Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Look at Lee's Lost Order

     Do you find that you tend to visit museums that are outside your local area, but you put off visiting the local ones?  I know that I’m sometimes guilty of thinking that I will get around to visiting the local ones someday.  However, when I heard that the Monocacy National Battlefield was exhibiting Special Orders 191 (also known as the Lost Order), I decided it was time for a visit!
 
 
The Monocacy National Battlefield is less than five miles from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, so I didn’t have to travel very far! The Visitor’s Center is the starting point for a self-guided auto tour of the battlefield and it also houses displays of artifacts associated with the Battle of Monocacy. This is where the Lost Order will be on display until October 31 of this year.
 

 
It was raining the day I visited, so I didn’t linger outside. I did manage to take a moment to photograph the cannon on my way though.

 

     The Monocacy Battlefield is the site of the Civil War battle fought on July 9, 1864.  Though not as well-known as the Battles of Antietam or Gettysburg, it is credited as being the battle that saved Washington D.C.
 
 
The burning of the covered bridge depicted in this painting prevented the Southern troops from easily crossing the Monocacy River on their march to Washington. Delaying them allowed General Grant time to send more troops to defend Washington.

 
 
As always, I am on the lookout for display ideas. Here, children can try on various uniform parts.


 
There is an observation deck at one end of the building with a wonderful view of the battlefield (especially now when the leaves are changing color), and panels which identify the points of interest.




     The Lost Order is in the final display, and though I was eager to finally see it, I was disappointed that photographing it was not allowed, even without a flash.  It was a little ironic since I’m usually the one telling people they can’t photograph light-sensitive artifacts!

     Special Orders No. 191, later known as the Lost Order, was issued by General Robert E. Lee on September 9, 1862 during the Maryland Campaign while his army was camped on a part of what would later be the Monocacy Battlefield. The orders outlined plans for dividing his army into four parts.  Copies of the orders were written for each of Lee's commanders.  However, the copy written for Major General Daniel Hill was somehow lost. 

     On September 13th, soldiers from the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry discovered the orders on the ground, wrapped around some cigars.  Though at first they were more interested in the cigars, once they read the paper’s title, "Hdqrs. Army of Northern Virginia", they quickly passed it up the chain of command.  When the order reached General McClellan, he reportedly exclaimed, "Now I know what to do! Here is a paper that if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home!"  Lee’s invasion plan failed, and the stage was set for the Battle of Antietam.


Corporal Barton W. Mitchell is credited with finding the orders. Copies of some of his letters are on display along with the Lost Order, courtesy of the Mitchell family. Photography of these documents is allowed!



Luckily, there are images of the Lost Order available online. This one is courtesy of the Library of Congress. It’s hard to believe this small piece of paper had so much influence on the Civil War!


 
     You can read more about the Lost Order
here.  

     So, I hope the lesson learned here (beyond keeping track of any orders you are transporting!) is to visit your local museums; you never know what kinds of treasures you will find there!

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