The Tale Untwisted: General George B. McClellan, the Maryland Campaign, and the Discovery of Lee’s Lost Orders

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Pub Date:
January 2023
18 images, 17 maps, 192 pp
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About the Book

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 after receiving a copy of the orders before warily advancing to challenge Lee’s forces atop South Mountain.


In The Tale Untwisted, authors Gene Thorp and Alexander Rossino document in exhaustive fashion how “Little Mac” in fact moved with uncharacteristic energy to counter the Confederate threat and take advantage of Lee’s divided forces, seizing the initiative and striking a blow in the process that wrecked Lee’s plans and sent his army reeling back toward Virginia.


This study is a beautifully woven tour de force of primary research that may well be the final word on the debate over the fate and impact of the Lost Orders on the history of the 1862 Maryland Campaign.


Advance Praise


“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


“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


“A clear, extremely well-researched study exploring when Lee’s famous ‘Lost Orders,’ S.O. 191, came into McClellan’s possession and how he responded to them. It is good history and anyone with an interest in the 1862 Maryland Campaign will find it a fascinating and illuminating read.” - D. Scott Hartwig, author of To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862


“Who Lost the Lost Orders? is the greatest single mystery of the Civil War. But chasing its answer has frequently distracted attention from the larger mystery of what George B. McClellan did with the discovery of the Lost Orders. For almost a century-and-a-half, opinion has followed McClellan’s legion of critics in blaming him for ‘dawdling,’ even with the greatest intelligence coup of the war in his hands. Gene Thorp and Alexander Rossino beg, very pointedly, to differ. In The Tale Untwisted, they offer an alternative view, with McClellan in heated pursuit of the Confederate army, managing a badly demoralized and hastily improvised Army of the Potomac and deploring a lackluster surrender of Harpers Ferry that ought never to have occurred.” - Allen C. Guelzo, author of Robert E. Lee: A Life and Gettysburg: The Last Invasion



Born in Baltimore, Gene Thorp is a senior cartographer at the U.S. Department of State Office of the Geographer. He spent 15 years as an award-winning graphics editor at The Washington Post covering daily stories from the 2000 Bush-Gore election to the rise and fall of the Islamic State. His custom maps can be found in numerous non-fiction books on the New York Times Best-Seller list and throughout museums and parks across America. Alexander B. Rossino is an award-winning historian and the author of Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity. He worked for a decade at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum while penning a number of scholarly articles and book reviews. His lifelong fascination with the Civil War was rekindled in 2013 when he moved to western Maryland, where he currently resides at the foot of South Mountain. Alex is also the author of the deeply researched and beautifully written Six Days in September, a novel about Lee’s Army in Maryland during the 1862 campaign. He is currently researching and writing a companion book from the Union perspective.