Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss
|Born||November 23, 1819|
|Died||February 8, 1901 (aged 81)|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1846-1848, 1861-1863|
|Battles/wars||American Civil War|
Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss (November 23, 1819 - February 8, 1901) was an American soldier and politician. He fought in the Mexican-American War and on the Union side of the American Civil War, rising to the rank of major general. He commanded a division at the Battle of Shiloh, which suffered heavy casualties while defending what became known as the Hornet's Nest from continued Confederate assaults, and he eventually surrendered his division. He was criticized by some for his conduct in that battle. After his exchange, he continued to serve in the army until his resignation in 1863. He spent much of his remaining life practising as a lawyer and as a politician in the Republican Party.
Benjamin M. Prentiss was born in Belleville, Virginia. He was a direct descendant of Valentine Prentice, who immigrated from England in 1631. His early childhood was spent in Virginia until his family joined the migration and moved near Hannibal, Missouri. They then moved to Quincy, Illinois, where Prentiss made his home until 1879. He then moved to Missouri.
In his early life, Benjamin Prentiss was a rope-maker and served as an auctioneer. On March 29, 1838, he married Margaret Ann Sodowsky; they had seven children before she died in 1860. In 1862, he married Mary Worthington Whitney, who bore him five more children.
Prentiss ran unsuccessfully for United States Congress in 1860. At the beginning of the American Civil War he defended railroad lines in Missouri until ordered to command a division under Ulysses S. Grant. Early in the morning, an officer under his command, Colonel Everett Peabody, sent out a 250-man patrol which made contact with the advancing Confederate army, proving the Union with critical early warning of the impending attack. Prentiss was initially outraged with Peabody for sending out a patrol without his authorization, but soon realized he was facing an on oncoming attack by an entire Confederate army and rushed to prepare his men for defense. His division was the first one attacked at the Battle of Shiloh and suffered greatly during the opening hours of that battle. Brigadier General Prentiss reformed his command with reinforcements under the command General W. H. L. Wallace and put up a spirited fight in the "Hornet's Nest".
Prentiss took full command of the position after Wallace was fatally wounded and eventually surrendered the Hornet's Nest along with 2,200 other Union soldiers. He surrendered his sword to Lt. Colonel Francis Marion Walker of the 19th Tennessee Infantry. After the battle he was considered a hero, having held off the Confederate States Army long enough to allow General Grant to organize a counterattack and win the battle. Grant would later play down Benjamin Prentiss' role in the victory, possibly because of mutual dislike between the two generals. However, Grant said in his memoirs "Prentiss' command was gone as a division, many of its members having been killed, wounded or captured; but it had rendered valiant services before its final dispersal, and had contributed a good share to the defense of Shiloh". Prentiss' own after-action report did not mention the aid of Wallace's troops, and barely made any mention of Peabody, who was also killed in action during the battle.
After being released as part of a prisoner exchange in October the same year, Prentiss was promoted to major general and served on the court-martial board that convicted Fitz John Porter. His dissenting voice in the final vote damaged his political clout. Prentiss was sent to Arkansas and won the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863. In 1863, he resigned to tend to his family. Historian Ezra J. Warner speculated that Prentiss felt that he was being shelved after having proved his abilities at Shiloh and Helena.
After the Civil War, Prentiss became a lawyer. He was later appointed as postmaster of Bethany, Missouri, by President Benjamin Harrison and was re-appointed by President William McKinley. He was a leader in the Republican Party of Missouri.
He died on February 8, 1901 in Bethany at age 81. He is buried there in Miriam Cemetery, Harrison County, Missouri.