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What if Special Order 191 was not lost?

Discussion in '"What if..." Discussions' started by Saphroneth, Oct 2, 2018.

  1. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    I know there's a whole novel series about this, but I thought it was worth looking into in greater detail anyway.

    Historically Special Order 191 was found somewhat after noon on September 13th and handed in to McClellan a couple of hours later. The situation on the night of the 12th was:

    https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3841sm.gcw0242000/?sp=6&r=0.12,0.16,0.615,0.396,0

    Since then McClellan had entered Frederick, and he'd launched Burnside's wing against South Mountain - indeed, he was handed SO191 after seeing Cox's division off (they were the vanguard).

    Historically, Burnside's wing deployed against South Mountain (Fox's Gap and Turner's Gap) beginning at dawn on the 14th, after a partial night march. So...

    ...the question is, what would have resulted if SO191 wasn't lost? McClellan's army is already marching to contact when things change, after all...


    As far as I can see, there are a few possibilities:

    1) McClellan sends part of his army over the Cacotins while keeping the rest in Frederick, and that wing gets cut off and destroyed.
    This seems fundamentally unlikely to me - there's no reason for this to happen.
    2) McClellan sends his forces only after Fox's and Turner's and doesn't force Crampton's Gap, thus Lee's managed to hold South Mountain against him.
    This results in a stalemate, but it's one which works both ways - McClellan can hold South Mountain with only a portion of his own army and send the rest south to try and cut Lee off.
    3) McClellan forces South Mountain.
    This is back on the historical track, and Antietam goes more or less as it did historically.
    3a) McClellan forces South Mountain but thinks the Confederates have reconcentrated.
    This might actually result in a better outcome for the Union than historical - this would lead to McClellan not attacking until the 18th (when his own forces were mostly up) and having a more favourable force ratio.


    Any options I've missed?
     
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  3. WJC

    WJC Moderator Moderator

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    From what I've read, the loss had little, if any, effect on McClellan's plans or the execution of his plans.
     
  4. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    So here's the thing - how does that lead to a Confederate victory? What operational moves result?
     
  5. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    McClellan's already moving to South Mountain. At this point Lee's got four options:

    Move into Pennsylvania
    Move west, away from McClellan
    Hold position
    Move south back into Virginia


    Now, we know that at the time what Lee was actually doing was holding position with one wing and moving the other against HF. But which of these misconceptions could lead to a major Confederate victory?

    Option one: McClellan assumes Lee is moving into Pennsylvania. In this case McClellan's correct course of action is to cross South Mountain; McClellan's actions are no different to historical.
    McClellan bumps into Lee at South Mountain and Antietam results as historical.


    Option two: McClellan assumes Lee is moving west.
    In this case, McClellan would want to pursue with part of his army and send the other part south into Virginia. The easiest crossing point for this is Harpers Ferry, which... pretty much results with the historical battle too, as it means half McClellan's army is thrown towards Crampton's Gap.


    Option four: McClellan assumes Lee is moving south back into Virginia.
    In this case... again, McClellan needs to move to South Mountain, because if he gets over it he has the chance to catch part of the AoNV on the north side of the river.

    Essentially, the thing that makes an ATL Antietam going differently on the operational level hard is that McClellan was already quite aware that Lee was west of him, and South Mountain constrains the operational space - all McClellan's moves to battle involve crossing it, while any move that involved refusing battle would involve not crossing it - and McClellan had launched troops at South Mountain before finding SO191. It's remotely posible to view McClellan's pre-SO191 action as setting up a curtain of manoeuvre, but the question remains as to what he would use this curtain of manoeuvre to actually do - and his post-SO191 actions indicate an eagerness to engage.
     
  6. BlueandGrayl

    BlueandGrayl Sergeant

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    Well this suddenly became a What If thread. To be honest without a "Lost Order" there would be no such thing as a "South Mountain/Boonsboro Gap" or "Antietam/Sharpsburg" these primarily occured partly due to three Union soldiers recovering those orders, I think to quote General George Meade on the whole matter prior to finding it "The enemy [Confederates] have retired in the direction of Hagerstown. Where they have gone, or what their plans are, is as yet involved in obscurity, and I think our generals are a little puzzled".

