Wednesday, February 04, 2009

CWL--September 13, 1862: The Day Lee's Order 191 Was Lost

How Samuel E. Pittman Validated Lee's Lost Orders Prior to Antietam: A Historical Note, Charles B. Dew, Journal of Southern History, November 2004, pp. 865-870.

Between 9a and 10a on September 13 1862, Corporal Barton Mitchell and the 27th Indiana took a break on the way to Frederick, Md. Under a tree that grew beside a fence he found an envelope with three cigars wrapped in a letter addressed to Major D. H. Hill, a division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. Charles B. Dew uses Stephen Sears and James B. McPherson's books to synthesize a description of the event.

From Mitchell to Bloss to Kopp to Colgrove to Pittman, a lieutenant and adjutant-general of Williams' division, Order 191 travelled. The remarkableness of the event is overshadowed by an even greater coincidence. Colonel S. E. Pittman had served in Detroit Michigan before the war with Colonel R. H. Chilton who had written and signed Order 191.

Silas Colgrove described the incident in volume II of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War published in 1887-1888. His was the accepted version of the events until 1999 when Stephen Sears questions some elements of the story in "last Words on the Lost Order in his book Controversies and Commanders. Sears discovered that Pittman joined the army in September 1861 and that Chilton had left the army six months before Pittman joined it. Pittman a civilian lived as a civilian in Detroit while Chilton served in the army as a paymaster there. McPherson notes Sears discovery but adds that Sears does not explain how Pittman would have known Chilton in Detroit.

Dew, the author of the Journal of Southern History article, as reviewed Pittman's papers located at the Chapin Library of Williams College, Massachusetts. Not surprisingly, Pittman was in correspondence with Ezra Carmen, the biblical Moses of Antietam studies and designated 'Historical Expert' on the Antietam Battlefield Board during the 1890s. Carmen's history of the battle appeared for the first time in print in 2008; Joseph Pierro reproduced Carmen's research, discovered Carmen's sources and published a highly referenced edition of Carmen's history of the battle.

Pittman replied to Carmen's May 3, 1897 request for a detailed recollection of the event and stated to Carmen on May 7 that he recieved Colgrove's visit before noon on September 13th. "I did not take the order myself as we were momentarily expecting order to moveforward, which expectation was heightened by the importance of the paper so opportunely falling into our possession," wrote Pittman. (868)

"I could not be spared to personally carry the paper to General McClelland and General Colgrove was in error on this point, but I sent the order at once with an injunction [to the courier]to ride fast, and it wa spromptly delivered at General McClellan's headquarters." (868) Carman recieved a letter from one who claimed to be the courier and who had delivered Order 191 to McClellan at approximately 9:30a on the 13th. Carmer queried Pittman for more details.

Pittman replied that the division's provost marshal and chief of artillery were with him and Williams when Colgrove rode up with Order 191 and 9:30a was much to early in the day for the delivery of the documents. Carmen persisted and asked Pittman how he knew it was Chilton's handwriting. Pittman disclosed that his prewar career was teller at the Michigan State Bank at which the U.S. Army kept a checking accout. Chilton was the paymaster and Pittman stated that he had seen Chilton's signature thousands of times. In a telegram to Halleck on the evening of September 13, McClellan described Order 191 as a document "the authenticity of which is unquestionable." (870)

Image Sources:

Order 191

Bottom Ezra Ayers Carman

No comments: