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
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.
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