    As for George B. McClellan well as he stated "My movements tomorrow will be dependent on information to be received during the night" prior to the Lost Order he also elaborated "Should the enemy go towards Penna [Pennsylvania] I shall follow him. Should he attempt to recross the Potomac [River] I shall endeavor to cut off his retreat" McClellan also noted he had apprehensions about Lee crossing the Potomac River at Williamsport.

    So without the Lost Order thing McClellan would have to rely a bit on cavalry regarding Confederate army movements.

    I've read bits of To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 by David S. Hartwig and George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon and The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan by Stephen W. Sears to clarify my sources.

















    Considering how Saphroneth brought up the Southern Victory/Timeline 191 series by Harry Turtledove the most detailed of Civil War alternate history (CWAH) out there I wonder have any of you read the books which are 11 in total comprising of How Few Remain, American Front, Walk in Hell, Breakthroughs, Blood and Iron, The Center Cannot Hold, The Victorious Opposition, Return Engagement, Drive to the East, The Grapple, and In at the Death) at 3 sections of the series 2 of them are trilogies (Great War and American Empire) and one is a quadrology (Settling Accounts) which span from 1862 (the end of the War of Secession) to 1944 (the end of the Second Great War) lasting for 82 years. If you have read the books all or some of them tell what do you think of the series.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2018
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  7. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    But McClellan had sent Burnside's wing marching for the South Mountain gaps before the Lost Orders were discovered. (He saw Cox off about midday, and wasn't handed the lost orders until about 3pm). That means the two armies are going to collide on the 14th anyway.

    Yes? That's what they were doing, and he knew Lee was operating west of South Mountain. With that in mind McClellan's actions only really diverge once he's over South Mountain, and that means he hits Lee on schedule.

    From there, going for Cramptons makes sense as Cramptons is a way around the roadblock at Turner's Gap; this in turn means that some corps or other forces Crampton's Gap, and McClellan's actions are much as per historical.

    Here are the places where things could go off the rails:

    1) A different corps is sent south to Crampton's Gap.
    If this means the commander is more aggressive than Franklin and pushes into the Pleasant Valley on the 14th, then McLaws and Anderson are forced to surrender and Harpers Ferry is relieved. Lee is in a pickle.
    2) McClellan's movement to Antietam Creek overall is slower, and he arrives a day late relative to his historical arrivals and attacks on the 18th.
    Pretty much the same battle as historical, really. If Lee crosses on schedule then it's the historical battle but the dates are shifted, if Lee crosses a day later he might be hit again on the 19th because the ammunition is up.
    3) McClellan's movement is overall slower but AP Hill is called back by Lee on schedule, and Franklin exploits this to cross at HF and march along the south of the Potomac.
    Franklin blocks Boteler's Ford on the 18th as McClellan's main attack takes place; the AoNV is compelled to surrender.

    Anything I missed?
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2018
  8. Joe Ryan

    Joe Ryan Private

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    As one of the posters points out, McClellan revealed his thinking what to do if the enemy was, in fact, retreating into Virginia in his Sept. 12 letter to Mary Ellen: he would "cross lower down and cut into his communications near Winchester." The only available place "lower down" to cross the river was at Harper's Ferry. So, without reading the order, and learning as he did from various sources that the enemy (Jackson's command) was crossing the river at Williamsport, it is reasonably obvious, even to the casual observer, that McClellan would have marched his army directly to Crampton's Gap, into Pleasant Valley and down to the railroad bridge, cross it and pass through Harper's Ferry and move to cut the enemy's retreat using the line of the Winchester & Potomac Railroad. Recognizing this is what a reasonable person would do in McClellan's shoes, hearing that the enemy was crossing the river at Williamsport, and wanting to bring McClellan to battle at the Antietam, Lee used the order to notify McClellan the enemy was not, in fact, retreating, but massing behind Turner's Gap to attack him as he crossed the Middletown Valley toward Crampton's Gap. Lee obviously could not engage McClellan in battle at the Antietam, with the Harper's Ferry garrison free to take position on the range of hills overlooking the Potomac at Shepherdstown; hence the need to neutralize it.
     
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  9. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    Thanks for the post... I admit it's a little hard for me to follow your logic, but I'll do my best.

    It looks to me like your view is that Lee deliberately let SO 191 be captured? That seems odd to me for a number of reasons.

