What Lee Thought About the Lost Orders

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I did this previously for a discussion but I hope people might be able to find it interesting. This is what the Lost Orders said, plus what Lee had actually done, and the opportunities that it opened for McClellan.

Note by the way that SO 191 was issued on Tuesday 9 September; consequently "Friday" is September 12. McClellan finds the orders September 13, some time in the afternoon.


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


  1. (missing)
  2. (missing)
  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.



SO191.jpg


This is the content of SO 191. (Map base from the GCACW game series as it shows the roads quite well.) This is the most information that McClellan could extract from SO 191.


As of when the orders are captured, it's Saturday. The orders expired on Friday, but because Harpers Ferry has not yet fallen they are a fairly good predictor (though not perfect) of Confederate positions.
Given that McClellan knew DH Hill left Frederick on the 11th, and assuming that he knew there was no extra division or so knocking about not included in the orders, the below is what McClellan could reasonably predict Lee's positions to be in red (along with the true positions, which are slightly different and where different are in orange).

Note that while the cavalry is not marked on this map, this is because McClellan was actually in contact with it already - Stuart's cavalry was holding the Cactotin passes as of noon on the 13th, and Jefferson Pass is not taken until near sundown.

SO191_13.jpg


So here Lee's basic problem is that if he can't hold the line of South Mountain then he's in big trouble - McLaws (25% of the AoNV) is "trapped" and DH Hill is somewhat isolated, indeed DH Hill is more vulnerable than he would be if SO191 had been adhered to rigourously. There's also only about 50%-60% of his combat power north of the Potomac.

This means that Lee's immediate concern is to make changes to the SO191 dispositions to avoid the vulnerabilities that it presents. Accordingly he issues orders to have Jackson break off the siege and rush to reinforce him, McLaws get over Maryland Heights (as hard as that would be for a force of about 20,000 men) and Longstreet to hurry to Boonsboro to reinforce DH Hill; Jackson disobeys orders and gets a better result, but this is basically chance (what Lee's doing is trying to minimize harm, Jackson is trying to maximize opportunity).
 

dgfred

Corporal
Joined
Apr 13, 2020
How fast could Lee change orders? Might open up an opportunity or two depending on how he thinks the enemy will react to knowing previous orders. In the end he probably thought whatever happened the enemy would not be tooooo aggressive anyway.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
How fast could Lee change orders? Might open up an opportunity or two depending on how he thinks the enemy will react to knowing previous orders. In the end he probably thought whatever happened the enemy would not be tooooo aggressive anyway.
It depends how far away his subordinate commander is - couriers can move at, what, ca. 4 miles per hour sustained? So quicker for Longstreet/DH Hill, longer for Jackson.

As it happens McClellan did indeed react aggressively:

SO191_14.jpg

After SO 191 fell into McClellan's hands in mid-afternoon on the 13th, Burnside was making an attack as McClellan's vanguard by 9AM on the 14th (thanks to a night march) and Franklin hit Crampton's Gap a bit later (but had a bit further to go). Longstreet arrives at South Mountain on the 14th, and if he hadn't then there would have been the complete collapse of Lee's line at the gaps.


The worst-case for Lee is basically that he doesn't react, McClellan punches through at South Mountain and Crampton's Gap and Harpers Ferry holds - in that case he loses McLaws' wing (1/4 of his army) in one fell swoop and Longstreet (plus the remnants of DH Hill) can get cut off in Maryland. All of Lee's command decisions in response to the discovery of the Lost Orders are based on minimizing the risk:

Jackson is to abandon the siege of Harpers Ferry because Lee thinks it is not sufficiently likely to succeed quickly to be worth the risk of aiming for the optimal outcome (where HF surrenders and solves all the problems in the Pleasant Valley), which means that Lee values having Jackson's divisions with him more than he values the possibility of a victory at HF.
Longstreet is to march down to rejoin DH Hill so that Longstreet cannot be cut off in Maryland even if South Mountain is forced.
McLaws is pretty much stuffed unless there's a victory at Harpers Ferry, and Lee orders McLaws to try and get his troops over the Maryland Heights.

