FREQUENTLY ASSERTED CLAIMS CONCERNING
GEO. B. McCLELLAN


NO. 1

TOPIC
: THE LOST ORDERS (PART ONE)

CLAIM: Of all the Civil War generals, McClellan was singularly lucky to obtain his enemy's orders in the midst of the Antietam campaign.

CITATIONS:
+"No other commander on either side during the Civil War enjoyed a comparable situation." Gary Gallagher, "The Maryland Campaign in Perspective," Antietam: Essays on the 1862 Maryland Campaign, Gary W. Gallagher, ed.
+"Even the great Napoleon himself had never been presented with such an opportunity..." Stephen Sears, Landscape Turned Red

RESPONSE:
By the time McClellan got Lee's Special Order 191, the generals commanding in the Virginia theatre of war had captured each others' orders five times in 26 days. McClellan's find was the fifth incident in this series.

(1) On Aug. 18, 1862, Pope's cavalry captured satchels that "produced an order from Robert E. Lee to J.E.B. Stuart describing precisely the Confederate program for disposing of Pope's Army" (Return to Bull Run, by John Hennesy). The capture was made in the morning. By 1:00 pm Pope had cabled Washington about the find. That night, his forces moved to safer defensive positions. This lost order is labeled "Lee I" in the table below.

(2) On the evening of August 22/23, Stuart's cavalry, raiding Pope's HQ at Cattlett's Station, captured Pope's despatch book, "featuring detailed data as to his strength, dispositions, and designs; and referencing exepected reinforcements and identifying their whereabouts. This information proved invaluable to General Lee." (Edwin C. Bearss in the foreword to Before Antietam, by John Michael Priest. This lost order is labeled "Pope I" in the table.

(3) At dawn on August 29th, T. J. Jackson, while acting as a wing commander for R.E. Lee, received Pope's marching orders for August 29. They were "the orders for the Federal advance on Manassas that morning" (Hennessy). By 8:00 a.m., with Lee still in the dark, Jackson acted unilaterally by directing D.H. Hill to intercept the enemy. This find is "Pope II" in the table.

(4) Also on the morning of August 29, D.H. Hill "had captured a copy of Pope's march orders for the day" (Hennesy). Hill concluded that his orders previous to the discovery were still sound and Jackson's instructions based on Jackson's discovery of the same order were "fallacious." He disregarded Jackson's "informed" orders. Jackson later agreed that his reactions to the discovery were wrong. Hill's find is "Pope III."

(5) On the morning of September 13, McClellan obtained a copy of Lee's Special Order 191. By noon he alerted Lincoln. Contrary to many historians' claims (see FAQ #2 in this series), he issued orders throughout the 13th based on his analysis of Lee's orders. This is History's official "Lost Order," a term inappropriately generic for a discussion of five lost orders. McClellan's find is shown as "Lee II" below.


With this many captured orders, we can abstract their characteristics:

 INCIDENT

AGE OF ORDERS

LOSS REALIZED SAME DAY?

 WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY (DAYS)

 STATUS OF ORDERS CAPTURED

 DID FIND REACH TOP CDR?
 LEE I

under 1

 yes

 several

 planned

 yes
 POPE I

 under 1

 no

 one +

 executing

 no
 POPE II

 under 1

 no

 one +

 executing

 no
 POPE III

 under 1

 yes

 one +

 executing

 yes
 LEE II (SO 191)

over 5

 yes(1)

 zero (expired)

 supposedly completed (2)

 yes


NOTE: The window of opportunity shown above is the implied opportunity. The real opportunity would be limited by the enemy's realization of the loss, which the capturer will likely not know.

Note that McClellan's find was the stalest. Furthermore, Lee discovered the loss within 12 hours of the Union find and just 10 hours after McClellan's cable to Lincoln. (In 1868, Lee said he immediately adjusted his orders accordingly.) Thus, Lee II offered the least opportunity, not only because of Lee's reaction to the loss, but because all of its instructions were to have been accomplished the day before McClellan obtained the orders.

SUMMARY:
McClellan was not singularly lucky to find the enemy commander's orders; in fact he ranks fifth in the luck roster for August/September 1862. Of the five orders taken in 26 days of August/September, 1862, Mac's were the least actionable, although Mac did act on them (see FAC #2.). Describing McClellan's find as unique is factually incorrect.

ENDNOTES
1. According to William McConnell in Remember Reno (White Mane Press), by 10:00 p.m. on the 13th, Stuart brought word to Lee that the orders had been found and McClellan was acting on them. Lee then took countermeasures.
2. This counterdiscovery by Lee makes McClellan's practical window of opportunity just over 10 hours. His window in principle was zero hours because the orders ' movements were to have been completed by the time the Union found the orders.

(c) 1997 Dimitri Rotov # v.1 11/97

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