Lost order brings students to Monocacy Battlefield

By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Frederick News-Post | Published: September 10, 2018

FREDERICK, Md. (Tribune News Service) -- Gen. Robert E. Lee was camped out not too far from what would be the site of the Battle of Monocacy when he sent out orders to his officials on where to go as the Confederate Army began its 1862 campaign in Maryland.

Of those orders, one was lost along the way.

It was that lost order that brought a group of middle school students to a history lesson on a Sunday. On a rainy day at the Monocacy Battlefield Visitors Center, 156 years after the orders were written, park ranger and curator Tracy Evans told the group about how the lost order would change the result of the 1862 Maryland campaign.

The National Park Service held a program on Lee's lost orders, special orders 191, because it was the anniversary of the day the orders were written and sent. Three days later, in 1862, members of the Union Army's 27th Indiana company would find the lost order, which would give them an insight to the Confederate Army's plans.

Lee's Special Orders 191 divided his troops in an effort to regroup and also conquer Harpers Ferry, where a Union garrison was stationed. While the Confederacy won the Battle of Harpers Ferry, it took longer than Lee anticipated.

That, combined with the lost order allowing the Union Army to quickly pursue Lee's army, led to the Battle of South Mountain and the Battle of Antietam. Neither spots were where Lee had planned to engage in a large military action, and his army was not able to rest for the two weeks Lee had planned to be in Maryland, park ranger Matt Borders told the audience.

While the orders had an effect on the early Maryland campaign, what sticks out to most people are the details. That's what interested Katie Cumberledge, 13, an eighth grade student at New Market Middle School.

Katie came to the presentation because her history teacher Leslie Williamson was offering extra credit for students who came. She said she was most interested by the fact that the lost order was found under a tree, near the Best Farm on Georgetown Pike.

The presentation spiked her interest, she said, adding that she might do a project for Williamson's class on the lost order.

For Katie's father, Chris Cumberledge, it was a chance to learn something new. He had not heard about the lost Special Orders 191.

"You always hear about lost orders, but to have something happen right where you live is cool," Cumberledge said.

Cumberledge wasn't alone in learning about Special Orders 191. Williamson said she also hadn't heard of the lost order previously.

She said it's something she can now add into her Civil War lesson plan. The teacher won't cover the war until the spring, but she said she proposed the extra credit assignment because she wants her students to realize how much history happened in their county.

"You look across the street and you think, 100 plus years ago, Lee was standing there," Williamson said.

Beyond getting to see the places where history took place, which she said makes it more real, Williamson said it's interesting how many primary documents are still available.

But primary documents can be tricky, Evans said. In the case of the lost order, primary documents have led to a misconception.

Approximately 30 years after the lost order was found, Col. Silas Colgrove gave an interview in which he said that the lost order arrived wrapped around three cigars. From that, many people believe the order was found wrapped around the cigars.

But, Evans said, the order was found in an envelope with two cigars in it. It may have been sent to Colgrove around the cigars, but it was not found that way. It might seem a small detail, but Evans said it's a detail about which many visitors have asked.

"I think people find that unique," she said.

Questions from visitors were what sparked the battlefield visitor center to start looking into the lost order. Before they focused mostly on the Monocacy battle, which happened in 1864.

And to learn more about Special Orders 191, Evans said she was able to talk to descendants of Cpl. Barton Mitchell, who found the order, and his supervisor, Sgt. John Bloss. The descendants had copies of communication from the two men, including a letter where Bloss said that Mitchell was the one to find the lost order.

In 2012, about 20 members of the families came to an event celebrating the sesquitennial of the 1862 Maryland Campaign. "It was like a family reunion," Evans said.

And because of the descendants, Evans is able to say that it was Mitchell who found the letter, even though many tried to take credit after the war.

"It's a good lesson in not exactly believing in one source," she said.

(c) 2018 The Frederick News-Post. Visit The Frederick News-Post at www.fredericknewspost.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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