Thursday, May 7, 2009


Non-fiction, notes, maps, pictures, bibliography, 314 pp., 2006. Pelican Publishing Company, 1000 Burmaster St., Gretna, LA 70053-2246. $24.95 plus shipping and handling.

Many people question the events surrounding the lost Confederate battle order 191. There are speculations as to how such an important order was lost or if the knowledge of its contents changed the future. Capt. Donald R. Jermann explores the details and facts pertaining to this event in Antietam, The Lost Order.

Capt. Jermann states at the beginning of chapter one, “In order to understand the events in Maryland in mid-September 1862, it is necessary to have some understanding of the nature of the war in America at that time.” By detailing the many differences and similarities of the two armies in play, he sets the stage for the reader. He covers many topics, such as different tactics used, who was an alumnus of West Point, communications available, transportation of supplies and troops, intelligence, etc. The reader is able to visualize the players of this saga, and determine their strengths and weaknesses.

Once this is achieved, Capt. Jermann then begins the story on Tuesday, September 9, 1862. He exposes the reader to the struggle between General McClellan, a West Point graduate, and President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Lincoln’s and Stanton’s main concern was that the Confederacy would attack Washington; therefore, they prevented many of McClellan’s plans and ultimately did not give him the support to lead the Army of the Potomac effectively. This struggle of power would play a part in this unfolding tale.

Capt. Jermann gives his accounts of the individuals leading the Confederate army, yet the whole of this book is more from the Union perspective. This aspect does not take away from the drama, but allows the reader to gain an insight that will offer conclusions in the end.

Special Order 191 was conceived on September 9, 1862 between General Robert E. Lee and General Jonathon “Stonewall” Jackson. The purpose of the order was the capture of the garrisons at Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. Capt. Jermann states “Like other Lee-Jackson plans that resulted in resounding successes, its success was premised on the calculated stupidity of their opponents.” These opponents were General McClellan and Colonel Miles. Capt. Jermann states, “The plan contained in Special Order 191 violated just about every maximum of warfare. All in all, Lee must have considered that his opponents were incredibly stupid or that one Confederate was worth two Union soldiers, or a combination of the two.”

Capt. Jermann details the events from the conception of the order until it was found and given to McClellan on September 13, 1862. The information is very concise. Actual orders and correspondence help to tell the story. Maps help the reader to see the troop movement and understand the terrain. This allows the reader to understand where everyone is, and why, when the order is found.

When McClellan read the order, he stated “Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.” Capt. Jermann responds, “He couldn’t and didn’t.” Time was of the essence for the McClellan to be able to use the information given to him; yet, Capt. Jermann points out that military strategy is not as simple as “Charge!”

By detailing the events that come next, Capt. Jermann allows the reader inside the developing plan. From September 13 to September 17, 1862, troop movements of both armies are recorded for the reader. The players are preparing for the climax of the saga – Antietam. “This date was to have the dubious distinction of being the bloodiest day on the North American continent – and this includes the events on September 11, 2001,” per Capt. Jermann. In a single day, the Union casualties were 12,469, about 14% of the men present, and the Confederate casualties were estimated to be around 11,000, a staggering 31%. Yet, McClellan failed to destroy the Confederate army before it reunited.

Due to the disgrace, a commission to investigate the events and people was formed by Secretary of War Stanton. Four officers were place under arrest until the investigation was complete and the responsibility of the failure placed on someone. The four officers were General White, Colonels Ford, D’Utassy and Trimble. Capt. Jermann uses actually testimonies to allow the reader to form his or her own opinion of the situation about whose fault it was. He also looks at other participants and their contributions, or lack thereof.

Capt. Jermann explores if having Special Order 191 made a difference or not and who lost the order. Many “what ifs” are explored and tested by using facts and details of the day. Although we may never know unequivocally who lost the order or answers to other questions, Antietam, the Lost Order allows the reader to explore many possibilities and ideas.

By reading the official orders and correspondence of the parties in this drama, the validity of the situation is seen through the eyes of the participants, not of an author almost 150 years later. This fast-paced book is a wonderful reference tool for either the players who held a part in the play or the events that transpired before and after.

Review Written by Cassie A. Barrow

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