This is actually kind of interesting because it means Lee weighed up option A (hope for a victory at HF) and option B (hope McLaws can get enough of his troops over the Maryland Heights) and thought option B was better.



I suspect Lee thought he'd have longer to arrange things in preparation for the Union counterstroke than he in fact did - possibly (based on where Longstreet was) he was planning on using South Mountain as a shield while the rest of the army moved north and struck into Pennsylvania, or if not he intended to threaten Pennsylvania so as to provoke a battle in western Maryland on his terms.
Not one so soon, though.
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
I've been reading Douglas Southhall Freeman's "Lee's Lieutenants." In the Appendix to Volume II, Freeman cites conversations that two of Lee's associates at Washington College had with him on February 15, 1868. The gist of the conversations was that Lee believed that McClellan's finding of Special Order No. 191 (that set forth the disposition of forces under Longstreet and Jackson after moving into Maryland), was a "major reason for the failure of the Maryland Expedition." One of the participants in the discussion was E.C. Gordon, the Washington College clerk who recounted Lee as saying that "I went into Maryland to give battle, and could I have kept General McClellan in ignorance of my position and plans a day or two longer, I would have fought and crushed him." The other individual who spoke with Lee in 1868 was Colonel William Allan who at the time was a professor at Washington College. He recounted his conversation with Lee as follows: "Had the Lost Dispatch not been lost, and had McClellan continued his cautious policy for two or three days longer, I (Lee) would have all my troops reconcentrated on Maryland side, stragglers up, men rested, and intended them to attack McClellan, hoping the best results from state of my troops and those of enemy."

Both of these individuals put in memoranda the content of their discussions with Lee on this matter. Freeman's work is well researched and cited, so much credence should be given to his account. While the discovery of the Special Orders undoubtedly benefited McClellan and the AOTP, this is the strongest statement I have come across that provides insight into Lee's thought on the loss of the orders. Comments?
The question is why were these vital plans wrapped up in a cigar box ? When did Lee realize that these papers were lost and did he have the opportunity once this was known to have altered his plans.? This is of coarse speculation. Both Meade and Mc have been faulted for not following up with the destruction of the ANV. Meade at least sent troops to escort Lee out of Pa.. Why did Mc not at least follow up this alleged victory {more of a draw}? One last inquiry, Lincoln called this a Union victory so he could issue his Proclamation, was this a victory or more of a political move which Lincoln was a expert at , to divert the attention away from the losses suffered in another battle in a endless war to a war of moral purpose?
 

Stone in the wall

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Month
Joined
Sep 19, 2017
Location
Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson County WV
The question is why were these vital plans wrapped up in a cigar box ? When did Lee realize that these papers were lost and did he have the opportunity once this was known to have altered his plans.? This is of coarse speculation. Both Meade and Mc have been faulted for not following up with the destruction of the ANV. Meade at least sent troops to escort Lee out of Pa.. Why did Mc not at least follow up this alleged victory {more of a draw}? One last inquiry, Lincoln called this a Union victory so he could issue his Proclamation, was this a victory or more of a political move which Lincoln was a expert at , to divert the attention away from the losses suffered in another battle in a endless war to a war of moral purpose?
The cigars were wrapped in paper. As to who really lost them it is still up in the air. Lee was informed McClellan had found something very interesting, but really didn't know exacalty what it was. Both armies were greatly damaged, and nether one was willing to attack the other. As to Lincolns thoughts about it all, I still wonder.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The cigars were wrapped in paper. As to who really lost them it is still up in the air. Lee was informed McClellan had found something very interesting, but really didn't know exacalty what it was. Both armies were greatly damaged, and nether one was willing to attack the other. As to Lincolns thoughts about it all, I still wonder.
The understanding I have is that Stuart heard McClellan had found something interesting, and made the logical leap that it was a copy of SO 191 (or at least a captured dispatch) - perhaps informed by all the times that had happened in the Northern Virginia campaign - and so told Lee that it was a captured order.

Meade at least sent troops to escort Lee out of Pa.. Why did Mc not at least follow up this alleged victory {more of a draw}?
So at both battles (Gettysburg and Antietam) there was a pause of a day by both sides after the carnage.

Following that:
Gettysburg
Lee marches back to the Potomac crossings, which takes several days. Meade moves on the 5th (fighting end +2 days), but doesn't fully begin marching until the 6th (fighting end +3 days).
Antietam
Lee moves overnight on the 18th-19th to cross the Potomac, which he can do straight off. McClellan moves at dawn on the 19th (fighting end +2 days) and pursues Lee to the Potomac.

Seems comparable to me.


Following up after Antietam
McClellan then pushes over the Potomac at Shepherdstown with one of his two fresh corps (5th) while moving the other (6th, with a division of 4th) to Williamsport to block Lee's planned recrossing of the Potomac. Meanwhile McClellan also reoccupies Harpers Ferry.
Lee commits ~10 brigades to stop McClellan's Shepherdstown bridgehead, and does so.

McClellan is bridging the Potomac and preparing to cut Lee off in the upper Shenandoah, but he is forbidden from building the bridges needed (or more specifically he's forbidden from using public money to build them, but not much difference as what he needs is a bridge that won't be destroyed by a freshet - a pontoon bridge is no good for that).

So the answer is that he sort of did; there's limits to what's actually productive though, and the most productive option was forbidden.
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
The understanding I have is that Stuart heard McClellan had found something interesting, and made the logical leap that it was a copy of SO 191 (or at least a captured dispatch) - perhaps informed by all the times that had happened in the Northern Virginia campaign - and so told Lee that it was a captured order.


So at both battles (Gettysburg and Antietam) there was a pause of a day by both sides after the carnage.

Following that:
Gettysburg
Lee marches back to the Potomac crossings, which takes several days. Meade moves on the 5th (fighting end +2 days), but doesn't fully begin marching until the 6th (fighting end +3 days).
Antietam
Lee moves overnight on the 18th-19th to cross the Potomac, which he can do straight off. McClellan moves at dawn on the 19th (fighting end +2 days) and pursues Lee to the Potomac.

Seems comparable to me.


Following up after Antietam
McClellan then pushes over the Potomac at Shepherdstown with one of his two fresh corps (5th) while moving the other (6th, with a division of 4th) to Williamsport to block Lee's planned recrossing of the Potomac. Meanwhile McClellan also reoccupies Harpers Ferry.
Lee commits ~10 brigades to stop McClellan's Shepherdstown bridgehead, and does so.

McClellan is bridging the Potomac and preparing to cut Lee off in the upper Shenandoah, but he is forbidden from building the bridges needed (or more specifically he's forbidden from using public money to build them, but not much difference as what he needs is a bridge that won't be destroyed by a freshet - a pontoon bridge is no good for that).

So the answer is that he sort of did; there's limits to what's actually productive though, and the most productive option was forbidden.
Then both Mc and Meade were more aggressive following both battles than what is thought. If they were aggressive as this states ,why replace these two successful generals ? Was not Lincoln informed of what his generals were doing or was the fact that there were those around him ,political and military that he listened to in make his decisions?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Then both Mc and Meade were more aggressive following both battles than what is thought. If they were aggressive as this states ,why replace these two successful generals ? Was not Lincoln informed of what his generals were doing or was the fact that there were those around him ,political and military that he listened to in make his decisions?
I remember once hearing the joke that "Lincoln had the fasts".

Lincoln appears to have had a certain idea of what armies were capable of which was at odds with reality; specifically, he does not seem to have understood that after an army has experienced intense combat it may then need to recover, and that periods of heavy casualties repeated over and over without much time between them can drive an army to near collapse.