    1) Lee had no way to know if the order would be captured or not - it was a coincidence and took place because the order was dropped somewhere the Union force encamped.
    2) Nothing in your appreciation of Lee's plan would prevent McClellan from sending forces through both Turner's Gap and Crampton's Gap, and with the greater part of Lee's force not behind Turner's Gap (and with about 3/8 of Lee's force south of the Potomac and 1/4 of it in the Pleasant Valley) this would result in the loss of McLaws' wing (1/4 of the AoNV) in the Pleasant Valley - only the precipitate surrender of HF prevented this and Lee could not possibly count on that.
    3) Lee did not intend to stand and fight at Antietam before the Battle of South Mountain, a detail which is obvious from the way Lee spent the whole time from the 15th to the 18th crossing his supply trains south of the Potomac. (If he'd intended to stand and fight, it would be with some expectation of winning a clash of arms; if he could win a clash of arms he wouldn't need to send his trains south.)

    Worse, if this version of Lee's "let the enemy capture my plans" plan goes awry and McClellan does march straight for HF, then he's got a force less than half the size of the Union army (spread out over several miles and not ready to march) behind Turner's Gap and unable to effectively prevent a march on Cramptons by at least one Union corps. That Union corps could then pin McLaws' force in the Pleasant Valley and force them to surrender.

    It seems to me that your appreciation of Lee's logic train is:

    1) Lee wants to retreat back into Virginia after crossing west of South Mountain.
    2) Lee works out that that would leave Lee vulnerable to McClellan crossing the Potomac at Harpers Ferry and endangering his communications.
    3) Rather than simply cross his whole army at Williamsport (which would leave his army over the river and south of Harpers Ferry to block McClellan before McClellan could reach Harpers Ferry), Lee decides to split his army into multiple independent wings and converge on Harpers Ferry.
    4) So as to ensure McClellan doesn't do the thing which would mess this up, Lee deliberately leaves the true account of his dispositions for McClellan to capture.
    5) This means Lee has already worked all this out by the time SO191 is written and lost (i.e. before he leaves Frederick MD).

    But if Lee wanted to retreat back into Virginia he could have just done so either east or west of the Cacotins and South Mountain.


    My view of Lee's chain of logic is:

    After reaching Frederick, he decides to go after Harpers Ferry to clear his supply route from the Valley to the area west of South Mountain. He splits his forces to come down on HF from several directions, while using the remainder to secure the roads into Pennsylvania either for a future offensive operation or as a lure to bring the Federal commander to battle after the HF operation is concluded.
    It's on the 14th that Lee discovers McClellan's marched hard west and is hitting him at Turner's Gap, as well as forcing Cramptons, and he sends instructions to commanders like McLaws to abandon the siege immediately and concentrate with the main army however they can; McLaws is pinned in the Pleasant Valley and only the surrender of HF saves about a quarter of Lee's entire army.
    After McClellan has forced South Mountain, Lee draws everyone in to Sharpsburg as soon as possible; AP Hill is left to hold the south bank of the Potomac, but Lee eventually calls even AP Hill in to strengthen his force. Lee is standing at Sharpsburg not because he wants to but because he has to - his supply trains are vulnerable north of the river and he needs to get them south ASAP. At this point Lee is trying to save as much of his army as possible, and wins the buildup race enough to avoid being crushed.
    After Antietam Lee tries a manoeuvre further west to Williamsport but cancels it when 6th Corps blocks him; McClellan's attempts to cross at Botelers and HF likewise fail, and the armies settle down to refit.
     
  10. Joe Ryan

    Joe Ryan Private

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    Sorry, can't make sense of what you are saying, too convoluted an expression of the objective military facts. Your first point, however, is legitimate and clearly stated. The problem is, you assume the order was discovered by Mitchell by "accident."
     
  11. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    Yes, I do, because I cannot see a benefit that would obtain from Lee providing McClellan with a true account of his movements.

    There are three possibilities for the position of DH Hill's troops and Longstreet's men:

    1) They can make any movement through Crampton's Gap and onto the Pleasant Valley too risky, because if McClellan made that movement they could hit him in the flank and badly damage his army.
    2) They cannot interfere with any movement through Crampton's Gap even if McClellan doesn't know about them.
    3) They can interfere with a movement through Crampton's Gap, unless McClellan knows about them and can screen them with some of his troops.

    In the first case, then Lee would not gain a benefit from leaking his movements - he'd be able to hit McClellan in the flank and badly damage his army.
    In the second case, then Lee would not gain a benefit from leaking his movements - McClellan can just ignore him.
    In the third case, then Lee would not gain a benefit from leaking his movements - McClellan would be able to screen Turner's Gap and send a corps after Crampton's Gap.
     
  12. Joe Ryan

    Joe Ryan Private

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    Try hard thinking this through: What if , on September 9 when he created the order, General Lee's intent was to position his army behind the Antietam and receive the Union army's attack? With the enemy having a 10,000 man garrison at Harper's Ferry, with 1,200 cavalry and 50 pieces of artillery, capable of taking position on the ridge line of hills on the right bank of the Potomac behind Sharpsburg, would a reasonable person in Lee's shoes, do it? If the answer is no, unless the garrison was eliminated from the picture, then the problem becomes how to eliminate it without McClellan showing up with his army in the process, which a reasonable person in McClellan's shoes would certainly do, if he thought Lee's army was retreating into Virginia.
     
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  13. BlueandGrayl

    BlueandGrayl Sergeant

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    If anyone of you had read Harry Turtledove's Southern Victory series which focuses on the POD of there being no Lost Order or James M. McPherson's "If the Lost Order Hadn't Been Lost" in What If: The World's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been what do you think of those stories.
     
  14. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    Okay, let's work with that assumption.

    If what Lee planned was to fight a battle between the Antietam and the Potomac - that is, it was his plan from the beginning - and he expected McClellan to come out and fight him, then why didn't he detach more troops to cover Crampton's Gap? He could easily have sent some of Longstreet's force to cover Crampton's Gap (or arranged his army differently) so as to ensure that he didn't face the serious risk of losing a large chunk of his army crushed between Cramptons and Harpers Ferry. (Cramptons is the easiest of the passes through South Mountain, with the passable section being wider, and was historically defended with 3 brigades while Fox's and Turner's Gaps were defended with 6 brigades each.)


    The second problem with the idea is that it doesn't explain why Lee was retreating across the Potomac with his trains before the main clash of arms on the 17th. If Lee's intent from the beginning was to fight a battle around Sharpsburg, and his entire army was "up" at Sharpsburg, why was Lee retreating from a battle he'd planned to fight from the start?


    And the third problem is the idea that Lee would need to leave something like that to sting the Union into following him. Frederick MD is about forty miles from Washington DC; clearly if SO191 is picked up then the Union army is already operating too far from Washington to march back and join it in a few days, but if it's doing that then it's because it's operating under instructions to fight the Confederate army. Does this version of Lee seriously think that the Union will stay east of the Cacotins even if he's taken Harpers Ferry and threatened Pennsylvania?
     
  15. Joe Ryan

    Joe Ryan Private

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    A good start at thinking it through. But what you perceive as "problems" are not. The primary objective fact worth keeping in the front of the mind, is that, by the time it concentrated at Frederick on September 6-7, Lee realized the strength of his army was reduced to about 33,000 men. This estimate comes from Walter Taylor and Charles Marshall, who after the war wrote each other to verify their recollection of the reality. It is a simple matter of mathematics to recognize that, with only 33,000 men, the best a reasonable person in Lee's shoes could expect to do, is attempt to hold a front of 3 miles or less, a mile being 2,000 yards and a single man holding 3 yards of it. With this hard fact in mind, looking at a map brings your eye, if you are thinking it through, directly to the folds of the Potomac as it wraps around Sharpsburg. The bends in the river, with the Antietam running northward on the right flank, give you secure flanks that cannot be turned, but must be physically pushed away, or broken by the enemy. There is a a good reason, some of the participants described the battle as "artillery hell."

