Deeper into Jeopardy! XXIX: A Confederacy of Dunces – $1200

Jeopardy! category: A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES (13-10-2014)

$1200 Video Daily Double! clue: Union soldiers found Robert E. Lee’s handwritten plans wrapped around three cigars & lying in a field east of Sharpsburg, Maryland, four days before this bloody 1862 battle

virginia map

Correct response

The gist: It’s one of the most important pieces of mail-not-delivered in history. 

Special Order 191, as it is known, detailed the movements of Lee’s forces in the days leading up to the Battle of Antietam, a Maryland creek. It was found by two soldiers in the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and indicated that Lee planned to split his army in two before the Union forces, under George B. McClellan, reached their position. This offered a clear opportunity to McClellan – if he could move quickly enough to engage the halves separately, neither would stand a chance against his vastly superior numbers. Unfortunately, McClellan chose to dither for 18 hours, and the window of opportunity passed him by. Instead, two battles took place before the major engagements at Antietam. Stonewall Jackson routed a large Union force at Harpers Ferry, which meant that much of Lee’s force was absent for the start of Antietam. Soon afterwards, McLellan, Ambrose Burnside, and William Franklin defeated Lee at the Battle of South Mountain, but Confederate defenses stalled the Northerners long enough for Lee to move the rest of his forces to Sharpsburg, near the creek. The battle itself began on September 17, 1862, in the Union’s favour, but McClellan failed to press his advantage. Burnside arrived in the afternoon, but he was soon followed by Confederage Major General A. P. Hill who pressed Burnside’s forces away from the main Confederate contingent. Modern historians generally blame McClellan’s overly cautious tactics for what would become the bloodiest day of battle in American history, with 22 717 total casualties (dead, wounded, and missing) – there was ample opportunity to McClellan to bring to bear his full force, nearly double what Lee had brought, but his failure to do so allowed Lee’s army to hold its position until they were able to retreat to Virginia. McClellan had succeeded in preventing the Confederates from reaching Washington, D.C., but had suffered major losses in the process and let the war continue for almost three more years, perhaps needlessly. President Lincoln took the Battle as a pretext to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, instructing the Confederacy that if they did not  surrender by New Year’s Day of 1863 he would free all slaves on American soil – which as far as he was concerned, included the Confederate States.


The Battle of Antietam by Kurz & Allison, 1888, commissioned by General McClellan

The clue: The bit about Special Order 191 I imagine is not too obscure for those who know their Civil War, though I’d never heard of it. But the real hint in this clue is the mention of the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, since Antietam is by far the best-known Civil War battle to take place in that state. Contestant Shane unfortunately guessed Gettysburg, generally a pretty good guess when it comes to Civil War battles, but as Alex “helpfully” pointed out, that one took place in Pennsylvania. If you’re up your chronology, you’ll also know that Gettysburg took place in 1963, so the date in this clue could help you as well – especially if you know when the Emancipation Declaration was made.

In Jeopardy!: Antietam shows up in a healthy 20 clues in the J!Archive, unsurprising for such a superlative event in American history. In fact, mentions of the battles “bloodiness” show up in a full ten of those clues, plus an FJ! clue that doesn’t mention Antietam by name but wants the state in which the bloodiest Civil War battle took place – and two more cite casualty numbers instead of using any blood-words. Maryland is mentioned in eight clues, and Sharpsburg in seven (of course, with a lot of overlap between the two). If you can remember those few things about the battle, you’re in great shape if it comes up in a game.

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