This isn't the whole of his view on warfare, but it keeps coming up. For example, he blamed McClellan for letting Lee escape into Virginia "without loss" after Antietam (when anyone looking at it without that bias would have felt that the extremely bloody 17th would indicate that McClellan was hardly letting Lee escape "without loss" and that McClellan was effectively waiting a day to let his army recover - and that if Lee genuinely did feel he was in imminent danger of destruction on the 18th, he could have retreated overnight on the 17th-18th in the same way he did historically on the 18th-19th).

Lincoln also seems to have had an aversion for what he called "strategy", which he considered to be opposed to "fighting". He'd much rather that his generals went with a fairly straightforward advance towards the enemy capital and accepted fighting the enemy on whatever terms the enemy felt best; he distrusted any amphibious movement, for example, while after Fredericksburg he said that it'd be better to just fight Fredericksburg over and over again for a week to burn through the entire Confederate army (and leave the Union army still intact, he thought - which it wouldn't be, simply numerically but also because of total moral collapse)



There's a few other aspects going on, such as political, and Lincoln's slightly inconsistent sense of how many men there are defending Washington versus how many men "should" be defending Washington.


Really, what I think was going on can be summarized as:

- Lincoln was a smart man.
- He had read a little about military strategy.
- He did not understand it, but he thought that he did. (For example he never really seems to have properly grasped that crossing mountain ranges and bridging rivers takes longer than marching the same distance down a good pike road.)
- This means that anything that made "intuitive sense" to him sounded "right" and anything that didn't sounded "wrong".
- He could be argued around - with difficulty - to a viewpoint that did not make intuitive sense to him, but it was easy to get him to change his mind back to something that made intuitive sense to him.

So after the intense fighting of the Seven Days or Antietam has just happened, Lincoln thinks that McClellan is doing a good job. But after a few days without fighting Lincoln starts to get suspicious again.
 

Mdiesel

First Sergeant
Joined
Sep 28, 2010
Location
Maryland
Lee was realllly PO'd at Pickett after Five Forks. I do believe Lee expressed his displeasure, but don't have a quote in my memory banks. Of course, Five Forks was the battle that finally broke the Petersburg line and it could not be recovered. The end was now at hand and Lee knew it. Just a matter of days after that.
Not sure, but when he saw Pickett on the retreat to Appomattox he said something to the effect of “Why is THAT man still with the army!?” 👀
 

Mdiesel

First Sergeant
Joined
Sep 28, 2010
Location
Maryland
I did this previously for a discussion but I hope people might be able to find it interesting. This is what the Lost Orders said, plus what Lee had actually done, and the opportunities that it opened for McClellan.

Note by the way that SO 191 was issued on Tuesday 9 September; consequently "Friday" is September 12. McClellan finds the orders September 13, some time in the afternoon.


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


  1. (missing)
  2. (missing)
  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.



View attachment 370897

This is the content of SO 191. (Map base from the GCACW game series as it shows the roads quite well.) This is the most information that McClellan could extract from SO 191.


As of when the orders are captured, it's Saturday. The orders expired on Friday, but because Harpers Ferry has not yet fallen they are a fairly good predictor (though not perfect) of Confederate positions.
Given that McClellan knew DH Hill left Frederick on the 11th, and assuming that he knew there was no extra division or so knocking about not included in the orders, the below is what McClellan could reasonably predict Lee's positions to be in red (along with the true positions, which are slightly different and where different are in orange).

Note that while the cavalry is not marked on this map, this is because McClellan was actually in contact with it already - Stuart's cavalry was holding the Cactotin passes as of noon on the 13th, and Jefferson Pass is not taken until near sundown.