    Recognizing also that you must have a secure line of retreat across the river, because you are going to retreat at some point, win, lose, or draw, you find it behind Sharpsburg at Packhorse Ford. So, to resolve Problem One, you must face the fact that Lee could not attempt, and would not be stupid enough to attempt, to confront McClellan's 100,000 man army at the South Mountain Gaps with his whole army. It is one thing to hold the gaps to buy 24 hours of time, another thing entirely to use them as points of resistance, separated one from the other by six miles, during a general battle. Crampton's Gap can and was easily turned by way of Brown's Gap, as well as easily forced by Franklin's three divisions, which is why McLaws positioned his force south of the Gap and across the one mile width of Pleasant Valley. It helps to have actually been on the ground.

    The purpose of placing McLaws' division, with Anderson, in Pleasant Valley, was to block the line of retreat of the garrison at Harper's Ferry for forty-eight hours, not hold the gap indefinitely. Though the lost order informs McClellan that it was McLaws who was "to endeavor to capture" Harper's Ferry, a reasonable person in McClellan's shoes would certainly recognize it was impossible for McLaws to do so, because he had no chance of crossing the Potomac to reach the Ferry, and his artillery could not reach Bolivar Heights where the garrison was actually drawn up in line of battle facing southwest. So, this means Lee knows McClellan would assume, as he read on through the order, that the reason McLaws was positioned at Crampton's Gap, was to block the enemy from gaining possession of Rohrersville which would effectively place the enemy on the right flank of Lee's "main body" at Boonesboro. This conclusion would reinforce in McClellan's mind the idea that what Lee was doing on the 13th, was not retreating as all the reports coming in said, but instead operating on the offensive, planning to attack him as he moved into the Middletown Valley.

    As to the supposed second problem, the fact that Lee was moving the army's trains across the Potomac on the 14th, means simply that, in setting up the battle piece, he is prudently getting them out of the way and in a safe place, which was Shepherdstown. At the same time, returning to the purpose of the order, the fact the trains would be seen moving across the river in the wake of Stonewall's passage, would reinforce in McClellan's mind the idea the enemy was retreating and this would induce him to do what he told Mary Ellen on the 12th he would do and what Lincoln certainly expected him to do: chase down the enemy before he gets away and hurt him badly.

    The third "problem" is no problem at all. Lee didn't need to leave anything behind "to sting" McClellan into following him. It was a certainty in military affairs that McClellan would pursue Lee, the only issue was, pursue him where? pursue him in which direction? "Pursuit" includes also the issue of whether you are "pursuing" a retreating enemy, or an enemy maneuvering to attack you. So, without the order, relying on the reports of Lee's movements coming to you from several sources, you pursue one way; with it, you pursue another way.
     
  16. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    You what?

    How? Where did all the men go?

    More to the point, how exactly can an army of 33,000 men sustain 13,500 casualties and yet have 64,000 men left ten days later? (Below first numerical column strengths from October 10 report; they closely align with the September 30 report.)

    [​IMG]

    That's notwithstanding how all intelligence reports from the period suggest that the strength of Lee's full force was around 80,000 men:

    [​IMG]

    Surely it's easier to hold a succession of mountain gaps with a small force rather than a three mile line with a small force, if the total width of the mountain gaps is noticeably less than three miles. And surely if you only have a small force available, to risk some of it in the Pleasant Valley when you're deliberately trying to lure your enemy into attacking is crazy.

    Of course, your entire argument is based on what you seem to view as incontrovertible fact - that Lee had to fight a battle and felt that even if he was outnumbered 3:1 (for... some reason) then he had no alternative but to give battle, even if he could just retreat back south of the Potomac without fighting. (There is no reason why Lee could not have marched to Williamsburg and crossed south of the river - we know how far Jackson was able to move, and we also know how Walker crossed the Potomac a few miles west of the Monocacy, for that matter.)


    That's quite apart from how your assessment of McClellan's strength is also flawed - you seem to be using very inconistent numbers.

    Per SO191:

    • 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.
    • 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 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.
    • 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.
    You are correct that it directs McLaws to capture the enemy at Harpers Ferry and vicinity; however, there's a good reason for this, which is that of the positions around Harpers Ferry the Maryland Heights and the Loudoun Heights are the ones which render the defence impractical. (They're behind the defensive position and thus "turn" it; since possession of them is key for defending HF it was expected that the Union commander would hold them most strongly rather than retreat into HF proper.) As for crossing, the artillery can cover a crossing quite adequately unless the garrison is closed up... within range of the artillery.
    The core concept here is that Jackson, McLaws and Walker converge on HF from different directions, and this did in fact capture Harpers' Ferry.

