Believing that Union forces were in "a very demoralized and chaotic condition" following their defeat at Second Manassas in Virginia, and that Union General George B. McClellan was "an able general but a very cautious one," Lee decided to divide his army into four parts. Special Orders 191 contained all the operational details: three separate columns totaling almost 23,000 men would march on Harpers Ferry, surround the place, and capture or destroy the Union garrison there. With that mission accomplished, Lee's entire army would reassemble at Boonsboro, Maryland - 20 miles north of Harpers Ferry. Lee selected Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to lead the assault on Harpers Ferry.
Kevin Boyle teaches history at Ohio State University. He is the author of “Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age.”