View attachment 370907

So here Lee's basic problem is that if he can't hold the line of South Mountain then he's in big trouble - McLaws (25% of the AoNV) is "trapped" and DH Hill is somewhat isolated, indeed DH Hill is more vulnerable than he would be if SO191 had been adhered to rigourously. There's also only about 50%-60% of his combat power north of the Potomac.

This means that Lee's immediate concern is to make changes to the SO191 dispositions to avoid the vulnerabilities that it presents. Accordingly he issues orders to have Jackson break off the siege and rush to reinforce him, McLaws get over Maryland Heights (as hard as that would be for a force of about 20,000 men) and Longstreet to hurry to Boonsboro to reinforce DH Hill; Jackson disobeys orders and gets a better result, but this is basically chance (what Lee's doing is trying to minimize harm, Jackson is trying to maximize opportunity).
Very cool layout, thanks for sharing. Really helps one picture events as they unfolded!

Has anyone else seen the actual Lost 191 order as copied by Jackson? It was on display a few years ago at Monocacy Battlefield for the 100th anniversary & I was able to see it. Very cool artifact. It’s interesting how something of such historical importance can appear rather ordinary. I recall being surprised it was written on line paper with what appeared to be lead pencil! And the writing appears hastily scribbled. Odd to see an official order transcribed that way.

E607BBF4-DA53-4E22-95E7-746E75813924.jpeg
C8A22D5B-554A-48D2-943B-D720F7F500D6.jpeg

https://www.nps.gov/media/photo/gallery.htm?id=2341AB07-1DD8-B71C-07775943DD339FC7

An Invitation to Battle: Special Orders 191 by Park Ranger Tracy Evans​


https://www.nps.gov/mono/learn/historyculture/an-invitation-to-battle.htm
 

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
The understanding I have is that Stuart heard McClellan had found something interesting, and made the logical leap that it was a copy of SO 191 (or at least a captured dispatch) - perhaps informed by all the times that had happened in the Northern Virginia campaign - and so told Lee that it was a captured order.


So at both battles (Gettysburg and Antietam) there was a pause of a day by both sides after the carnage.

Following that:
Gettysburg
Lee marches back to the Potomac crossings, which takes several days. Meade moves on the 5th (fighting end +2 days), but doesn't fully begin marching until the 6th (fighting end +3 days).
Antietam
Lee moves overnight on the 18th-19th to cross the Potomac, which he can do straight off. McClellan moves at dawn on the 19th (fighting end +2 days) and pursues Lee to the Potomac.

Seems comparable to me.


Following up after Antietam
McClellan then pushes over the Potomac at Shepherdstown with one of his two fresh corps (5th) while moving the other (6th, with a division of 4th) to Williamsport to block Lee's planned recrossing of the Potomac. Meanwhile McClellan also reoccupies Harpers Ferry.
Lee commits ~10 brigades to stop McClellan's Shepherdstown bridgehead, and does so.

McClellan is bridging the Potomac and preparing to cut Lee off in the upper Shenandoah, but he is forbidden from building the bridges needed (or more specifically he's forbidden from using public money to build them, but not much difference as what he needs is a bridge that won't be destroyed by a freshet - a pontoon bridge is no good for that).

So the answer is that he sort of did; there's limits to what's actually productive though, and the most productive option was forbidden.
After Antietam:
Sept 17 -- Battle of Antietam day of battle
Sept 18 -- Lee and McClellan stand at the battlefield. Some skirmishing; Lee is moving his wounded, withdraws in the night.
Sept 19 -- Small pursuit, Pendleton loses his guns, most recovered by counterattack
Sept 20 -- Porter pushes 2 divisions across Potomac, counterattack wrecks 118th PA. McClellan's pursuit ends.

