Williams' Corps groped westward for the seemingly unstoppable Confederate invasion force. Its path led back through the very country where Williams had first assumed command and trained his brigade the year before. (He would pass through it again a year later enroute to Gettysburg.)
On September 13, 1862 he forded the Monacacy River before Frederick and, around noon, bivouacked his troops on a site that had been used as a campground by rebel regiments three days prior.
Into his hands on this day would pass a written peice of paper immense historical proportions. It was Lee's Special Orders 191 betraying the location and objectives of Lee's disappeared army. How an order of such magnitude came into Williams forms a crux of Project Plug Ugly. The mystery and controversy surround this event is covered a separate section.
The standard story tells of a soldier of the 27th Indiana who, while rooting about the leftovers from the Confederate encampment, finds a package containing, almost cryptically, three cigars wrapped in a piece of paper. One of the soldiers recognizes the paper to be a written order and it is quickly passed up the chain of command to Williams. The question of the validity of the order is conveniently established by Williams and his adjutant, fellow Detroiter Samuel Pittman, who knew the signer, Robert Chilton, who had served in the pre-war army in Detroit in the 1850's.
The loss of an order of such importance has never been adequately explained. Is it possible that the order was willing passed among pre-war friends? Could it then have been "pigeon dropped" on the campsite to cover the conspirators? Click off the Lost order Controversy for more on this issue.
In any case, it showed that Lee had departed on a dramatic venture. He would destroy all Federal forces immediately west of the Blue Ridge then march up the Great Valley to Harrisburg, destroy the Pennsylvania Central bridge and descend upon Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington from the north.
Given the information from Order 191 the usually timid Union commander, now George McClellan, pushed his troops through the passes of the Blue Ridge, called South Mountain in Maryland, in hopes of destroying Lee's scattered army in detail. Backed to Potomac with only the torpid Antietam Creek between him and the huge Union Army Lee's army faced destruction.
Williams wrote a short letter that fateful day and, since the order was discovered midday during the set up of the bivouac, and, as it was his habit to write at the end of his day's tasks, it is quite possible that the letter was written after the appearrance of the order. Here is the letter he wrote.
For obvious reasons of security, the letter betrays none of the excitement which he must have felt from significance of this event. Only the mention that "The enemy have gone towards Hagerstown" repeats what is found in the order and may relflect knowledge already obtained. There is no known comment from Williams regarding the order beyond an accompanying note to McClellan sent along with order.