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'More than a dozen hands' laid on orders

September 16, 2007|by TAMELA BAKER

SHARPSBURG - "The amazing thing about Special Orders 191 is not that they were lost, and not even that they were found, but that they were transmitted all the way up the chain of command," historian Dennis Frye suggests.

The catalyst that ignited the Civil War battles in southern Washington County, the orders, which outlined Confederate troop movements, were found - allegedly wrapped around three cigars - by Union troops a few days before the Battle of Antietam.

They went through "more than a dozen hands" before they reached Union Gen. George McClellan, Frye said.

Not all soldiers were literate - and if the soldiers who found the orders hadn't been able to read, "they could've easily used them as a lighter for those cigars."

And they might not have been taken seriously had not a Union officer recognized the handwriting.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee did not write the orders himself - he had suffered a fall just before the Maryland campaign, said historian Tom Clemens, and both of his hands were in slings and splints. So the orders were written by R.H. Chilton, a former business associate of Union Capt. Samuel E. Pittman, who passed them up the chain of command.

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Their intended recipient, Confederate Gen. D.H. Hill, received a copy of the orders from Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, but might or might not ever have seen Chilton's copy.

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