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Barton W. Mitchell was a private who fought during the United States Civil War for the Union Army. He is credited with possibly discovering Special Order 191 and spent most of his life defending the claim. Union commanders used the orders to stage the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of South Mountain. He participated in many other important battles, including the Battle of Gettysburg.

Early Life and Military Beginnings

Barton Warren Mitchell was born in Preble County, Ohio on August 17, 1816. In 1843, at the age of 27, he relocated to Huntington County, Indiana. [1] [2] He lived and worked there until the Civil War began in 1861.[3] Mitchell answered the call to serve and received his military training at Camp Morton in Indianapolis, Indiana. He graduated in September of the same year as a private, mustered into the 27th Indiana Infantry.

Mitchell then traveled with his regiment to Washington, D.C., and spent the winter headquartered in Frederick, Maryland. Major General Nathaniel Banks absorbed them into his V Corps after three months of waiting. The V Corps set out to defeat Major General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson and his Confederate Army in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. The 27th Indiana Infantry then came under command of Major General John Pope and the Army of Virginia. Mitchell fought with them at both the Battle of Cedar Mountain and in the Second Bull Run. The regiment then retired behind Washington defense lines.

About a year after graduating from training, in early September 1862, the 27th again reorganized to join XII Army Corps, 1st Division, 3rd Brigade of the Army of the Potomac. They tracked General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army, and his troops looking to invade Maryland.[4]

Special Order 191

On September 9, 1862, General Lee met with Major General “Stonewall” Jackson and ordered Robert Hall Chilton to record and send orders detailing the Confederate army’s movements for the subsequent weeks. He titled these Special Orders 191. The orders described the how the army would split over the next few days and attack different targets. Chilton wrote a second set of orders for D.H. Hill after he joined under Major General Jackson’s command, not knowing Jackson already sent Hill a copy of the orders. Hill never received the second set of orders sent by Chilton and these became the lost orders.

Barton W. Mitchell and the XII Army Corps’ 3rd Brigade settled near Frederick City to continue pursuing General Lee’s army. The camped at Ijamsville Crossroads on September 12 and continued marching down the Ijamsville Road. By September 13, they reached the Georgetown Pike.[5] They rested in a field south of the city and this is when Corporal Barton Mitchell and Sergeant John Bloss supposedly found Special Orders No. 191 wrapped up in paper holding three cigars.[6]

Consequences

The discovery of Special Order 191 greatly impacted the Civil War and General Robert E. Lee’s Campaign in Maryland through the Battle of Antietam and at South Mountain.

Special Order 191 was immediately given up the chain of command to the 27th’s Captain Peter Kop and Colonel Silas before passing to General Alphas Starkey Williams who commanded the XII Corps. The orders reached Union commander, General George B. McClellan by the middle of the day on September 13.

When one of his calvary chiefs confirmed the orders to be true based on the movements of the Confederate army, General McClellan could act quickly and cut off the Confederates on two sides. General Lee was forced to face the Union at the Battle of South Mountain and the Battle of Antietam, after a delay at Harper’s Ferry, and helped influence the Union’s eventual victory.[7]

Controversy

Barton W. Mitchell faced challenges throughout his life to the claim that he discovered Special Order No. 191. Even after his death, when his son continued to defend his father, historians and other skeptics revealed their reasons for doubting Mitchell’s claim.

Despite Sergeant Bloss giving Barton W. Mitchell credit for the discovery and identification of Special Order 191, many skeptics and fellow soldiers denied Mitchell’s claims.

One described him as being illiterate and blamed his son for creating the story to get a veteran’s pension for his mother in the late 1880s.[8]

The surviving members of the 27th Indiana Regiment, Private David B. Vance, and Sergeant John McKnight Bloss, met at a reunion in 1904 and discussed the lost orders and who discovered them. Vance claimed Barton Mitchell only picked up the cigars after they fell out when Vance handed the package to Bloss.

Another account by Private Dariel Burrel describes a similar story, but with Burrel handing Bloss the package and Mitchell missing the orders as the cigars fell out. A member of a different company, Private William H. Hosteiter, claimed Bloss was the only one to every touch the envelope or its contents. Sergeant Bloss gave Barton Mitchell credit just 13 days after the discovery in a letter. Bloss wrote that “he was with him when he found it and read it first.”[9]

Later Years and Death

During the Battle of Antietam, Corporal Barton Mitchell received a severe wound to his left calf while fighting with his regiment in the infamous cornfield. He spent the next eight months in hospitals to recover. He returned to the 27th Infantry in April 1863 just in time to fight at both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Later that year, Mitchell’s old battle wound plagued him and he took a voluntary reduction in rank by down to private. This allowed him to stay off the battlefield and perform ambulance duty instead. He joined the 27th when they fought with General William T. Sherman in Atlanta as part of the XX Corps. He remained mustered with the regiment in Georgia starting in September 1864 and until the end of the Civil War on May 9, 1865.[10][11]

Barton W. Mitchell retired from military service and returned to his wife and children in Hartsville, Indiana. He operated a sawmill until his death on January 29, 1868. His son William Mitchell continued to pursue recognition from General McClellan and other military officials for his father, but to no success.[12] A monument was erected in 1992 to commemorate Mitchell’s role in discovering Special Order 191 in Hartsville, Indiana.[13]

References

Bibliography

Civil War Trust. (2014). Civil War Facts. Civil War Trust.


Menuet, R. W. (2007, September). Corporal BartonW. Mitchell eagerly defended his September 1862 role in finding Robert E. Lee’s Special Orders No. 191. America’s Civil War.


National Park Service. (2016). An Invitation to Battle: Special Orders 191. U.S. Department of Interior.


Footnotes

  1. Menuet, 2007
  2. National Park Service, 2016
  3. Civil War Trust, 2014
  4. Menuet, 2007
  5. National Park Service, 2016
  6. Menuet, 2007
  7. National Park Service, 2016
  8. Menuet, 2007
  9. National Park Service, 2016
  10. Menuet, 2007
  11. Civil War Trust, 2014
  12. Menuet, 2007
  13. Indiana Historical Markers. (2006, December 31). Private Barton W. Mitchell. Indiana Historical Markers.

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