After Gettysburg:
July 3 -- Battle of Gettysburg end after three days
July 3 -- Pickett's division starts heading to rear, escorting Yankee POWs. Ewell's trains start for rear
July 4 -- Lee's ANV pulls out. Meade sends 8 cavalry brigades in pursuit.
July 4 -- Battle of Monterey Pass (night of 4-5)
July 5 -- Yankee cavalry hits Confederate train at Cunningham's Cross Roads
July 5 -- Sedgwick's corps-sized recon
July 6 -- Battle at Hagerstown (kilpatrick v. Stuart
July 7 -- Meade's infantry starts in pursuit of Lee
July 7 -- Imboden stops Buford's drive for Williamsport
July 7 -- 1st Battle at Funkstown (skirmish-size)
July 8 -- Battle at Boonsboro (Stuart vs. Buford and Kilpatrick)
July 10 -- 2nd Battle at Funkstown (Buford vs. Stuart)
July 11 -- Lee entrenches to protect Williamsport crossing. Potomac River in flood due to downpours of the last week.
July 12 -- Meade's infantry arrives and deploys at lee's entrenchments
July 12 -- Battle at Hagerstown
July 13 -- Heavy skirmishing between ANV and AoP. Lee's engineers finish pontoon bridge; Lee withdraws.
July 14 -- Meade's advance finds most of Lee already gone; Heth and Pender lose many prisoners; Pettigrew killed.
July 16 -- Fitz Lee and Chambliss against Federal infantry and Gregg's cavalry at Potomac crossings
July 17 -- AoP starts crossing Potomac River
July 23 -- Battle of Manassas Gap (III Corps vs. Pettigrew's division and Rodes)
July 24 -- Federals occupy Front Royal.
After this, the armies shift to the Rappahannock River.

Do those really look the same to you?
 

Mdiesel

First Sergeant
Joined
Sep 28, 2010
Location
Maryland
Maybe not but Lincoln sure wasn’t happy in either case. He felt Meade dithered in his follow up & let Lee off the hook. Even wrote that inflammatory letter to Meade he never sent which pretty much said YOU BLEW IT!!! 🤬
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Do those really look the same to you?
Well, no, they don't, but the operative cause for that is that Meade's pursuit starts (later) at Gettysburg and ends at the Rappahannock; McClellan's pursuit is terminated by Halleck's orders.
The point at which the pursuits start is fairly comparable though, and Lee can simply retire over the Potomac much easier in 1862; Meade's pursuit is allowed to go ahead.

Incidentally, you missed a few events:



Sept 19 -- McClellan pursues to the water's edge.
Sept 20 -- Porter pushes 2 divisions across Potomac, Lee counterattacks with ten brigades that afternoon. Crossing the Potomac at Shepherdstown is not viable; McClellan occupies the Maryland Heights with 12th Corps.
Sept 22 -- Sumner marches to reoccupy Harpers Ferry and is ordered to throw a pontoon bridge over the Potomac there.
Sept 23 -- 9th Corps marches to join 2nd and 12th. Sumner's pontoon bridge is established, but wrecked by a freshet before it can be used. Halleck asks McClellan's plans.
Sept 24 -- McClellan states his plans are to cross the Potomac and Shenandoah and attack Winchester (which would cut Lee off, as Lee is at Martinsburg).
Sept 26 -- Halleck forbids the construction of a permanent bridge until he's agreed to McClellan's plans. He also orders McClellan to send his plans. In this letter, he states explicitly that he would prefer McClellan to cross the Potomac further east than Harpers Ferry.


From the 20th to the 26th McClellan is still involved in plans to pursue Lee, but Halleck is uninterested in the possible advantage. It's not really practical for McClellan to pursue at Shepherdstown because (as it transpires) Lee is fully willing to throw ten brigades at McClellan to push him back; Lee has another thirty brigades at Martinsburg and can thus escalate faster than McClellan.
If Lee hadn't been able to mount a vigourous counterattack then doubtless McClellan would have kept crossing directly following Lee, but it's apparent that he can.

Since Lee's force is still capable of combat McClellan's main effort is shifted to crossing at Harpers Ferry and trying to cut Lee off, but Halleck is unconvinced and actively negative about the whole thing.
 