    Incidentally, if your "Lee only had 33,000 at Frederick" was to be correct you'd then have to believe that Harpers' Ferry fell to - what, 20,000 troops? Less?

    You haven't addressed the meat of my objection at all - why risk McLaws in the Pleasant Valley like that when anything other than the capitulation of Harpers Ferry results in losing McLaws? (Heck, if Lee's whole army is only 33,000 strong then McLaws' force is outnumbered just by the Harpers' Ferry garrison! That's a risky blocking force with a much larger army approaching from the west...)


    Hold on, hold on. You're mixing places up.

    Lee wasn't moving his trains on the 14th, he was doing it starting on the 15th. He didn't reach Sharpsburg until the 15th.
    Even ignoring that, how was McClellan to see Lee's trains moving across the river? There's a ridge in the way which is almost exactly as high as the highest vantage point east of the Antietam - there's no way I can see to get a sight line.
    You're also asserting that Lee would fight a battle - would plan a whole campaign around a battle - to be fought not only when outnumbered 3:1 but when in a situation where he'd have to retreat even if he won.

    The image you're presenting of Lee is someone who is manipulating McClellan into the fight at Antietam - including by leaking a true account of his operational movements - in a situation where Lee wants a battle, and this seems to be based on essentially no actual evidence. No indication that that was what Lee intended to do, and plenty of evidence that Lee was actually quite surprised by McClellan's movements (including his instructing McLaws to transfer as much of his force as he could over Maryland Heights if that was the only way to save his two divisions, which is not the actions of a chessmaster going through the planned moves of an endgame.)

    The only explanation you have for Lee moving his trains south over the Potomac is that he intended to retreat even if he won. But that's not an explanation at all, especially as your reading of events presents Lee as outnumbered 3:1 - what purpose does it serve to stand and fight at all?


    Again you're presenting Lee as an omniscient chessmaster, who's able to predict exactly how a Union general would react to leaked true information such that leaking the true information makes McClellan react in the way Lee wants. But this is an absurdity - in your view leaving SO191 was intended solely to ensure that McClellan attacked Fox's and Turner's Gaps as well as Crampton's Gap? But how exactly does that benefit Lee, unless the way it benefits Lee is to ensure that the attack against McLaws in the Pleasant Valley is diluted enough to allow him to hold out?
    But if that's the reasoning, then we come right back to why Lee would place McLaws in such a vulnerable position in the first place if he anticipated McClellan's actions so precisely.
     
  17. Joe Ryan

    Joe Ryan Private

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    Lee's army trains, of which Longstreet's was one, were moving across the river on the night of the 14th which is why the 1,200 Union cavalry column, escaping from the Ferry, ran into it on the Hagerstown/Williamsport road and took 125 of his wagons and went north to Greencastle.

    Of course Lee could not predict exactly how McClellan would react, only how a reasonable person in McClellan's shoes probably would react. If, in fact, McClellan had made a bee-line from Frederick to Harper's Ferry the morning of the 14th, there was nothing for Lee to do, but get the rest of his army over the river immediately, connect with Jackson, hope McLaws could get out, and the whole army goes up the valley. End of story. What the young serious students should realize is that what their elders have left them as "history" is clap trap, that it's their choice whether to cling to the fantasy, or tear the story back down to its essential objective facts and reconstruct it, using the discipline of finding the facts and drawing objectively reasonable conclusions from them, something academic historians don't do, and which you are not doing here.

    As for your idea about Harper's Ferry being an indefensible position. It seems you have not actually been there. The Union line at Bolivar Heights was perfectly defensible. Its commander surrendered under circumstances that baffle understanding. Walker's division was merely to block the garrison escaping across the Shenandoah; it had no functional value to the attack of the Union position. Ditto for McLaws. As for Jackson, in one sentence you admit that the order specified that Jackson was to go to the Baltimore & Ohio RR at Martinsburg and sit there, waiting to capture any of the Union garrison that tried to escape to the west; but in the next you put Jackson where he ended up, not by virtue of the order's text, but by Le's "verbal instructions" which, of course, McClellan and, apparently, you, did not know.

