A copy of General Lee's Special Order 191 isn't discovered before the Battle of Antietam


Ad Honoris
May 2014
In this Wikipedia article for the Battle of Antietam, it states this:

"While McClellan's 87,000-man[4] Army of the Potomac was moving to intercept Lee, two Union soldiers (Corporal Barton W. Mitchell and First Sergeant John M. Bloss[15][16] of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry) discovered a mislaid copy of Lee's detailed battle plans—Special Order 191—wrapped around three cigars. The order indicated that Lee had divided his army and dispersed portions geographically (to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and Hagerstown, Maryland), thus making each subject to isolation and defeat if McClellan could move quickly enough. McClellan waited about 18 hours before deciding to take advantage of this intelligence and reposition his forces, thus squandering an opportunity to defeat Lee decisively.[17]"

Anyway, what if this copy of General Lee's battle plans (Special Order 191) wasn't actually discovered before the Battle of Antietam? What would have subsequently happened in such a scenario?
Jun 2017
I am not an expert, by any means, on the American Civil War and am quite prepared to be overruled by those with more knowledge. IMO Lee had two purposes: first, "to inflict injury" (RELee to J. Davis), lessening Norther appetite for the war and, second, to sway Lord Palmerston in London. It accomplished neither. The battle, despite all its statistics and discussions, strikes me as counter productive for the South in that it allowed the Union to take the moral high ground and it sped implementation of the emancipation policy. Those 18 hours, it follows, were rather meaningless. That horrible day would best have been avoided.
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist


Jan 2018
San Antonio
McClellan is even slower and Lee gets home without a fight.

Bragg's failed Kentucky campaign, which in fact was a more dangerous threat to the United States than Lee's campaign, would be recognized as the more dangerous threat and as a great victory for the United States and been the basis for making political hay.
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist
Oct 2015
As the OP says, did McClellan actually take any particularly bold action as a result of finding the order?
Even after he finally got moving and pushed thru South Mountain, he waited another whole day facing Lee across the Antietam before attacking, allowing Lee time to concentrate his scattered forces (except for A P Hill who arrived before nightfall).
  • Like
Reactions: Fiver and Futurist


Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
Without the Lost Order, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac probably collide at some point. Lee was too aggressive for that not to happen. OTL's Battle of Antietam had the AoNV repeatedly pushed to the limit, but getting some breaks from the timely wounding of some of the more aggressive Union commanders and a last minute save by hard-marching troops from Harper's Ferry. An ATL battle would probably take place a few days later than in OTL, but there's a good chance the Confederates would not be as lucky as in OTL. In spite of it's popularity in published AHs, there was no real chance of Lee destroying the AotP, he didn't have the numbers and McClellan's overcaution would help prevent that as well.
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist