated “on the 13th we expected an engagement as we pushed forward to Frederick. That morning Company F, 27th Indiana, was placed on the skirmish line in front of our brigade...and when the opportunity afforded itself, we threw ourselves upon the grass to rest. While lying there, I noticed just beyond Corporal Barton W 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...I began to read the enclosed document. As I read, each line became more interesting. It was Lee’s order to his army giving his plans for the next four days from that time.” Mitchell and Bloss took this treasure to their Colonel, Silas Colgrove, who then delivered it to Headquarters. This copy originated from Lee’s headquarters and was signed by Chilton and addressed to Hill. It was authenticated by Colonel Samuel E Pittman who was familiar with Chilton’s signature due to professional banking transactions in Michigan prior to the war. Now, McClellan had Lee’s plans in his hands (how McClellan responded will be in a future entry).(8)
So, how did a copy of SO#191 manage to get “lost” and remain in a field near Frederick waiting to be discovered by a group of tired skirmishers? As soon as stories about the “lost dispatch” appeared in newspapers, courtesy of McClellan, Hill became the scapegoat since his name was on the orders. There is no doubt two copies of SO#191 had been prepared for Hill. He had received the copy from Jackson but never the one from Chilton. It was not until McClellan’s Official Report was published stating that Hill was the intended recipient of the found copy of SO#191 did Hill even believe that this “lost dispatch” was addressed to him. Again, Hill denied ever receiving Chilton’s copy. It has been suggested that the error lie not with Hill but with Colgrove. Colgrove stated “we [27th IN] stacked arms on the same ground that had been occupied by General DH Hill’s division the evening before” thus giving further ownership to Hill by stating it was Hill’s former campsite where the “lost dispatch” was found. In 1868 General SW Crawford authored a letter that told a different story. According to Crawford, on September 13 he was informed by one of McClellan’s staff the “lost dispatch” had been found almost where Crawford was presently standing, and that was on AP Hill’s former campsite. In agreement with Crawford, RB Marcy (McClellan’s Chief of Staff) also composed a letter in 1868 and penned “I am of the opinion that the order of Lee that you inquire about was found in the camp which had been occupied by AP Hill and not DH Hill.” Not wishing to besmirch the reputation of his fallen comrade AP Hill, Hill didn’t publish the contents of these letters.(9)
In Lost Cause by EA Pollard, Pollard wrote an inflammatory paragraph that incensed Hill to no end. Pollard declared “a copy of the order directing the movement of the army from Frederick had been sent to DH Hill; and this vain and petulant officer, in a moment of passion, had thrown the paper on the ground. It was picked up by a Federal soldier, and McClellan thus strangely became possessed of the exact detail of his adversary’s plan of operations.” In response to Pollard, Hill provided a detailed explanation as to why Pollard was incorrect, and incompetent. In The Land We Love, Hill asserted “if I petulantly threw down this order, I deserved not merely to be cashiered, but to be shot to death with musketry...there is not the shadow of truth in his charge, and he has therefore perpetrated a gross and unprovoked slander.” Hill further argued “General McClellan states that a dispatch, of General Lee, directed to me was found near Frederick, Maryland, and that he gained most important information from it. There can be no doubt then, that such a dispatch was lost. But it is obviously unfair to assume that a paper with my name on the envelope was necessarily lost by me in person. Might it not have been lost in Gen. Lee’s own office? Might it not have been dropped by his courier in carrying it to me? As the Adjutant is the keeper of all orders, might it not have been lost by my Adjutant? Who has the right to assume that the loss was through my own carelessness? Who, without evidence, can presume to charge me with throwing it down in a fit of passion?” As far as Hill was concerned, he was under Jackson’s command. He drew all supplies and received all orders from Jackson. Therefore, receiving a copy from Jackson was not only typical but expected. Receiving an order from someone else, such as Chilton, would have been atypical. Hill maintains “it was right and proper that I should have received this order from Jackson, and from no one else, and I have no recollection of getting one from General Lee’s office direct. My Quarter-master, Major John D Rogers, writes to me that while at Frederick, he received all orders in regard to his wagon train, supplies, &c., through General Jackson’s Quarter-master. It seems to me utterly incomprehensible that all orders should have come through the usual official channels, except this one, the most important of all.”(10)
150 years later and there is still no definitive answer as to who was responsible for losing a copy of SO#191 in a field. No doubt though, this debacle tarnished Hill’s reputation and his adversaries used it against him. Rather than blame Lee for questionable decisions such as dividing his army, Hill was blamed for losing the orders thereby causing Lee to lose the Maryland Campaign. But Hill did not lose the campaign for Lee. In fact, because of Hill, Lee was granted time to reunite his divided army and continue on with the invasion of Maryland.

Next Up--- Hill & September 13 (Part III)

1.        Bethel to Sharpsburg Vol 2 by DH Hill, 1926, pg 326-327.
2.        Official Reports Vol 19 Part 2, pg 590-591.
3.        Official Reports Vol 19 Part 1, pg 145.
Bethel to Sharpsburg, pg 334.
4.        Bethel to Sharpsburg pg 335-336
5.        OR/19/1 pg 145.
Bethel to Sharpsburg pg 337.
6.        OR/19/2 pg 603-604.
7.        The Lost Orders by National Park Service, pg 3.
8.        “Antietam and the Lost Dispatch” by Captain John M Bloss in War Talks in Kansas, 1906, pg 83-84.
Battles & Leaders North to Antietam, 1956, pg 603.
9.        “Lost Dispatch” by DH Hill in The Land We Love February 1868, pg 274.  
Battles & Leaders pg  603.
Lee’s Maverick General by Hal Bridges, 1991, pg  97.
10.     The Lost Cause by EA Pollard, 1868, pg 314.
Lost Dispatch pg 273-275.

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