    After
    Jackson did what the order told him to do, it instructed him to recross the river and join Lee at Boonesboro. Any one reading the order would not conclude that Jackson was to appear in front of Bolivar Heights. Thus, the reader, realizing the set up the order presents cannot possibly result in its capture, unless for some unfathomable reason the commander surrenders without a fight, realizes Lee is attempting to entice him to march to the Ferry in order to strike his right flank as he passes either into the Middletown Valley or into Pleasant Valley. This is why McClellan refers in his message to Halleck and his wife that he recognizes the order "is a trap" which he tells them he means to turn to his advantage.

    As for your problem understanding where all of Lee's men went after Second Manassas. Read Lee's letter to President Davis dated September 7, 1862, in which he told Davis that the "cowards of the army," the men you are counting as present for duty, had not crossed the river but instead had straggled away, to "leave their comrades" to face the rigors of the march and the battle to come, alone.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2018
  18. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    ...so how exactly is it that all the reports of the time from people observing the marching Confederate army gave estimates consistent with a Confederate army around 70,000-80,000 strong?
    How is it that the 42,000 men who apparently didn't cross the Potomac river got fed for two weeks? And where were they, given how many of them appear again even in the 22nd September return?

    Of course, we don't have (to my knowledge) the other side of the correspondence. It's quite possible that what Davis was actually doing was exactly what Lincoln often did - taking the Aggregate Present and Absent and thinking of it as the PFD strength of the army.

    This is a very troubling statement. You're saying that academic historians "cling to fantasy"?


    Fair, to some extent, but I'm not seeing how this leads to the idea of Lee crossing his trains partly to convince McClellan to attack - unless you think Lee had Jackson let those cavalry go.

    [​IMG]

    Since the extreme range of a smoothbore artillery gun for bombardment on level ground (no height advantage) is about a mile, it should be clear that Walker's guns could bombard Bolivar Heights even without the advantage of height (and could cover AP Hill getting in behind Bolivar Heights, in fact). McLaws' guns could take the rear of the fallback defensive position under fire even without the extra range granted by height; with that ~100 yard elevation advantage they could shoot approx.:

    Flat - Elevation 5 degrees, range 1,619 yards
    First appoximation is that the gun's trajectory peaks at 800 yards
    Muzzle velocity about 480 yards per second
    So peak after ~2 seconds
    Vertical motion s = 1/2 a t^2
    Peak altitude about 20 yards
    But here peak altitude is ~120 yards
    120 = 5t^2
    t ~ 5
    3 seconds extra travel
    About an extra 1,400 yards range

    So with the 100 yard elevation advantage from the Maryland Heights a Napoleon smoothbore's extreme range is about 3,000 yards to a first approximation. That's not enough to play on the peaks of the Bolivar Heights but it is enough to play on the reverse slope.
    Any rifles McLaws has only make this conclusion stronger, and of course the guns definitely render Harpers Ferry itself untenable; thus McLaws and Walker do have value to the attack on HF. Since the abandonment of the Heights was unexpected on the part of the Union I don't see a problem with the assumption that:
    The Heights were considered the key point of defence
    thus
    McLaws was the one who was considered to be "taking the lead" in capturing Harpers Ferry.

    As for Martinsburg, I don't see any part of Jackson's orders which instructs him to stay at Martinsburg; he's told to take possession of the B&O and capture anyone at Martinsburg, but he can then move as required to capture any escapees from HF. Since it's an operational order and the operational moves are fundamentally correct to what actually happened, I don't see any major problem.

    But... hold on.

    You're saying that the enticement is the threatened attack on Harpers Ferry in SO191, and that the clues that it's an enticement are in SO 191.

    But that's the same source.

    And you still haven't addressed why McLaws was in such danger. In fact, you've amplified it - if McLaws' movements were movements which Lee could not anticipate would lead to the capture of Harpers Ferry, then McLaws has been placed in a highly vulnerable position and should have been captured; worse, SO191 makes that vulnerable position clear.



