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Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss (1819-1901)


Civil War envelope
   
Gen. Prentiss
New York Times, 30 Dec. 1861:  Another Victory Won by Gen. Prentiss--A Large Number of Rebels Killed, Wounded and Captured.

The following information is from: "History of Harrison County," by George W. Wanamaker, published in 1921 by Historical Publishing Co., Topeka, and Indianapolis. pp. 852-855. The scans of Gen. Prentiss, the Civil War envelope, and the following information were provided by Mark Irvin .. thanks Mark!

Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss -- For many years one of the most distinguished citizens of Missouri as well as of the nation was the late Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss, who for twenty years lived at Bethany, where his death occurred on February 8, 1901. General Prentiss was a soldier of two wars, rose to the rank of major-general U.S. Volunteers during the Civil War and was the hero of the great battle of Shiloh. In his political career he was an associate of Lincoln and other distinguished leaders of Illinois, and in the later years of his life was one of the most admired orators and leaders in the Republican party of Missouri.

Benjamin M. Prentiss was born at Belleville, Virginia, November 23, 1819. He was a direct descendant from Valentine Prentiss who came to America from England in 1620. Another direct ancestor was the noted Elder Brewster of the Mayflower colony.

General Prentiss spent his early childhood in Virginia and from there his parents moved to Quincy, Illinois. His education came from the country schools of Virginia and afterwards from a private military school. Migrating west in 1836, he located in Marion County, Missouri, and engaged in the manufacture of cordage. In the spring of 1841 he went to Quincy and established himself in the same business with his father. During the Mormon excitement at Nauvoo, Illinois, he was in the service of the state and at the opening of the Mexican War lie was appointed adjutant of the First Illinois Infantry. With this regiment he served through the entire war, first as first lieutenant and afterwards as captain of Company 1, which he commanded under General Taylor at the battle of Buena Vista.

After his return to Quincy and also after the war, General Prentiss was engaged in business as a commission merchant and also as a manufacturer of cordage. With the outbreak of hostilities between the North and South he was one of the first to respond with the offer of his services. At the first call for troops he sent a telegram to the governor of Illinois, tendering two companies and has the distinction of having been the first officer commissioned by the state. Beginning as a captain he was promoted to major, from that to colonel, and then to the rank of brigadier-general before reaching the actual scene of hostilities. General Prentiss was placed in command at Cairo at the beginning of the war and established a blockade of the Mississippi River. While there he was waited upon by a delegation of Kentuckians, who protested against the landing of troops on Kentucky soil. This delegation reminded him that Kentucky was a sovereign state, the peer of Illinois, but to this General Prentiss replied that when the President called for troops to defend the Union, Illinois promptly furnished her quota, while Kentucky had failed to respond and consequently her wishes were not entitled to the same consideration.

After leaving Cairo, General Prentiss was ordered by General Fremont to Jefferson City, Missouri, to take command of all North and Central Missouri. Be fought at Mount Zion and a number of other minor engagements in the state. Subsequently being ordered to the field by General Halleck, he proceeded to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, where he arrived April 1st and organized and took command of the Sixth Division, Army of the Tennessee. It was there that his reputation as a military leader was secured beyond all peradventure. The historians of that great battle have all united in giving General Prentiss' command credit for maintaining the integrity of the Union position during the first day, and thus insuring what amounted to a virtual victory for the Union arms. It will be recalled that the other Federal generals in council doubted that the Confederates were massed in force at Shiloh, and at his own request General Prentiss was permitted to send a small force forward to ascertain whether the enemy was not there in force. Five companies from General Prentiss' division were selected for that task and these troops while reconnoitering received the first onslaughts of the enemy, arrested their charge and thus gave the Union army time to form the line of battle. The Confederates attacked in such force and with such energy that General Sherman's corps and all the other commands were compelled to give ground and General Prentiss himself had to retire to a better position. At his command his troops finally took position in the old Sunken Road and there their resistance was so deadly that the Confederates called the place the "Hornet's Nest", and there the most sanguinary struggle of the day was centered. It was while General Prentiss was holding this line that General Grant came up and requested him to hold the road until sundown at all hazards. General Prentiss gave his promise and he afterwards stated that again and again he looked for the setting sun and was almost convinced from the slowness with which that luminary moved toward the western horizon, that it had surely caught upon a snag. No reinforcements were sent to his hard pressed troops and at 5:30 in the evening General Prentiss and his 2,200 soldiers were captured. For the following seven months he endured the rigors of Confederate prison.

After being exchanged, General Prentiss was commissioned a major-general of volunteers for his gallantry at the battle of Shiloh. He served on the court martial in the case of Gen. Fitz John Porter, and he was the last member of that court to pass away. At the close of this trial he was ordered to report to General Grant at Milliken's Bend, by whom he was assigned the command of the eastern district of Arkansas, with headquarters at Helena. Here on the 4th of July, 1863, he commanded the Union forces in the battle of Helena, gaining a decided victory over the enemy, whose forces were equal to four times his number.

During his residence at Quincy, General Prentiss was appointed United States pension agent by General Grant, and filled the office eight years. In 1878 be moved to Missouri, spent a short time in Sullivan County and then engaged in the practice of law at Kirksville. After moving to Bethany in 1881 he continued the practice of law, and in 1888, after the election of President Harrison, was appointed postmaster and received the same honor from President McKinley. In 1880 General Prentiss served as a delegate-at-large to the Republican national convention which nominated General Garfield and was a delegate to the national convention of 1884 which placed Blaine and Logan in the field as the national Republican candidates and seconded the nomination of John A. Logan for president. He frequently attended the Missouri conventions of his party and was one of the most influential and popular leaders in the state.

The first wife of General Prentiss was Margaret Sowdosky. Their children were: Harrison Tyler; Guy Champlain, who marched with Sherman to the sea and died in Quincy; Jacob Henry, who spent his last years in Bethany, where his family Survive him; Ella, who married Doctor Blackburn and still lives in Bethany; Benjamin M., Jr., of Colorado; Clay, of Bethany. The oldest of these children, Harrison Tyler, known better as "Tip", was a drummer boy at Shiloh under General Sherman.

General Prentiss' second wife was Mary Worthington Whitney, a daughter of Joseph Ingram Whitney, who came from Maine. Mrs. Prentiss was born in Pennsylvania, December 16, 1836, and died in Bethany July 28, 1894. Her children were: Joseph W., of Bethany; Arthur Oglesby, who died in California; Edgar Worthington; and Mrs. Mary Cover, of Harrison County.


Benjamin Prentiss - Wikipedia

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