Three Cigars

A story of Private Barton Mitchell and the Battle of Antietam

story and links by Brooke Tyler Higgins

It was September 13, 1862, and my division was camped on a hillside right outside of Frederick, Maryland. We were the 27th Indiana, fighting for the Union. President Lincoln was looking for a big Union victory so that he could issue his Emancipation Proclamation and free the slaves in the South. We were sitting on a hill and I was talking to Sergeant John Bloss when I saw a cigar envelope on the ground. Well, of course I picked it up, and when I looked closer at it, I discovered that there were three cigars wrapped in battle plans for General Robert E. Lee's Confederate army!

I ran and gave the papers to Captain Peter Kop to see if the papers were important. He gave them to the Regiment's Colonel Silas Colgrove, who gave the order to our General Williams. There, it was determined by Captain Samuel Pittman that this was a real document. Pittman was able to identify the signature on the paper by an amazing hometown connection to Col. Robert Hall Chilton, who worked directly under Robert E. Lee, a General for the Confederate Army. Seems that Pittman had worked at a bank in which Chilton had an account. He was able to recognize Chilton's signature to verify the authentic document.

The orders had been issued from General Lee to General D.H. Hill, and it was later concluded that the orders must have been used by one of his staff officers to wrap his cigars, which fell from a pocket and became lost. They probably stayed on the ground for 48 to 72 hours as General Hill's men moved on and my division moved in. General Hill had received another copy of the orders from his immediate superior, General Jackson, and therefore didn't realize until later that anything was amiss.

This document became known as Special Orders 191. (for a copy of Special Orders 191 that is more easily understood, click here.) By that afternoon, Union General McClellan knew exactly the moves of his opponent, General Lee. McClellan sent a telegram to President Lincoln saying, "I have all the plans of the rebels..."

Even though McClellan had Lee's plans, he was still cautious. Maybe too cautious. Lee had time to pull most of his troops together before September 17, when there was a terrible battle. The Union Army named the battle after the creek that ran by the battlefield -- Antietam. The Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day of the entire Civil War. It was almost the end of Lee's army, as well. However, because of McClellan's caution and the mistakes of those under him, the battle ended in a draw. Since the Union had possession of the field, and since the invasion of Maryland by the South was stopped, the battle was considered a victory for the North.

Lincoln took advantage of this victory to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which not only freed the slaves in the South, but it helped to unite the rest of the North in a crusade against the South and a victory against slavery.

Just think, if I hadn't found those cigars that day, Lee's army would have moved farther into Maryland, and could have conquered our Union army. Can you imagine how different life would be if the South had won the war and gained their independence from the United States of America?

It has been stated by some that General Chilton "lost" the papers on purpose. It was never determined whether it was a treacherous act, or simply a misconnection of information. Just think what might have happened if this story had never taken place.

Did You Know? The popular story of the discovery of Lost Order 191 holds that it was lost by D.H. Hill or his adjutant, Col. Ratchford, and was found wrapped around three cigars. Did you know that neither Hill or Ratchford were smokers, even though they were from the tobacco state of North Carolina?


1. How did Captain Pittman determine that the documents were authentic? _______________________________

2. How did the Special Orders 191 get into the Union's hands? ________________________________________

3. How was the Battle of Antietam named? _______________________________________________________

4. Why do you think General McClellan sent a telegram to President Lincoln telling him about the Special Orders 191?

5. What was so important about the Emancipation Proclamation? _______________________________________

6. What are some things that would be different about our country had the South won the Civil War? _____________


I. Introduction

A. Frederick, Maryland

B. September 13, 1862

C. President needs Union victory

II. Finds Cigars

A. Cap. Peter Kop --> Col. Silas Colgrove --> General Williams --> Cap. Samuel Pittman

B. Pittman identifies Chilton's signature

C. Special Orders 191

D. Telegram to President

III. Battle of Antietam

A. Bloodiest day of the war

B. McClellan's caution and mistakes

C. Draw, but Union victory because of possession

D. Emancipation Proclamation

IV. Conclusion


1. He had known Chilton's signature from when he had an account at the bank Pittman worked at.

2. They were wrapped around three cigars which a Union soldier found on the ground.

3. The Union troops named it after the creek which ran by the field.

4.So that the President would know what was going on with his troops.

5. It would free all of the slaves in the Southern states.

6. Answers will vary.


Cigars, Envelope, Pictures of the Generals and battlefield, Emancipation Proclamation, Civil War clothing


"The Story of the Lost Dispatch" at

Dr. Who and the Rebel's Gamble by William H. Keith, Jr. (Chigago, Ill. : FASA, 1986 pp. 364-368)