Union troops discover Rebels’ Antietam battle plan - HISTORY
Year
1862

Union troops discover Rebels’ Antietam battle plan

Union soldiers find a copy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s orders detailing the Confederates’ plan for the Antietam campaign near Frederick, Maryland. But Union General George B. McClellan was slow to act, and the advantage the intelligence provided was lost.

On the morning of September 13, the 27th Indiana rested in a meadow outside of Frederick, Maryland, which had served as the site of a Confederate camp a few days before. Sergeant John Bloss and Corporal Barton W. Mitchell found a piece of paper wrapped around three cigars. The paper was addressed to Confederate General D.H. Hill. Its title read, “Special Order No. 191, Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia.” Realizing that they had discovered a copy of the Confederate operation plan, Bloss and Mitchell quickly passed it up the chain of command. By chance, the division adjutant general, Samuel Pittman, recognized the handwriting on the orders as that of a colleague from the prewar army, Robert Chilton, who was the adjutant general to Robert E. Lee.

Pittman took the order to McClellan. The Union commander had spent the previous week mystified by Lee’s operations, but now the Confederate plan was clear. He reportedly gloated, “Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.” McClellan now knew that Lee’s forces were split into five parts and scattered over a 30-mile stretch, with the Potomac River in between. At least eight miles separated each piece of Lee’s army, and McClellan was just a dozen miles from the nearest Confederate unit at South Mountain. Bruce Catton, the noted Civil War historian, observed that no general in the war “was ever given so fair a chance to destroy the opposing army one piece at a time.”

Yet McClellan squandered the opportunity. His initial jubilation was overtaken by his caution. He believed that Lee possessed a far greater number of troops than the Confederates actually had, despite the fact that the Maryland invasion resulted in a high rate of desertion among the Southerners. McClellan was also excruciatingly slow to respond to the information in the so-called Lost Order. He took 18 hours to set his army in motion, marching toward Turner’s Gap and Crampton’s Gap in South Mountain, a 50-mile long ridge that was part of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Lee, who was alerted to the approaching Federals, sent troops to plug the gaps, allowing him time to gather his scattered units.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Massacre at Attica Prison

The four-day revolt at the maximum-security Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York, ends when hundreds of state police officers storm the complex in a hail of gunfire. Thirty-nine people were killed in the disastrous assault, including 29 prisoners and 10 prison ...read more

Israel-Palestine peace accord signed

After decades of bloody animosity, representatives of Israel and Palestine meet on the South Lawn of the White House and sign a framework for peace. The “Declaration of Principles” was the first agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians towards ending their conflict and ...read more

George Wallace dies

George Wallace, one of the most controversial politicians in U.S. history, dies in Montgomery, Alabama, at the age of 79.George Corley Wallace was born in Clio, Alabama, the son of a farmer. He worked his way through the University of Alabama Law School and after World War II ...read more

Oprah gives away nearly 300 new cars

On this day in 2004, TV talk-show host Oprah Winfrey gives a brand-new Pontiac G-6 sedan, worth $28,500, to everyone in her studio audience: a total of 276 cars in all.) Oprah had told her producers to fill the crowd with people who “desperately needed” the cars, and when she ...read more

Large operation begins in the DMZ

The largest sustained operation inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) opens when U.S. and South Vietnamese infantry and armored troops, supported by planes, artillery, and U.S. Navy ships, move two miles into the buffer zone to relieve enemy pressure on Allied bases along the ...read more

Bob Feller strikes out 17 at 17

On this day in 1936, 17-year-old Cleveland Indians pitching ace “Rapid” Robert Feller strikes out 17 batters in a game, setting a new American League record. Feller allowed just two hits in the game to help his team to a 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia A’s.Feller was born ...read more

Tupac Shakur dies

Hip hop star Tupac Shakur dies on September 13, 1996 of gunshot wounds suffered in a Las Vegas drive-by shooting.More than a decade after his death on this day in 1996, rapper Tupac Shakur remains one of the most recognizable faces and voices in hip-hop. A steady stream of ...read more

Children’s author Roald Dahl is born

On this day in 1916, Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) and James and the Giant Peach (1961), is born in South Wales.Dahl’s childhood was filled with tragedy. His father and sister died when Dahl was three, and he was later brutally abused at his ...read more

Law & Order debuts

On this day in 1990, the drama series Law & Order premieres on NBC; it will go on to become one of the longest-running primetime dramas in TV history and spawn several popular spin-offs. According to the now-famous Law & Order formula, the first half of the hour-long program, ...read more

Devastating storm heads toward Caribbean

Hurricane Hugo approaches the Leeward Islands on this day in 1989. Over the next 12 days, Hugo would kill 75 people from the island of Guadeloupe to South Carolina.Beginning as a thunderstorm that formed off the west coast of Africa on September 9, the storm slowly gathered ...read more

Attica prison riot ends

A four-day riot at Attica Prison comes to a violent end as law enforcement officials open fire, killing 29 inmates and 10 hostages and injuring many more. The prison insurrection was the bloodiest in U.S. history.On the morning of September 9, 1971, a group of inmates at the ...read more