I’ve been putting the final touches on the upcoming ECW What If book, getting ready to ship it off to the printer later this week. Of course, one of the most famous “What Ifs” of the war relates to Robert E. Lee’s famous “Lost Order”—Special Order 191—found on this date back in 1862. The order outlined Lee’s planned movements northward, although the copy found by Federals was incomplete and four days old (read it here thanks to the American Battlefield Trust).
In 2017, my ECW colleague Kevin Pawlak wrote a great three-part series about the Lost Order’s role in Civil War history and mythology. Was the finding of the Lost Order a turning point? Check out Kevin’s exploration.
This ties back to my work on the What If book because Kevin adapted parts of that series into a What If essay. As I was picking out photos to accompany his essay, we had an interesting exchange about the Lost Order’s location.
The oldest marker calling attention to the Lost Order is a state historic marker (above) that stands right across the street from the entrance of Monocacy National Battlefield. It’s pretty bare bones.
Elsewhere on the Monocacy Battlefield, on the Best farm, a Civil War Trails sign tells the story of the Lost Order and explores its implications a little:
According to Civil War Trails Executive Director Drew Gruber, this is the only sign in the entire Trails system written by the National Park Service, with text provided by historians from Monocacy National Battlefield. (For more on the NPS research, see Monocacy’s website here.)
This was the image I had originally planned to use in the What If book. After all, what images says “Lost Order” better than a sign that literally says “Lost Order”?
But as Kevin subsequently pointed out, the Lost Order might not have been found on the Best Farm. The sign as much admits that possibility: “Evidence does not indicate exactly where the Lost Order was found but suggests the Hermitage or Best Farm.”
Instead, according to Kevin, the Lost Order may have been found on a site that has, itself, since been lost:
As Kevin says, “Evidence strongly supports the theory that Barton W. Mitchell found the Lost Orders near Frederick’s southeast corner.” This spot—the former Myers Farm—near Reichs Ford Road off I-70 today sits between a quarry and an industrial park on the outside of city. (N 39.407924, W 77.396581) Kevin cites work by scholars like Joe Harsh, Tom Clemens, and Tim Reese as sources for this location.
So why the Best Farm? “The Best Farm seems like a better location since it is preserved,” Kevin explains. Of the two spots, the Best Farm obviously offers a better interpretive environment and a landholder willing to allow the installation of a sign–always an important consideration for our good friends at the Trails! “I’d prefer if it was there,” Kevin admits. “It’s much more evocative!”
P.S.: Don’t forget to read Kevin’s neat piece from earlier today, “The Unlucky Lost Order,” too!