The Tale Untwisted: George McClellan and the Discovery of Lee’s Lost Orders

October 2022 Update

Gene Thorp and I have completed expanding The Tale Untwisted from a  digital essay into a printed book. The finished product is with Savas Beatie and should be sent to the printer soon. We hope this means it will be available for purchase around Christmas.

In addition to five full chapters the new book includes 17 maps, and three appendices, one of which is a detailed discussion of telegraphy during the war in which Gene explains how “12 Midnight” became “12 M,” which means noon. That’s quite a difference in time!

Here is the the table of contents for the revised and expanded volume.

Chapter One: How We Got Here: The History of Writing about George McClellan and Special Orders No. 191

Chapter Two: The Fate of Harpers Ferry: What McClellan Knew During the Army of the Potomac’s Advance to Frederick on September 11-12, 1862

Chapter Three: Early Morning to Noon on September 13, 1862: George McClellan, The Army of the Potomac’s Movements, and the Discovery of Lee’s Lost Orders

Chapter Four: Noon to Early Evening on September 13, 1862: McClellan’s Response to Reading the Lost Orders

Chapter Five: September 14, 1862: Was McClellan Truly Responsible for the Fall of Harpers Ferry.

Conclusion: Evaluating McClellan’s Performance in Maryland Up to the Battle of Antietam

Appendix A: Telegraphic Communications During the Army of the Potomac’s March to South Mountain, September 6–13, 1862

Appendix B: Army of the Potomac Strength on September 10, 1862

Appendix C: Special Orders No. 191

Here is the new cover:



The discovery of Robert E. Lee’s Special Orders no. 191 outside of Frederick, Maryland on September 13, 1862, is one of the most important and hotly disputed events of the American Civil War. For more than 150 years historians have debated if George McClellan, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, dawdled upon receiving a copy of the orders before warily advancing to challenge Lee’s forces at the Battle of South Mountain.

In this new digital essay authors Gene Thorp and Alexander Rossino exhaustively document how ‘Little Mac’ moved with uncharacteristic energy to counter the Confederate threat in Maryland and take advantage of Lee’s divided forces, striking a blow in the process that wrecked the Rebel general’s plans and sent his army reeling back toward Virginia.

The essay is a tour-de-force of primary research that proposes to put a final word on the debate over the fate and impact of the Lost Orders on the history of the 1862 Maryland Campaign.

~  PRAISE  ~

This well documented and logical explanation of the controversial Lee’s “Lost Orders” debate finally puts the actions of General George McClellan in a proper context. Before a single Union soldier took a step in response to any order based on finding S.O. 191, Lee remarked that he found the Union army “advancing more rapidly than convenient.” Now we know why. — Thomas G. Clemens, ed., The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Vols. 1-3.

Thorp and Rossino make a very persuasive case for McClellan having received the Lost Orders in mid-afternoon and sending his dispatch to Lincoln at midnight on September 13, 1862. If I were writing my Antietam book today, I would follow their account. — James M. McPherson, author of Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam and the Pulitzer prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom.

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