Last edited:

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Sept 19 -- McClellan pursues to the water's edge.
Sept 20 -- Porter pushes 2 divisions across Potomac, Lee counterattacks with ten brigades that afternoon. Crossing the Potomac at Shepherdstown is not viable; McClellan occupies the Maryland Heights with 12th Corps.
What exactly do you think "I missed" in that that is not covered in what I said here
After Antietam:
Sept 17 -- Battle of Antietam day of battle
Sept 18 -- Lee and McClellan stand at the battlefield. Some skirmishing; Lee is moving his wounded, withdraws in the night.
Sept 19 -- Small pursuit, Pendleton loses his guns, most recovered by counterattack
Sept 20 -- Porter pushes 2 divisions across Potomac, counterattack wrecks 118th PA. McClellan's pursuit ends.
Please stop quibbling.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
What exactly do you think "I missed" in that that is not covered in what I said here that is not simply a quibble?
The words "pursuit ends". McClellan is still manoeuvering and planning to pursue for the next six days after that, and only stops when actively prohibited.
 

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
The words "pursuit ends". McClellan is still manoeuvering and planning to pursue for the next six days after that, and only stops when actively prohibited.
So when you said "McClellan's pursuit is terminated by Halleck's orders.", what did you mean? On the 20th, we have this from Halleck:
WASHINGTON, September 20, 1862 -- 2 p.m.
Maj. Gen. GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN:​
We are still left entirely in the dark in regard to your own movements and those of the enemy This should not be so. You should keep me advised of both, so far as you know them.​
H. W. HALLECK,
General-in-Chief.

McClellan himself says this in his report; not a word about being ordered to stop the pursuit by Halleck:
Under these circumstances I did not feel authorized to cross the river with the main army over a very deep and difficult ford in pursuit of the retreating enemy, known to be in strong force on the south bank, and thereby place that stream, which was liable at any time to rise above a fording stage, between my army and its base of supply.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
So when you said "McClellan's pursuit is terminated by Halleck's orders.", what did you mean?
What I mean is that from the 20th-26th inclusive, McClellan is manoeuvering to cross the Potomac at Harpers Ferry (with 12th, 2nd, 9th and 1st) while 5th and 6th block Lee's reentry to Maryland. As we see with Meade, a pursuit does not necessarily need to directly follow the same path as the enemy army.

On the 22nd-23rd, McClellan bridges the Potomac but the (pontoon) bridge is destroyed by flooding. McClellan orders the construction of a permanent bridge, but Halleck needs to authorize the expenditure and asks what it is for.
On the 24th, McClellan explains his plan. He will cross at Harpers Ferry and cut Lee off in the upper Shenandoah by marching on Winchester.
On the 26th, Halleck forbids the expenditure. McClellan is thus not allowed to build a permanent bridge and Halleck disapproves of the whole idea of going into the Shenandoah.

Had Halleck approved, McClellan would have advanced into the Shenandoah and forced Lee to either fight him or withdraw south.
 

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
What I mean is that from the 20th-26th inclusive, McClellan is manoeuvering to cross the Potomac at Harpers Ferry (with 12th, 2nd, 9th and 1st) while 5th and 6th block Lee's reentry to Maryland. As we see with Meade, a pursuit does not necessarily need to directly follow the same path as the enemy army.

On the 22nd-23rd, McClellan bridges the Potomac but the (pontoon) bridge is destroyed by flooding. McClellan orders the construction of a permanent bridge, but Halleck needs to authorize the expenditure and asks what it is for.
On the 24th, McClellan explains his plan. He will cross at Harpers Ferry and cut Lee off in the upper Shenandoah by marching on Winchester.
On the 26th, Halleck forbids the expenditure. McClellan is thus not allowed to build a permanent bridge and Halleck disapproves of the whole idea of going into the Shenandoah.

