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        Robert Hall Chilton was a rather faceless actor amidst the luminaries that surrounded him. Yet it was he who signed Robert E. Lee's Special Orders 191 that became known as the "Lost Dispatch".

      A Virginian and West Point graduate, Chilton served as Robert E. Lee's Adjutant General during the Maryland campaign. To the uninitiated, an adjutant general is the secretary to the commander he serves. Among his many tasks are receiving the orders of the commander, seeing that they are written out correctly (duplicated, if necessary), conveyed to their destination and receipted.

      By necessity, the word and signature of the Adjutant General was also understood to be the word and signature of the commander. His voice became the de facto the voice of the commander. Beneath him served a staff of secretaries and messengers. Together they formed the "Internet" of their commander. Obviously, his role was crucial and his loyalty essential to the success of the army.

      The lack of examination by Civil War historians of Chilton as possible suspect in this mystery became, well, a mystery to me. Out of curiosity, I undertook an examination of Chilton's record and background.  The results were startling.

     Upon examining every reference to him in Freeman's Lee's Lieutenants, I a record of incredible, to say the least, incompetence. In every extended reference to Chilton, a result counter productive to the Confederate cause occurred. In no case was there a positive result. Most prominent was, of course, his signature on Lee's Special Orders 191.

     Just as crucial in the finding of the Lost Order was the necessity of identifying it as a bone fide order.

       The remarkable coincidence that the "Lost Dispatch" happened to end up in the hands of people, Williams and Pittman, who could positively verify Chilton's signature thickened my suspicions. [Chilton served in the regular Army  as a paymaster including a few years stint in Detroit in the 1850's, home to Gen. Alpheus Williams and his adjutant Lt. Samuel Pittman, who verified the signature.] How interesting it was that Pittman could recognize Chilton's signature after such a time, but Chilton, only a few years after the war, could not remember if the "Lost Order" was receipted.

The Lost Order Mystery Synopsis
The Strange Case of Robert Hall Chilton
A Short Biography of Robert Hall Chilton
Chilton's Suspicious Gaffes
The Text of Special Orders 191
The Lost Order Mystery Home Page

Library of Congress Photo of Robert Hall Chilton colorized by Lowell Boileau

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Created and designed by Lowell Boileau