    To my mind the much simpler explanation is:

    Lee planned to move to the Boonsboro area, take Harpers Ferry, and then conduct further operations once that Union position was defeated. (This is him planning in detail the movements of his own army about 4-5 days ahead and in outline further ahead.)
    He constructed operational orders so as to allow a large portion of his army to converge on HF and the remainder to secure his route north (to threaten Pennsylvania).
    He did not anticipate McClellan moving as quickly as McClellan did in fact do, and was taken by surprise by the attacks at South Mountain.
    His signals to McLaws and the others to abandon the siege reflect this "panic" state.
    When HF surrendered, it let McLaws cross and rescue his portion of the Confederate army.
    With McClellan having turned South Mountain, Lee fell back to reunite his army at Sharpsburg - holding just long enough to get his trains over the river, then withdrawing on the night of the 18th.

    Absent McClellan's quick movement, Lee would anticipate either a battle on his own terms in the Cumberland Valley or a movement into Pennsylvania; however, he would want his force substantially closed up before offering battle.

    SO191 being dropped is explained thus - it was a genuine accident, resulting from the unusual situation of DH Hill meaning that Jackson copied the order for DH Hill (i.e. two were sent to DH Hill - direct from Lee's CoS and from Jackson) and DH Hill only got one copy. Thus when the orders were lost nobody noticed, because Hill expected orders and he got orders.
     
  19. Joe Ryan

    Joe Ryan Private

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  20. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    Yep, looks like Camp Hill is entirely within easy range for both Walker and McLaws and the Bolivar position is at extreme smoothbore range from Maryland Heights with the advantage of elevation; less extreme for rifles. The fact that Camp Hill was closely covered would also mean that any retreat from the Bolivar area (as might be occasioned by, say, a flanking move through the area covered closely by the guns at the base of the Loudoun Heights) would be impractical.

    This is why the heights are essential to a proper defence of Harpers' Ferry; with Union control of Loudoun and Maryland Heights, Union gunnery can play on any attackers attempting to outflank the Bolivar ridgeline, but with Confederate control of those selfsame heights Confederate gunnery can both enable such outflanking attacks, deliver long range bombardment of the Bolivar ridgeline with their longer ranged guns, and also block off any prospect of escape or reinforcement.

    There's incompetence here but it's in giving up the heights, not in surrendering once in that situation. (The situation was still recoverable given Franklin's position, but absent that not so much.)
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2018
  21. Joe Ryan

    Joe Ryan Private

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    For those of you with an interest in the objective facts, as distinct from fantasy, recognize, first, that most of the troops of McLaws' and Anderson's divisions were not positioned as the fellow shows them on his map, but were in line of battle at the north end of Pleasant Valley holding Franklin's force from moving down the valley to the river. These troops had no military function but to hold Franklin at bay, their presence otherwise was meaningless.

    Second, no Confederate troops were in position on the shelf of ground at the base of Maryland Heights as the fellow's map depicts, the shelf being occupied by a wagon road, the C & O Canal and the B & O Railroad (There was and is no ford).

    Third, the two guns McLaws had dragged up the slope of Elk's Ridge to the crown of Maryland Heights could reach Camp Hill with their fire, which was a meaningless exercise in wasted ammunition, but not Bolivar Heights; which is why Jackson had Walker drag three guns over Loudoun Heights, to attempt to get them into a position which would enfilade the Union position at Bolivar Heights. In order to get these guns into range to reach the Union position, Walker had to get them onto the island shown on the topo map which he did early on the morning of the 15th and then Jackson commenced his bombardment.

    Fourth, the troops of Walker's division were not in the position the fellow's map depicts, but were on the river road in front of the Shenandoah Bridge, contributing nothing to Jackson's effort to take Bolivar Heights.

    Fifth, none of the brigades forming A.P. Hill's command, Jackson's attacking force, were in the river bank position the fellow depicts on his map for the simple reason that the brigades would have had no ground to stand on, as the ground at that location is almost sheer cliff down to the Shenandoah's edge. As depicted on the topo map, there was a narrow space of ravine that Jackson expected Hill's force, moving in column, would climb up to reach the plateau which held the Union position, but this climb up of over a mile was almost vertical and as a consequence Hill had not gotten very far in the forlorn endeavor when, inexplicably, Dixon Miles surrendered within minutes of Jackson's bombardment beginning. But for Miles surrendering, there was no chance Jackson could storm the Union position early enough in the morning hours of September 15th, to result in Lee countermanding the order he issued at 11:45 p.m. the night before, for the army to retreat into Virginia.
     

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