Had Halleck approved, McClellan would have advanced into the Shenandoah and forced Lee to either fight him or withdraw south.
I really hope you do not believe what you are saying here. This is ten days after the Battle of Antietam and you are claiming a decision on spending by Halleck is an order to abandon the pursuit.
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
I remember once hearing the joke that "Lincoln had the fasts".

Lincoln appears to have had a certain idea of what armies were capable of which was at odds with reality; specifically, he does not seem to have understood that after an army has experienced intense combat it may then need to recover, and that periods of heavy casualties repeated over and over without much time between them can drive an army to near collapse.

This isn't the whole of his view on warfare, but it keeps coming up. For example, he blamed McClellan for letting Lee escape into Virginia "without loss" after Antietam (when anyone looking at it without that bias would have felt that the extremely bloody 17th would indicate that McClellan was hardly letting Lee escape "without loss" and that McClellan was effectively waiting a day to let his army recover - and that if Lee genuinely did feel he was in imminent danger of destruction on the 18th, he could have retreated overnight on the 17th-18th in the same way he did historically on the 18th-19th).

Lincoln also seems to have had an aversion for what he called "strategy", which he considered to be opposed to "fighting". He'd much rather that his generals went with a fairly straightforward advance towards the enemy capital and accepted fighting the enemy on whatever terms the enemy felt best; he distrusted any amphibious movement, for example, while after Fredericksburg he said that it'd be better to just fight Fredericksburg over and over again for a week to burn through the entire Confederate army (and leave the Union army still intact, he thought - which it wouldn't be, simply numerically but also because of total moral collapse)



There's a few other aspects going on, such as political, and Lincoln's slightly inconsistent sense of how many men there are defending Washington versus how many men "should" be defending Washington.


Really, what I think was going on can be summarized as:

- Lincoln was a smart man.
- He had read a little about military strategy.
- He did not understand it, but he thought that he did. (For example he never really seems to have properly grasped that crossing mountain ranges and bridging rivers takes longer than marching the same distance down a good pike road.)
- This means that anything that made "intuitive sense" to him sounded "right" and anything that didn't sounded "wrong".
- He could be argued around - with difficulty - to a viewpoint that did not make intuitive sense to him, but it was easy to get him to change his mind back to something that made intuitive sense to him.

So after the intense fighting of the Seven Days or Antietam has just happened, Lincoln thinks that McClellan is doing a good job. But after a few days without fighting Lincoln starts to get suspicious again.
This is a excellent example of why politicians make very poor military strategist .The next best would be Lyndon B. Johnson. Then he did locate a winning general after about two years into the war. I would be interested in if he had any military advisers or if the War Department was engaged in any of his decisions. As to your point on "FIGHTING" to "Strategy" ,Lincoln came from a area where when one engaged against another in a fight, the fight was not halted till the other admitted he had been beaten or stopped by outside person. May be this is why he saw this as a fight that had to continue till one or the other admitted defeat .There was to be no referee in this contest and no country was to enter into this fight. This was a internal rebellion or brotherly disagreement that had to be finally settle and this fight was to be what either resulted in one or the other as the victor and would determine the fate of this nation.
 

WScott

Private
Joined
May 6, 2021
The thing that bothers me with SO191 are the cigars. The Orders were found wrapped with some cigars. Did Hill take the Orders and some cigars thinking that he puts them in his pocket, did some other Officer, orderly or attendant put the Orders with cigars on the side to be picked up during the move, or was there some other activity that caused the lose of the Orders? At some point someone would have asked for those cigars only to find out they were lost. So who ever was in charge of those cigars was the person that screwed up, giving McClellan the opportunity of a life time! It’s The Cigars!

Antietam, in my estimation, was Lee’s greatest battle, he knew what to do, when to do it and were it needed to be done. Lee was outmanned, his back was to the river, his opponent knew what he had available and McClellan had all the cards. Did the lose of Special Order 191 hurt Lee plans, yes, was it Hills fault, who knows, even history can’t tell us.
 
Top